Twenty years ago, there was probably no such term as over tourism. Tourism could not have been overdone, as it brought in money and invigorated the services industries that help churn out value-added products – Big Money. In this day and age, however, tourism can go overboard. As skies above are getting crowded with aeroplanes, the cheaper tickets and bettering services on airlines allow more and more people to take their dream vacations. The issue is, all of these potential tourists are dreaming about the same destinations, like Paris, Rome or Hawaii. TravelhouseUK presents to you alternative cities to all the crowded cliché destinations that can both excite the mind and embolden the spirit on your next trip.
Why choose to change
Regrettably, most of us are still in the habit of leaving a carbon footprint, everywhere we go. Take for example the mountaineering expeditions up Mount Everest, and the amount of capital Nepal generates from this “extreme tourism”. These expeditions are now open to not just professional mountaineers but to regular tourists. The Sherpa helpers carry the food and oxygen gas tanks up to the mountain so that untrained tourists could remain alive at those high altitudes.
These Sherpa helpers take dangerous risks, crossing icy ravines that go hundreds of meters deep. The summit of the Everest is now littered with empty oxygen tanks and human waste, and conservationists are demanding Nepal to enforce laws that decrease the number of ‘selfie-on-Everest’ tourists down to a manageable figure. This situation is completely reversed on the Chinese side of Mount Everest, where mountaineering permit cost much higher, are difficult to attain without proper training and the tourism in the area is regulated. Even in such sparsely populated areas, the impact of over tourism is significant.
Besides the environmental impact, there is the cultural shock that the residents sometimes have to bear. Venice, for example, does not have any Venetians anymore because tourists have displaced them and are present in the city throughout the year. Celebrities and famous personalities have purchased homes and lavish residencies in the area, forcing the locals out in some case. Many Venetians demand peace and tranquillity, a place where they could maintain and grow their cultures without the transformative impact of foreigners and aggressive capitalism. Diversifying our tourism bucket list will provide us with more authentic experiences, but it also will preserve the local cultures for others to cherish in the coming years.
Explore Pamplona and give Barcelona a pass
Barcelona is beautiful. Its streets, architecture and most of all, its people are gorgeous. In recent years, the city has been facing a lot of over tourism-related problems, and marine pollution caused by cruise liners tops them all. Around 32 million tourists head for the sunny beaches of Barcelona each year. In contrast, the local Catalan population in the city barely exceeds 1.6 million.
In the peak season, it’s difficult to even move through the main alleyways and streets. Some locals are frustrated by these tourist mobs and have begun calling their city “Carcelona” – ‘carcel’ is a jail, in Spanish.
Pamplona, on the other hand, still is lesser known by the tourist who wants to visit Spain, just to check it off the list. The northern Spanish city is close to the French border. Truthfully, the architecture is not as brilliant and grand as compared to Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, but it is original and “made to be used”. The structures and building there are not to be stared at from afar only. The architecture is living, with people peering of the wrought iron balconies and the old cathedral’s bell rings, not to awe the tourists, but to remind the local populace that they are home. The culture is intact. Pamplona accommodates the San Fermin festival for a million people, who try to outrun the chasing bull through the city. Come to Pamplona for a carefree Spanish vacation.
Choose Split over the cliché Dubrovnik
Thanks to the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones”, Dubrovnik has become a unique destination for the European tourists. The city has now a cult following, with people frantically searching for venues they saw on TV. In the sweltering heat, surrounded by the grey stone walls of the old city of Dubrovnik, the tourists sweat and melt like the Iron Throne (spoiler alert); while guides keep screaming “winter is coming”. It does not get more ironic than that (no pun intended). The over tourism situation got so worse that UNESCO threatened to revoke Dubrovnik’s World Heritage status. The air travel is cheap, the Airbnb makes the accommodations even affordable, and the travellers coming in through cruises spend even less than those visiting the city for just two to three days.
Split city in Croatia is more densely populated, and thus has the resources, services and space for entertaining much more tourists, and yet it does not receive the hordes of sightseers Dubrovnik gets in the summer. Split also made its film debut in the “Game of Thrones”. The Diocletian’s Palace in the city was built for the Roman Emperor of the same name in 305 AD. The palace is perfectly intact, and the recent renovations have cleared the aged and blackened limestone to shine through. There is also the temple of Jupiter and a museum dedicated to the arts in the city. Escape the crowds and have an enriched Croatian vacation in Split, which is just 3 hours north of Dubrovnik.
Skip Santorini and get to Cephalonia
The situation with Santorini is a bit different from the above mentioned overcrowded destinations. The island is breathtaking, and the white clay rounded walls that line the streets make the city glisten like a pearl floating on water. However, the tourists to the towns have overcrowded the once pristine beaches, to the point that the European Union regarded the entire group of Ionian Islands as ‘overstressed’. The island does not have an abundant fresh water source, so the increasing aridity caused by millions of thirsty tourists each year is damaging flora and fauna of the island. Due to the Greek economic crisis, there is not much investment done to curb neither these adverse impacts nor a budget allocated to maintain existing infrastructure. Regardless, in the peak season, the island still welcomes two thousand passengers each day, choking the pathways to a halt.
Cephalonia, pronounced with a ‘K’ is a better alternative to Santorini. Not only is Cephalonia covered in olive gardens and vineyards, but it is also not drying up. Covered with blue and white rooftops, Cephalonia Island is even better due to its proximity to the Italian coast. Before the island became famous, the Greek Royal family used to send their children for their summer break to Cephalonia. Apart from the stunning mile long white Myrtos Beach, surrounded from all three sides with hills, the island has an underground lake in the Drogarati caves. These caves are sometimes transformed into a stage for the local orchestra, which is an event not to be missed.
Forget Machu Picchu and Discover Chan Chan
The problem here is with the limited infrastructure facilities available at Machu Picchu. The ancient mountaintop citadel of Manchu Picchu is the most visited archaeological site and destination in Peru. Unfortunately, due to its remoteness and the local government’s inability to allocate the required budget to maintain infrastructure, the site is losing its grace. The UNESCO world heritage site has also been subjected to vandalism; some tourists climb the walls for a selfie, others pick loose stones from the structure as souvenirs. Policing the ruins is even more difficult and adds to the cost of maintaining the decaying structure. UNESCO suggested that Machu Picchu should not get more than 2500 tourists per day. In practice, however, there is twice the number of people visiting the ruins each day. As a result, restrictions have been imposed on the timings and duration of the visit.
Chan Chan is an excellent alternative to Machu Picchu. Chan Chan is easier to get to as it is right on the coast of Peru. Chan Chan was a thriving Inca city from 900s to 1400s AD. Chan Chan translates to Sun-Sun or Great Sun, as the inhabitants of the Inca Empire were sun worshippers. From the elaborate designs embellishing the ten citadels of the city, experts can estimate that Chan Chan had a large population of artisans, who were able to construct magnificent buildings. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived at the ruined city, they opened one of the burial chambers of the citadel to find five million dollars worth of gold. Explorations continue to this day; maybe if you take a trip to Chan Chan, you might stumble of a gold peso or two.
Save Hawaii by going to Fiji
About ten million travellers visit Fiji every year. The high number of tourists to the island of Maui especially has taken its toll on the environment and the marine life surrounding Hawaii State. There are graphic videos of conservationists pulling plastic straws from the nostrils of sea turtles, which is why the State of Hawaii has enforced a ban on almost all plastics including straws, styrofoam food containers, water bottles and carrying bags. Scientists have recently also observed that the sunblock used by beachgoers in Hawaii leaches into the oceans when they go out for a swim. It bleaches the coral reef, forcing the coral to spew out the algae stores from its pores and disrupts with the biochemistry of many marine animals. Officials are now advising to cut down the number of people coming to Hawaii to party, who often leave quickly without injecting more capital into the local economy than that is required to clean up their mess.
From the UK, the trip to Fiji is almost twice as long in duration, but it costs nearly the same, and in the low season, cheaper than a trip to Hawaii. Fiji is the ultimate place to go to enjoy the sun and forget about the world. This little corner of paradise is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Due to its remoteness, little tourists are coming to the island nation, giving the local flora and fauna to recuperate in the case of erosion. The people in Fiji are indigenous, and celebrate their authentic cultures and lifestyles, which provides tourists with unique experiences. Scuba diving is the most popular tourist activity in Nadi and Denarau Island.
As over tourism grips the most famous destinations of the world, it is best to diversify our bucket list. The cities that we grew up imagining as the most exciting or beautiful are either overcrowded, overpriced or at the edge of having a local ecological disaster due to the high number of tourists they receive each year. Broadening our palette and looking out for more exotic places can make our vacation less of a hassle and make us a more responsible global citizen.