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15 Beloved Places Struggling With Overtourism

Mallorca

The problem: Last year, ten million travelers visited Mallorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands, according to the European Union Regional Development Fund—up from just six million in 2010. This year, an average of 1,094 flights will land on the island each day during peak season, which runs May through October. By boat, it's not much better: some days see as many as 17,000 cruise ship passengers arriving, according to The Telegraph. As previously reported by Traveler's Erin Florio, this summer, local advocacy group Ciutat distributed fliers in Catalan, English, and German at the airport, saying the human pressure of tourism has caused an "extreme environmental crisis" and the "commercialization of the landscape, environment, and heritage." Another group, Tot Inclos, says housing prices in Palma's Old Town have spiked, in part because of the crush of well-heeled visitors staying in properties like the Calatrava Boutique Hotel and the Hotel Can Cera.

What they’re doing about it: Last year, officials announced a doubling of the tourist tax to €4 ($4.64) per person per day; visitors pay the tax when checking out of hotels. (The funds "support a sustainable model so that tourism to the islands benefits local communities,” Pilar Carbonell, the Balearic's director of tourism told The Telegraph.) And after a surge in short-term vacation rentals showing up on platforms like Airbnb, the regional government has cracked down on the listings, banning everything except those in detached homes that are neither on public land nor in a region near an airport.

What you can do about it: Avoid high season (July and August) and instead travel in low season (November, December, January, February) or shoulder season (March, April, May, June, September, October). Avoid all-inclusive resorts, too, and stay, buy, eat, and shop local in ways that directly affect residents in positive ways.

Amsterdam

The problem: It’s projected that Amsterdam will receive almost 20 million visitors by the end of 2018—compared to its population of less than a million, per NPR. Certain areas like the Museum Quarter and Red Light District are under more strain due to their popularity; tourists also tend to exhibit particularly “boorish” behavior at the latter, as previously reported by Traveler.

What they’re doing about it: The city has taken multiple measures to stem the flow of tourists—limiting Airbnb rentals, repackaging outlying districts as standalone destinations, banning new tourist shops from opening in the city center, and diverting tourists to less busy attractions using apps and live streams. Oh, and no more beer bikes. That’s also a thing.

What you can do about it: Visit iamsterdam’s site to see all of the less-frequented destinations you should be paying attention to—if you use the city card, public transportation is included with the fee.

Boracay

The problem: Since the early 1990s, Boracay has been known as a screensaver brought to life, with dazzling white sand, so-clear-you-can-see-your-toes water, and a lush jungle backdrop, writes Traveler's Megan Spurrell. But there's a problem: The number of annual visitors on the four-square-mile island has ballooned from 260,000 people in 2000, to more than two million just last year. Locals—hotel owners, beach vendors, taxi drivers—have scrambled to accommodate the masses, though many bigger structural questions, such as waste or trash management, have been handled with a finger-in-the-dike approach. (Rather than establish an underground sewer network, for example, many business built their own above-ground solutions of PVC pipe leading to the ocean—despite the fact that none of them had access to equipment for treating sewage.)

Over the last couple years, to many, Boracay has fallen into complete disarray. The waters known for being clear enough to see the reefs below have filled with a green algae, and illegal fishing, pollution, and unmonitored snorkeling are said to have destroyed 70-90 percent of the coral cover. In summary: “There are simply too many hotels and tourists on a small island with inadequate infrastructure to handle important issues like sewage, sanitation, garbage, and pollution,” says Catherine Heald, a luxury travel specialist at Remote Lands.

What they’re doing about it: In February of this year, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte infamously called the island a “cesspool” and demanded a six-month closure to rehabilitate it. Illegal beachfront properties have been bulldozed, new bans on one-use plastics have been put into place, and all hotels have been asked to apply for a new set of permits (which include certain operational standards—waste management among them). Though an exact number has not been set, there is talk, too, of limiting the number of travelers and workers on the island at any given time. The island will have a soft reopening on October 26, at which time these new laws will go into place and the government will slowly assess the effect of tourism on the "new" Boracay.

What you can do about it: “Avoid Boracay for the foreseeable future,” says Heald. “Go to other beach resorts in the Philippines that are not suffering from overtourism, such as Siargao or Palawan (Amanpulo is absolute heaven).” With more than 7,641 islands in the Philippines, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Angkor Wat

The problem: Nearly 2.5 million people visited the massive 12th-century Hindu temple complex in 2017, up 12 percent over 2016, The Phnom Pehn Post reports. For the most part, visitors are crowding around the main Angkor Wat temple and Ta Prohm, a.k.a. "The Tomb Raider Temple." And they’re not just hurting the ruins, they’re affecting the surrounding areas as well. “The influx of tourists has spurred the growth of nearby urban areas, resulting in a shortage of groundwater that scientists worry could trigger a sudden collapse of the ancient monuments,” Traveler contributor Tyler Moss reported last year.

What they’re doing about it: In 2016, the Cambodian government made adjustments to lessen the intense flow of tourists. Ticket prices nearly doubled, from $20 to $37 per day per person. Ticket booths were moved away from the main East and West gates to prevent human traffic jams. And a cap of 100 visitors at a time was instituted at the Angkor Wat’s central tower. That said, no cap has been placed on the number of visitors in and out of the complex.

What you can do about it: In previous trips to Angkor Wat, Traveler editors have used experienced guides like About Angkor Cambodia to get to the historic site at 5 a.m., right when the gates open to visitors. Consider that beyond two or three main attractions, much of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples in Siem Reap are under-touristed. Traveler’s Lester Ledesma laid out a guide to getting to the more remote, but equally stunning, temples, too.

The Galápagos

The problem: Some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, these 19 islands—which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution—host approximately 9,000 species on land and in their surrounding waters. Most of these endemic species delicately exist within the environment afforded them here, and any changes threaten their survival. By 2007, such changes became glaring: A study from the United Nations showed that, over the 15 years prior, the number of days cruise passengers spent on the Galapagos soared by 150 percent, which fueled immigration growth, and subsequently increased inter-island traffic, leading to the introduction of invasive species. That year, the United Nations observed the strain these travelers and residents had put on the archipelago, and listed the destination as an endangered heritage site.

What they’re doing about it: As a result of the UN listing, the government made a handful of significant changes to regulate cruise travel. Initially, this was reflected in a healthy, downward trend in tourism, though 2007 also marks the moment land tourism began to take off. According to numbers released by the Galapagos National Park and reported by The New York Times, visitors increased by 39 percent from 2007 to 2016, with land-based tours jumping 90 percent during that time (meanwhile, ship-based tourism decreased by 11 percent over the same period).

Today, 97 percent of the land area has been designated as part of the national park, and tourism is carefully monitored to reduce further impact on the islands’ health or wildlife. Tourists can only travel to specific visitor sites, and must adhere to 14 rules, including accompaniment by a licensed Galápagos National Park Guide. In February, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association sent a letter to Ecuador’s tourism minister, Enrique Ponce de Leon, asking for increased regulations on land tourism, as well—but they’re still waiting to hear back.

What you can do about it: If you’re itching to visit the Galápagos for those once-in-a-lifetime wildlife sightings, book with an eco-conscious travel specialist who can consider your needs, and those of the destination. It may mean waiting for one of the limited space on the right ship. If you’re open to other wildlife experiences in the region, consider cruising the Amazon (or book at stay at an eco-lodge in one of the nine countries it spans), a trip to the “poor man’s Galápagos” in Paracas, Peru (which is rich in a thriving sea lion and Humboldt penguin population), or head further south to the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest grasslands, and home to the Pantanal jaguar, giant anteater, and Yacare caiman—to name a few.

Machu Picchu

The problem: Machu Picchu’s tourism numbers have gone from zero to 100 really quickly—more specifically, from fewer than 400,000 visitors to 1.4 million tourists in just 20 years, notes writer Tyler Moss in an article for Traveler. That’s surely more traffic than the Incans ever expected (or planned for), since archeologists think only about 750 people lived in Machu Picchu at once. Travelers were allowed to climb and crawl all over the ancient Incan ruins until mid-2017, littering and eroding pathways, but that changed once UNESCO threatened to place Machu Picchu on its “List of World Heritage in Danger.”

What they’re doing about it: In 2015, the Peruvian government announced its five-year, $43.7 million plan to protect the ruins (and get themselves off the UNESCO naughty list). Phase one of that plan went into effect on July 1, 2017, limiting tourists to two timed entries each day, requiring they be aided by an approved guide, and restricting them to specific trails through the ruins. Only 5,000 tickets are available each day, more than twice the number suggested by UNESCO—a prescription ultimately ignored so as not to limit the tourist dollars the attraction currently brings in. The second phase includes a new visitors center and a restroom within the Machu Picchu National Park’s perimeter.

What you can do about it: First, play by the rules: follow the instructed paths and don’t be peeved when you can’t tramp all over the granite walls like the “good ole’ days.” Next, consider diffusing the traffic by heading to other impressive Incan ruins. The Chachapoyan ruins in northern Peru are a highlight—though be sure to explore beyond the increasingly popular Kuélap, which may itself become overtouristed. Choquequirao—which got just 16 visitors in 2016—is our other pick, though you’ll have to put in four days of hiking each way to get there from Cusco. Interested? Knowmad Adventures can help you pull it off.

Iceland

The problem: As of May 2015, the number of visitors to Iceland had increased 76 percent over the same period in 2014, and by the end of 2017, Skift reported that the year had seen seven visitors per resident. And with the numbers still soaring, there are concerns that the country’s infrastructure (intended to serve a population of just 338,349 people) and attractions like the Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park, both of which are getting busier by the day, might not be able to cope with the swells.

What they’re doing about it: The Icelandic Tourist Board and the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre are researching how “full” a site can get before detracting from the experience, and is in the first phase of reevaluating its tourism strategy. "There’s far from being pressure all over Iceland," María Reynisdóttir, Tourism Specialist at Iceland's Ministry of Industries and Innovation, told Traveler's Katherine LaGrave. "Iceland is not overrun with tourists. But we do have problems in specific areas, parts of sites, and we’ve started to focus more on visitor management and adding infrastructure and those kinds of things, and changing our marketing message to distribute visitors." Iceland has also implemented new Airbnb regulations is one way the government is attempting regulate the influx of tourists: Locals can only rent out their apartments for up to 90 days per year before needing a hospitality license, and are also limited to a maximum earning of one million Icelandic krona ($8,785) per year, Traveler reported last year.

What you can do about it: Sign up with a tour group like Hidden Iceland, which vows to take you where the hoards aren’t, skipping the overcrowded Blue Lagoon in favor of lesser known (but equally as impressive) spots. Alternatively, consider going outside of the summer peak season, and visiting during autumn or winter. It will be colder—and you may have a lot less daylight—but it’s also the best time to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Whatever you do? Be sure to get out of Reykjavík.

Santorini

The problem: Greece is on track to see a record 32 million tourists this year, a nearly 100 percent jump from its visitor numbers in 2010 (15 million) and more than five times the amount of visitors from a decade ago, reports The Independent. Santorini, at just 29 square miles, remains one of the country's most popular destinations thanks to its turn in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and has struggled with overtourism: The island has experienced rising water and energy consumption, and its mayor says the island’s pace is not sustainable: “It’s a radical rise and we are forever playing catch-up,” Mayor Nikos Zorzos told The Guardian. “We have built numerous desalination plants and are in the process of erecting the biggest one in Greece, but in five years’ time I worry even that won’t be enough.”

What they’re doing about it: In an effort to cut down on the number of visitors, which reached more than 10,000 a day a few years ago, Santorini capped cruise ship visitor numbers to 8,000 per day in 2017. Also related? The municipality of Santorini earlier this summer pledged to make changes to the working conditions of the island’s famed donkeys, which are used to ferry tourists around places on the island where cars can't travel, including some 600 steps up the winding, cobblestoned Karavolades stairs in the town of Fira: They will limit the weight donkeys and mules can carry and regulate the number of hours they can work.

What you can do about it: Consider flying to Santorini and spending longer than a day there (though cruises have many benefits, one of the drawbacks is that the local destination doesn’t see any overnight income from those foot travelers). See Fira and Oia, sure, but go inland to small villages like Pyrgos, Messaria, Exo Gonia, Katherados, and Vothonas. As always, skip peak season and look to travel April to early June, or from September to November. Learn about local ingredients (and recipes) via a cooking class at Selene Restaurant.

Bali

The problem: In 2017, Indonesia saw 13.7 million overseas visitors, a huge leap from 1990, when it only saw 2.2 million. Even more notable? A third of those visitors went to Bali. Though the island only had three hotels up until the 1960s—that construction boom, plus the opening of Ngurah Rai International Airport, plus that whole Eat, Pray, Love effect—has meant the island is choked with congestion and seeing water shortages. In December 2017, Bali declared a “garbage emergency” after several of the island’s most popular beaches became littered with plastic, reports The Telegraph. Tourists have also gotten in hot water for posing in front of temples in bikinis.

What they’re doing about it: Because of the rise in disrespectful behavior at sacred Hindu sites, Balinese officials said in late September that they would be reevaluating laws that allow tourists to visit temples unaccompanied. Unfortunately, not much else seems to be changing: Instead, the Indonesian government seems concentrated on replicating Bali’s success, funneling money into “10 New Balis” with significant investment—in the billions—from Singaporean and Chinese businesses.

What you can do about it: Get off the beaten paths of Kuta, Seminyak, and Ubud, and instead head to North and East Bali. Sidemen, Traveler editor Sebastian Modak points out, has all of the rice paddies of Ubud—and more. For a tailor-made trip, book a tour with Diane Embree of Bali Barong Tours: She’ll guide you to spots that don’t even appear on maps and set you up at luxury hotels almost nobody’s heard about.

Dubrovnik

The problem: Thanks to an influx of Game of Thrones fans, cruise-goers, and travelers seeking out the city’s storied ancient architecture, Dubrovnik is swamped with tourists. In 2016, more than 10,000 people bought tickets to walk the defensive walls in one day, as previously reported by Traveler. The city’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the organization is concerned that the traffic could damage the buildings; not to mention, the number of residents living in the neighborhood has dwindled by nearly 80 percent, per The Telegraph.

What they’re doing about it: Earlier this month, city mayor Mato Frankovic announced that Dubrovnik will only accept two cruise ships a day in 2019, with a max of 5,000 passengers allowed. An overall plan of limiting daily tourists to 4,000 was proposed back in August 2017, and last January, security cameras were installed at the city’s entrances to track visitation. Coupled with Frankovic’s move to cut down on souvenir stands and restaurant tables, it’s safe to say Dubrovnik is taking the matter very seriously.

What you can do about it: Go during shoulder season (May-June; September-October). You should also consider heading up the coast to Zadar, or to the island of Vis, via Split. Both destinations are less crowded, and still offer beautiful settings on the Adriatic. Tap Wanda S. Radetti of VisitCroatia.com for the latest intel on the best hotels, wineries, restaurants, and yacht charters along the coast.

(Some) U.S. National Parks

The problem: Overtourism isn’t a problem in all U.S. national parks—in fact, 27 national parks (out of 59) get half of the total national park visitation, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Zion National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. Visitation numbers (more than 330 million travelers in 2017) actually went down a few thousand between 2016 and 2017, too. But it’s the historical data for some of these parks that’s striking. Take Utah’s Zion National Park, for example: In 2010, just 2.7 million visitors passed through, stopping by Angel’s Landing and the Emerald Pools, according to Skift, but the same park saw 4.5 million people, more than double in two decades. The increased visitation is causing serious traffic jams at popular Arches National Park, Yosemite National Park, and more, and parking lots fill to capacity in a matter of hours.

What they’re doing about it: The National Park Service has proposed timed entry at a number of parks, to help spread out visitors. But, the official rulings haven’t come in yet (proposals have been ongoing since 2016) and concerns are already being raised about their efficacy. Case in point? Though visitation numbers went down in 2017, time spent in the national parks went up, big time. Travelers spent more than 1.4 billion hours in various national parks in 2017—up 19 million over 2016—according to the NPS. So while timed entry would limit the number of people inside the park, it won’t help move people out of the park.

What you can do about it: One of the best options is to visit during the off-season. High season for most national parks is during the summer, when travelers have more time off—and the weather is more predictably warm—for adventure. In the case of parks like Big Bend National Park in Texas and Death Valley National Park in California, the hot summer temperatures drop to a more bearable average. And pretty much everywhere looks better with an idyllic dusting of snow. Just be sure to check NPS sites for high snowfall parks like Alaska’s Denali National Park and California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park to be sure you can get around safely (even if it means switching out hiking boots for cross-country skis).

Barcelona

The problem: Barcelona has a year-round population of under two million, but sees close to 32 million tourists a year, annually, reports The Local Spain. Part of that congestion is owing to the fact that Barcelona has the Mediterranean's largest port: Consider that in 1990, 115,000 cruise passengers arrived in Barcelona. By 2016, that number had soared to 2.7 million. Given that cruise ship passengers don't overnight in the city—or have much time to spend in a place, really—the most popular sites, including La Rambla, the Sagrada Familia, and Parc Güell, are incredibly congested.

What they're doing about it: As previously reported, Ada Colau, who in June 2015 was overwhelmingly voted in as Barcelona's mayor, has followed through on early promises to cut down on visitor numbers in the Catalonian capital. The city has kicked around the idea of a new tourist tax, which would charge travelers entering the city who don't stay overnight—think day-trippers, and those in town on a cruise. In January 2017, Barcelona approved a law that will help to restrict the number of visitors in the city by limiting the number of beds available from hotels and tourist apartments. The city is also taking cues from Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome and considering banning large coach buses in the center, Albert Arias Sans, Head of the Barcelona City Council’s Strategic Plan for Tourism, told Traveler's Katherine LaGrave.

What you can do about it: Skip that Airbnb for now, and instead stay in a licensed hotel or hostel—double points if you stay in a neighborhood that's not as well known, like L'Eixample. Explore that neighborhood and its sights, and if you must see the major sites (we get it), visit in off-peak times or off-peak seasons.

Thai Islands

The problem: From the 1974 Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, filmed on Khao Phing Kan, to the 2000 film The Beach set in Maya Bay, the appeal of Thailand’s beaches has been captured and broadcast for decades. Throngs of travelers have trooped in since, chasing the turquoise waters, dramatic limestone cliffs, and tropical foliage the region is known for—and, of course, the Insta-worthy photos.

The attention, paired with a delayed reaction by local government to regulate the beaches, has led to these stretches of sand becoming overcrowded in recent years. Koh Tachai, for example, is a popular diving and snorkeling spot in the Andaman Sea just north of Phuket that can comfortably accommodate 70 travelers at one time on any of its beaches. As of 2016, it began seeing crowds closer to 1,000 squeezing onto the sand. The Beach’s Maya Bay, on the already-popular Koh Phi Phi Leh island, sees about 5,000 visitors per day (Maya Bay is just 820 feet long). This overcrowding has led to the decimation of entire ecosystems on these islands: Their beaches and waves have become littered with trash, their reefs severely damaged by irresponsible snorkelers and boats (Maya is estimated to have lost 80 percent of its coral cover), and marine life virtually wiped out as a result.

What they’re doing about it: The multifarious Thai government has branches that spur overtourism, while others simultaneously work to combat its effects. The latter, Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Plants, and Wildlife Conservation, is currently working overtime to combat the ruin created by the former—namely, by closing down overrun national spaces and giving them time to repair, while reassessing what responsible tourism could look like in the future. In May 2016, the DNP announced it would be closing Koh Tachai to tourists, and enacting new regulations on Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui, and Koh Khai Nai (all islands off the coast tourist hub Phuket). "We have to close [Koh Tachai] to allow the rehabilitation of the environment both on the island and in the sea without being disturbed by tourism activities before the damage is beyond repair," Tunya Netithammakul, director of the DNP at the time, told the Bangkok Post. Regulations on the other islands stimulated when, where, and how tour operators could visit the islands, and included the removal of beachfront structures deemed detrimental to the local environment.

In June of this year, the department announced it would also be closing Maya Bay to tourists for four months, before updating the mandate in October to read as an indefinite closure. "The ecosystem and the beach's physical structure have [not] yet returned to its full condition," said the DNP's announcement, noting that the bay would remain closed “until natural resources return to normal." The rehabilitation program includes reviving corals and installing boat jetties.

What you can do about it: Traveler’s Cynthia Drescher suggests visiting Trang, Thailand: “The coast of southwestern Thailand's Trang province is speckled with island beaches, like on Koh Libong, Koh Mook, and Koh Kradan, that rival the natural beauty of Maya Bay, but see a fraction of the tourists.” And, no matter what the destination, read up on the causes of coral damage—and how to minimize your impact. For starters? Stock up on reef-safe sunscreen, don’t stand on coral—ever—and be sure to travel with eco-conscious tour operators who will guide you responsibility, like Intrepid Travel.

Mount Everest

The problem: Everest is more popular than ever—so popular, in fact, that climbers are now finding themselves stuck in traffic jams as they ascend the mountain’s treacherous slopes. Though the 2015 climbing season was officially shuttered following the Nepal earthquake that same year, the numbers quickly bounced back after the routes reopened, with 36,694 visitors passing through the Everest region in 2016. In 2017, the Nepalese government issued a record 371 permits to foreigners who wanted to attempt the summit (the highest number since 1953), a number that doubled once you included the required sherpa guides, reported the Washington Post. The sherpas are among the most concerned: Forced to collect the astonishing level of waste left behind by tourists, they have threatened to strike for higher wages to pay for the increasingly dangerous task of taking care of inexperienced climbers.

What they're doing about it: “I would describe Nepal’s national flower as a discarded plastic water bottle,” says Walter Keats, travel specialist for Asia Pacific Travel, of the level of trash now found on Everest—which is to say, the country might not be doing enough. While a handful of measures have been implemented in the past few years, including an increased fee for foreign climbers from $10,000 to $11,000; the establishment of a liaison office at base camp to verify experience, health, and climbing conditions; and a ban on solo or "novice" climbers, last year’s record number of permits doesn’t reflect great change—especially when you throw in an increasing number of wealthy day-trippers flying in by helicopter for Champagne breakfasts above base camp.

What you can do about it: A considerable problem is inexperienced climbers clogging up the routes, so think hard as to whether you’re truly equipped to do it before buying a permit. ("You need to climb at least three 20,000 peaks, one 23,000 peak, and one 26,000 peak before considering Everest,” says alpinist Adrian Ballinger. You also need 30 days in Crampons ice spikes and ten days of technical rock climbing, he says; it’s a plan that, at minimum, takes a year-and-a-half.) If you do decide to tackle the world’s highest mountain—or at least make it to base camp—then make sure you go with a reputable tour group that puts money back into the community, like World Expeditions.

Venice

The problem: In addition to rising water levels that threaten its infrastructure, the ancient city has seen such a deluge of visitors—30 million each year—that some academics believe the native population could be zero as early as 2030. (Rising rent prices have left many locals unable to afford a place in the city.) Cruise ships also bring in thousands of passengers per year, and the traffic has been harming the surrounding ecosystem and eroding coastlines.

What they’re doing about it: Last month, Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro proposed a “sitting ban,” which would fine people up to $590 for “taking a seat in any public space,” as previously reported by Traveler. This follows a sitting ban on the Rialto Bridge and “several major churches.” Tourists have also been asked to “not linger on the bridges too long”, and refrain from littering, riding a bike through the historic city center, and sightseeing in a bathing suit, as part of the 2017 campaign #EnjoyRespectVenezia. There have also been talks to ban cruise ships from the historic city center, and fast food shops (e.g. Kebab shops) are also a no-go. As a result, some hotels are reporting lower occupancy than normal.

What you can do about it: Go during shoulder season (April-June, Sept-October), and be a respectful, conscious traveler. Spread out your itinerary so you’re not hitting all the hot spots in one day and contributing to the congestion, or book a tour with a company like Walks of Italy, which will give you an inside look at the city.