The beautiful waterways of Venice, Dubrovnik's old town and Ko Phi Phi's beaches. These international travel attractions undoubtedly make for unforgettable experiences. But the sheer numbers of visitors arriving have made a significant impact on environments, structures and local communities. While governments and tourist boards are introducing various policies to tackle overtourism, we should consider ways in which we can help as responsible travellers, too.
Here, we've taken five destinations suffering from overtourism and recommended five sustainable alternatives instead. Your trip will be all the more rewarding for it.
Venice tops many travel lists, and with good reason. Its charming canals, pedestrian-friendly space and impressive art and architecture all add to its unique appeal. Yet with soaring visitor numbers, Venice overtourism is becoming an ever more important issue. In 2017 the local tourist board recently introduced '12 good rules for the responsible visitor' in a bid to promote sustainable tourism. Rules include not standing on the bridges, not leaving 'love padlocks' and trying to visit outside of high season. It's certainly a step in the right direction. But to really give Venice's structure (and locals) a break, consider a trip to Annecy, France, instead.
This small French town sits against a backdrop of the Alps, which peek over the roofs of colourful sixteenth-century houses lining the canals. Come summer, it's certainly busier, but there's still plenty of room to enjoy a coffee at La Barista Café, pause on the Point des Amours bridge and take in the former prison of Palais de I'Isle (don't worry, it's a museum now). The town hugs the banks of Lake Annecy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a status that Venice is at risk of losing). You can hire a small boat and soak up the uninterrupted views, no elbow-jostling or tiptoe viewing required.
Since featuring in Danny Boyle's film The Beach back in 2000, Ko Phi Phi has welcomed up to 5,000 visitors a day, mostly from boat trips. The once beautiful Maya Bay has become the ultimate go-to spot on the island, but popularity has taken its toll. The effect on the ecosystem has become so damaging, that Thailand recently made the hard call to temporarily close the area. This allowed the littered beaches, coral reefs and other ecosystems to return to their natural states.
For a similar paradise island experience, head to El Nido, on the northernmost tip of Palawan Island in the Philippines, is the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago and home to the largest marine sanctuary in the country. Tours that explore the limestone-clad islands include an ecotourism development fee. This 'eco-tax' goes towards the preservation of the area's natural habitat, protecting more than 400 species of coral, 850 species of fish, 5 species of marine turtles and 100 species of birds. So whether you choose to go swimming, snorkelling or diving, you know you're doing your bit to help.
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You've probably seen the pictures on Instagram: white waves crashing beneath a tall cluster of colourful houses that teeter on the water's edge. It's pretty unlikely that Cinque Terre's current popularity was anticipated when the original stone trail between the five villages was laid in the nineteenth century. To balance out the daily impact of hundreds of visitors, mayors of the towns are calling for limits to the number of trains that can arrive each day.
Meanwhile, the cosy fishing hamlet of Tellaro an hour to the south offers similar views, minus the crowds. Don't miss the dusty pink St George's Church at the helm of the rocky peninsula. It plays an important part in a local legend that's celebrated at the Sagra del Polpo (Festival of the Octopus) every August. Shimmy down narrow alleyways between wooden rowboats and take in the pastel-coloured splendour of the town: it's somewhere you won't mind getting lost. At the end of the day, find a bar and join the locals for a final spritzer sundowner.
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From all-encompassing city walls to the domed, medieval Large Onofrio's Fountain, and, of course, Game of Thrones tours, there's no doubting Dubrovnik's appeal. However, the city recently came under pressure to curb visitor numbers and address pressures on locals or risk losing its UNESCO World Heritage Status. The city's mayor responded by pledging to cap daily visitor numbers at 4,000 from 2019. But where else can you head to with a similarly rich history at its core?
A visit to Muscat offers a fascinating insight into a city with ancient history, and you won't hear anyone yelling 'Winter is coming!', either. Confusing to navigate, but fun to get lost in, the Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest markets in Oman and sells a bewildering range of items, from Arabian perfumes to Omani daggers and sweets. Also worth checking out is the sixteenth-century Fort Al-Mirani, down by the harbourside in Old Muscat, Any clicking you hear won't come from camera shutters, but from visiting dolphins, as they splash back into the sea.
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Machu Picchu: the 'lost' Inca citadel is now one of South America's most well-known destinations. These days, you'll have to book time-slotted trips. And, chunks of the route will be spent queuing or waiting for people to move out of the way so you can truly appreciate the view. In 2018, over 1.5 million tourists visited the site.
Meanwhile, Choquequirao, nicknamed Machu Picchu's 'little sister', is only accessible via a demanding two-day hike from Cachora. The site receives a fraction of the visitors to Macchu Picchu, despite their similar sizes and structures. The official campsite will truly make you feel at one with the sixteenth-century Incan site, but beware of nosy wild boars sniffing around! It's worth noting that a cable car route will is being planned to carry up to 400 passengers per day to the site. This will turn a 2-day trek into a 15-minute trip from a nearby town, so now really is the best time to go in order to beat the crowds.
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Top image: Annecy, France © Elenarts / Shutterstock