Your Guide to Avoiding the Crowds in 5 Popular Places

Take a closer look at how some of the world’s most popular destinations are coping with overtourism—and learn a few ways you can travel more conscientiously.

Your Guide to Avoiding the Crowds in 5 Popular Places

In 2017, France was the most visited country in the world, followed by the United States, Spain, China, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Mexico.

Photo by The Voorhes

The world’s most visited places continue to feel the strain of overtourism—and they’re bracing for more. In 2016, the United Nations reported that international tourism arrivals surpassed the 1 billion mark and predicted they will reach 1.8 billion by the year 2030. Thankfully, governments and travel companies are finding new ways to help these beloved places cope.

Amsterdam and other cities are leaning on technology to redirect visitors to less trammeled neighborhoods, and companies such as Intrepid Travel have devised itineraries to introduce travelers to undervisited countries. (Departures for its Moldova-Ukraine-Romania trip nearly doubled in 2018.) Check out the ways five overvisited places are managing the traffic, and discover alternative areas that will help you avoid the crowds.

The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana showcases a mix of medieval and modern architectural styles and a thriving art scene.

The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana showcases a mix of medieval and modern architectural styles and a thriving art scene.

Photo courtesy of Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Hot Spot: Amsterdam

How It’s Dealing: Known for its picturesque canals, eco- and bike-friendly denizens, and world-class art institutions such as the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam is seeing unprecedented visitor numbers in its historic center. The city tourism board has invited the public to propose solutions. One idea: I Amsterdam Maps & Routes, an app developed by a local startup that offers self-guided tours of lesser-known neighborhoods. Users earn chances to win travel-related prizes, such as free city transport passes.

Nearby Alternative: Only 30 minutes away from Amsterdam’s city center by train, the coastal town of Zandvoort, with its wide, sandy shores and nearby dunes, is perfect for getting a good dose of vitamin D. If relaxing in the sun isn’t your style, order a meal or drinks at one of the low-key restaurants along the water.

Try Instead: A river winds through the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, which still flies mostly under the radar. Like Amsterdam, it showcases a mix of medieval and modern architectural styles and a thriving art scene. You’ll find contemporary art installations at the Metelkova Mesto cultural center, a converted army barracks. The city also embraces ecoconscious living: In 2016, it was named the European Union’s Green Capital.

Hot Spot: Maya Bay, Thailand

How It’s Dealing: The turquoise waters and greenery-covered limestone crags of Maya Bay in the Ko Phi Phi archipelago became a top stop for travelers to Thailand after appearing in the 2000 film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Over time, pollution has damaged the area’s ecosystem, and since 2018 the government has closed the beach annually during the rainy season (June through September). The country’s Department of National Parks will use that time to study the health of the reefs and beach and allow the landscape to recuperate.

Nearby Alternative: Like Ko Phi Phi, the island of Ko Kut balances jungle and beach⎯but with fewer resorts and less development, it offers a more secluded experience. Though each of the island’s west coast beaches is a paradise unto itself, Bangbao Bay, with its calm waters and fine sand, is particularly tranquil and inviting.

Try Instead: For a truly secluded beach in Asia, explore the coastal havens of Vietnam. Fly to the island of Phu Quoc, a 60-minute hop from Ho Chi Minh City, and head north to Thom Beach. Snorkel in its shallow waters, walk to nearby Mot Island at low tide, or hire a local guide to take you fishing. If you catch a fish, restaurants nearby will cook it for you for a small fee.

 At Choquequirao, just 25 miles from Machu Picchu, you’ll have the ruins, including the plaza, temples, and stone llama mosaics, mostly to yourself.

At Choquequirao, just 25 miles from Machu Picchu, you’ll have the ruins, including the plaza, temples, and stone llama mosaics, mostly to yourself.

Photo courtesy of Christian Declercq/Shutterstock

Hot Spot: Machu Picchu

How It’s Dealing: Machu Picchu saw more than a million visitors last year, and the ruins of the 15th-century Inca citadel—which features temples, agricultural terraces, and Sacred Valley views—are at risk of being, well, ruined. Last year, government officials instituted a timed ticketing system, and visitors now must be accompanied by licensed guides, travel in groups of 16 or fewer, and stick to designated pathways.

Nearby Alternative: Yes, you’ll have to make a multiday round-trip trek through the Peruvian Andes to get to Choquequirao, but this sister site 25 miles from Machu Picchu is worth the extra effort. So few people go that you’ll have the ruins, including the plaza, temples, and stone llama mosaics, mostly to yourself. Plans are in the works to build a cable car for easier access, so now’s the time to go, before the crowds arrive.

Try Instead: Mexico is filled with undiscovered ruins and historic sites. One such spot is the Atzompa archaeological site outside of Oaxaca, which has only been open to the public since 2012. You’ll find remnants of opulent residences and ball courts, including the biggest uncovered example in the Zapotec empire. About five miles away is the better-known (but still relatively uncrowded) Monte Albán, with pyramids, sculptures, and close to 200 elaborate tombs.

Hot Spot Santorini, Greece

How It’s Dealing: Beaches of black and red sand, blue-domed buildings, and postcard-perfect sunsets lured 2 million visitors to the 29-square-mile island last year, making it the most visited island in Greece. In an attempt to alleviate the seasonal strain on infrastructure, the island has capped the number of daily cruise ship visitors at 8,000. Hoping to visit anyway? Travel during a shoulder season month, March or October.

Nearby Alternative: Hop a 40-minute flight from Athens to Paros, then take a half-hour ferry to Antiparos, a tiny Cycladic island with clear waters and white-sand beaches. Don’t miss the stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient graffiti in the Cave of Antiparos.

Try Instead: The rest of the world is starting to discover Cyprus, the island country that has long been a summer destination for Europeans. And no wonder: 57 of its beaches have earned the stringent Blue Flag designation for their achievement in water quality and environmental management. Take advantage of the landscape and rent a 4x4 to visit Lara Beach in the Akamas Peninsula for the day. It’ll be you, soft sands, and, from June through August, the green and loggerhead turtles that nest on the beach.

Hot Spot: New Zealand

How It’s Dealing: The number of annual tourists traveling to the island nation of 4.7 million people—filled with picturesque mountains, impressive glaciers, and super-friendly people—is estimated to almost equal its number of residents by 2022. The government is hoping to preempt damage to the environment and pressure on resources with a tourism tax for international travelers beginning in 2019. The tourism board is also encouraging travel in the off-peak season, between March and November.

Nearby Alternative: Head to the less trafficked Kauri Coast in the Northland region, where you can paddle in freshwater Kai Iwi lakes, catch a glimpse of kiwi birds in their natural habitat, have a sandboarding adventure in the dunes of Hokianga, and walk beneath the ancient trees that give the coast its name.

Try Instead: For a place with as warm a welcome and as striking a landscape, buy a ticket to Canada’s Alberta province. Watch bison at Elk Island National Park, hike to Lake Agnes Tea House for an afternoon treat, wonder at fossils millions of years old at Dinosaur Provincial Park, and walk on ice at Glacier National Park.

>> Next: Places to Escape the Cold (and the Crowds) this Winter

Sara Button is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience.
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