Traveling has the power to do great things, like transform economies and connect people everywhere. It also has serious consequences. Pre-pandemic, the tourism industry was at an all time high. This started larger discussions of overtourism and the importance of exploring off the beaten path travel destinations.
In 2018, there were 1.4 billion international tourists, with 36% visiting one of the top 300 cities. As traveling increases, it disproportionately affects the touristy locations, now suffering from overtourism.
What is Overtourism?
Overtourism is defined by the arrival of too many tourists in a specific destination which causes a negative impact to that destination. The number of tourists that constitutes too many greatly depends on the destination, and what type of infrastructure they have in place.
Overtourism is not just happening in big, touristy cities, but also national parks, historic sights, and small rural villages. It’s a truly global problem.
Is Overtourism a Problem?
Overtourism is now a global problem, as it continues to result in an unacceptable or falling quality of life. The consequences of overtourism are felt by both the locals and the environment. Overtourism leads to an increase in environmental pollution, exploitive wildlife tourism, exploitive practices against humans, traffic congestion, and more.
What is Causing Overtourism?
The double-edged sword of a place being a famous, popular destination, is that a) it attracts lots of people, and b) it attracts lots of people. Too many tourists visiting one place in too condensed a time can cause stress, damage, and an often inauthentic experience. Travel agencies contribute to this problem by providing deals that result in herds of tourists flocking to popular destinations. Also, the wide promotional reach of social media platforms such as Instagram prompts tourists to focus only on these destinations rather than going off the beaten path.
What are the Consequences of Overtourism?
Consequences of overtourism include locals being pushed out of certain neighborhoods for hotels, tourist sights becoming too crowded, or environmental damage.
When you also consider pollution, unsustainable business practices, a tourism-dependent economy, and rising prices, it becomes clear that the people who live in these touristy destinations are paying the price for our vacations.
How Do We Combat Overtourism?
Many cities are addressing the issue head on. By creating tourist taxes, refusing to issue permits, closing certain areas to tourists, or restricting Airbnb rentals, some governments have taken action.
By visiting off the beaten path travel destinations, you can combat overtourism while contributing an economic boost to less saturated destinations.
Below we’ve included some of the top tourist destinations in the world that have experienced overtourism in recent years. We’ve also included a sustainable alternative, in the same country. These off the beaten path travel destinations provide a similar feel to their saturated counterpart but allow you to support the country in a positive way.
1. Overtourism Destination: Bali, Indonesia
Now a haven for surfers, spiritual seekers and digital nomads, Indonesia’s most popular island is suffering from overtourism. While most of Bali remains untouched by tourism, the popularity of Canguu, Ubud and Denpasser in South Bali is the problem.
Some tourists in South Bali have very little regard for local Balinese culture, and with polluted oceans and pervasive single use plastic waste, locals have frequently raised concerns as the government stalls on creating long term solutions for overtourism.
Best Bali Alternative: Flores Island
Indonesia is one of the top 10 countries for undertourism, filled with off the beaten path travel destinations. Outside of Bali, so many places in Indonesia have been largely ignored. With 17,5000 islands of Indonesia, you have many options. Flores Island is one of those gorgeous options.
Popular with backpackers, divers and hikers, the island’s scenery, traditional villages and rich history is what makes it a must see. With multiple volcanos to hike and easy access to Komodo Island, there are so many things to do on Flores Island.
The island has seen a surge of development in the last few years, after the government dubbed it one of the “Ten New Balis” in a plan to attract tourism to the rest of the islands in Indonesia.
2. Overtourism Destination: Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona has long been reeling under the effects of overtourism and its residents have repeatedly protested. Always topping the list of best cities to visit in Spain, millions of tourists do indeed visit Barcelona, overwhelming the local population.
With the largest port in the Mediterranean, Barcelona welcomes millions of cruise ships, and as a consequence, its port is now among the most polluted in Europe.
The mayor has put in a number of steps to help curb the crowds, such as limiting cruise ships, banning large tourist buses in the centre, reducing capacity at hotels and charging a high nightly tourist tax.
Best Barcelona Alternative: Valencia
Just a few hours from Barcelona lies Valencia — Spain’s third largest city, and one of the most underrated places in Spain. Known for its perfect weather, thriving art scene, green spaces, and booming nightlife, Valencia is a must visit.
With stunning and similar architecture to Barcelona, incredible museums, rich culture, and vibrant beaches, Valencia is the best off the beaten path travel destination in Spain.
3. Overtourism Destination: Tulum, Mexico
Tulum has become one of the more recent victims of overtourism, much to locals’ dismay. What once was a bohemian, hidden paradise in Quintana Roo is now a tourist hot spot — especially amidst the pandemic.
Hard partying tourists are causing cartel turf wars, Tulum resorts claiming to be eco friendly take over the beaches, and prices are skyrocketing. Tulum’s popularity is only increasing and few measures have been put in place to protect it.
Best Tulum Alternative: Bacalar
Just a few hours away from Tulum lies Bacalar. Its popularity on Instagram is just beginning thanks to its stunning “lake of seven colors.” Almost neighboring Belize, Bacalar is laid back and filled with vegan-friendly cafes and eco-camping sights.
While the area boasts a crystal clear lake, outdoor adventures, and affordable accommodations, people are starting to warn of the potential for overtourism. Thanks to the mindful community it attracts, chances are high that Bacalar will remain a picturesque, sustainable travel destination for some time.
4. Overtourism Destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Few places rival the awe-inspiring beauty of Dubrovnik, Croatia. While Dubrovnik has always been popular for tourism, thanks to Dubrovnik’s feature in Game of Thrones, international tourists now flock to the city en masse.
A UNESCO heritage site, the ancient city is constantly under siege from the thousands of tourists walking through its historic structures. The locals are being pushed out of Dubrovnik’s old town at an alarming rate. In 1991, the center was home to 5,000 residents. In 2017, only 1,157 people remained in Old Town.
In 2019, the mayor of Dubrovnik announced plans to combat overtourism. He limited cruise ships and limited the number of visitors allowed in Old Town.
Best Dubrovnik Alternative: Zadar
Zadar is an incredibly underrated Croatian city, built among Roman ruins and pristine beaches. If you’re set on visiting Croatia during the peak season, Zadar is a more sustainable choice.
Zadar’s nightlife and beaches rival Split, it’s historic sites rival Dubrovnik, and it’s trendy cafes and culture rival Zagreb. With easy access to everything that made Croatia so touristy in the first place, (steller sunsets, remote islands, and blue lagoons), Zadar tops the list of off the beaten path travel destinations to visit.
5. Overtourism Destination: Venice, Italy
If there’s one place that should not be visited for awhile, it’s Venice, Italy.
Over 35 million tourists flock to see Venice’s attractions every year, making it one of the most touristy cities. In contrast, there are only 60,000 residents left in Venice city, pushed out by rising rent.
The water levels within Venice are steadily rising, and the surrounding coastline is damaged. Venice announced plans to create a tourist tax, limit cruise ships, and ban people from lingering at the famous attractions. This was postponed due to the pandemic, and Venice is currently using data to track tourists activities to propose a new comprehensive sustainable tourism plan.
Best Venice Alternative: Padua
Off the beaten path travel destinations in Italy may seem hard to come by, but there are a surprising amount. Far lesser known, Padua is a beautiful Northern Italian city only thirty minutes from Venice, boasting similar architecture, waterways, and fantastic food.
Older than Rome, and near many of the major touristy areas in Italy, Padua is still somehow off the beaten track. In Padua you can soak up Italy’s rich history and delicious local cuisine, and admire the historic sites — without massive crowds.
6. Overtourism Destination: Santorini, Greece
Who hasn’t seen a photo of Santorini’s famous white, sun-soaked buildings looming over the ocean? We get it — such photos make you want to immediately book a flight. Unfortunately, Santorini is paying the price.
Santorini island is one of the top touristy destinations in Greece, thanks to a constant stream of cruise ships and day trips. Home to only 15,000 residents, during peak season Santorini received over 10,000 tourists a day.
The island can’t accommodate the increased waste, water and electricity use, and the streets are packed. In 2019, the city limited the number of allowed cruise ship visitors and proposed promoting Santorini as a year round destination to curb the effects of peak seasons. The pandemic hit Santoroni’s economy hard, but it also allowed the island some rest. Plans for a future of sustainable tourism are being discussed.
Best Santorini Alternative: Paros
Paros is one of the best Greek islands, partly because it’s lesser known. Without the consequences of overtourism that touristy Santorini, Mykonos and Athens experience, Paros is a great sustainable alternative.
Paros island has plenty of delicious restaurants and trendy clubs to enjoy. Not to mention, the beautiful beaches, plentiful hiking trails, historic sites and a diverse crowd.
With a rich culture and variety of things to do, Paros has everything you’d want on a trip to Greece.
7. Overtourism Destination: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tales of Amsterdam’s notorious red light district and weed shops have long overshadowed the vibrant culture and trendy vibe that serve as highlights of the real Amsterdam.
With a population of roughly 1 million, Amsterdam received over 18 million visitors in 2018 alone. Amsterdam attracts certain travelers that spend their trip in the red light district and Amsterdam centraal, behaving inappropriately, much to the locals dismay.
In response, police officers have cracked down. The city has also banned new tourist shops from opening within the city center, limited short term rentals, and limited red-light district tours.
Best Amsterdam Alternative: Utrecht
Known by many locals as the most beautiful canal city in Europe, Utrecht is the perfect alternative destination to Amsterdam.
Roughly 40 minutes from Amsterdam, Utrecht provides the same culture, and scenery as its touristy counterpart, but without the fanfare and the crowds.
Utrecht boasts a strong cafe culture, hipster vibe, and buildings dating back to the Medieval times. It’s one of the more beloved cities in the Netherlands and for good reason.
8. Overtourism Destination: Boracay, Philippines
The government shut down Boracay island in 2018 because of overtourism. Boracay needed rehabilitation due to poor waste management and hard partying crowds. There were over 800 environmental violations found at the time.
Since then, Boracay has reopened, but the precious island is still recovering. The famous Boracay beach parties are now banned and cruise ships must have passenger capacities.
Underrated Destination: Palawan
Similar to Indonesia, there are numerous off the beaten path travel destinations in the Philippines to explore, outside of Boracay. Palawan is both a beloved and underrated island. Considered the most beautiful island in the Philippines, Palawan’s culture is protected.
There are multiple secluded areas on Palawan island to enjoy, and each area brings with it a different experience. With some of the most stunning water in the Philippines, a bustling capital, traditional villages and a variety of beaches, Palawan has something for everyone.
9. Overtourism Destination: London
London is arguably one of the most famous places in the world. Thanks to England’s economy and infrastructure, London handles the constant influx of tourists well, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t suffered from overtourism.
The main offenders? Airbnb and short term rental takeovers. Not to mention, traffic, big crowds, and long lines at every major attraction. Some iconic neighborhoods are completely flooded with tourists, making it difficult for locals to go about their daily routines.
Best London Alternative: Bristol
It’s hard to think of visiting the UK and not just going to London, but that is exactly the problem. There are many interesting and vibrant off the beaten path travel destinations in England, but Bristol should be at the top of the list.
A notable university town, Bristol is brimming with culture, diverse and trendy eateries, a buzzing nightlife and stunning sights. With a similar history and vibe to London, Bristol gives you the quintessential UK experience without the price tag and the touristy crowds.
10. Overtourism Destination: Reykjavik, Iceland
After a 2008 economic crisis, Iceland launched a massive and successful marketing campaign to boost tourism. This, paired with Game of Thrones and social media, turned Iceland into a top tourist destination. In 2018, tourists suddenly outnumbered locals by 7:1. The capital city of Reykjavik receives the brunt of its visitors.
What once topped the list of off the beaten path travel destinations, Iceland’s stunning nature is now the main attraction for tourists. These photo worthy sights are not equipped to handle large crowds, prompting environmental concerns.
Recognizing the concentration of tourists in Reykjavik, Iceland is trying to diversify their tourist attractions by encouraging travelers to explore more off the beaten path travel destinations, and stay longer.
Best Reykjavik Alternative: Akureyri
Iceland’s second largest city, dubbed the “capital of North,” Akureyri provides a wonderful alternative to Reykjavik. Akureyri is filled with galleries, museums, local culture, geothermal pools, yummy food, and great areas to whale watch.
There are so many things to do in Akureyri, so if you’re looking to visit off the beaten path travel destinations in Iceland, plan to spend some time in town. This is more sustainable than only hopping to the major attractions.
11. Overtourism Destination: Bangkok, Thailand
In 2018, Bangkok received more visitors than anywhere else in the world. Bangkok is a major city, so the overtourism effects aren’t as noticeable as they are on the Thai islands, but what’s happening to Bangkok is still problematic.
The main issues? Rampant sex tourism and horrific pollution. The ethical issues, huge crowds, rising prices, and pollution created by tourism in Bangkok pervade the city. The government is working to address Bangkok’s overtourism as travel opens up in full force after the pandemic.
Best Bangkok Alternative: Kohn Kaen
It’s hard to find many off the beaten path travel destinations in Thailand, especially for cities. Kohn Kaen is a hidden gem, however. This major city hosts bustling food markets, diverse neighborhoods, and great shopping.
Known to throw the best Songkran festival in the country, Kohn Kaen also boasts a strong university, traditional culture, a big coffee scene, and far fewer tourists than Bangkok.
How to Visit Overtourism Destinations Responsibly:
While many off the beaten path travel destinations may rank high on your bucket list, you might still want to visit the popular ones. If you’re going to visit touristy destinations, here are some ways to lessen your negative impact:
- Visit during off season.
- Stay more than a day — the longer, the better.
- Support local tour guides, and stay in boutique or eco hotels.
- Shop and eat at family-run places so your dollar has the most impact.
- Do your research: Is there a particular issue in this region that tourists are greatly contributing to? How can you avoid this? Even better, how do you help?
For more sustainable and off the beaten path travel destinations to add to your bucket list, check out this list here.