Many of the world’s most famous tourism destinations are feeling the burden of too many visitors. Getting off the beaten track can enrich your travel experience while at the same time easing the strain on the world’s over-loved places.
It’s a feeling every traveller has experienced at some point: the agony of waiting in a queue for hours to catch a glimpse of a painting or historic monument we’ve known intimately for years from our childhood history books, only for the view to be blocked by crowds and a forest of selfie-sticks.
Plus, well, don’t we all want to feel intrepid? Exploration seems to be a natural human instinct, but the rise of social media and increased access to many of the world’s most famous sights have combined to put strain on certain destinations.
But that doesn’t mean we should closet our suitcases just yet. Instead, the issue of overtourism is a chance for travellers to take collective responsibility for preserving the incredible heritage and history of our world, while also spreading the love by seeking out places and sights that could benefit from an increase in visitors.
Achieving this goal requires a traveller to think about each and every aspect of their trip and to be mindful about the issues facing some destinations.
It doesn’t mean that we have to avoid crowded cities or sights altogether, but necessitates a mix of thinking outside the box and a sense of adventure to find less-loved places.
Perhaps this means visiting a destination at a time of year when the weather might at first seem prohibitive, taking a chance on an unknown neighbourhood or simply choosing somewhere totally different. By adopting this approach to our travels, we also flex our courage, open-mindedness and flexibility. And in the end, isn’t that what travel is all about anyway?
Here are three places to get off the beaten track.
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For an alternative to Machu Picchu, aim for northern Peru, where there’s a wealth of sights with a fraction of the crowds. The pre-Incan ruined city of Kuélap holds plenty of misty mystery and the small high-altitude towns here are good for discovering Peruvian culture, cuisine and natural wonders.
How: Fly from Lima to Chachapoyas – the gateway town to Kuélap. Eco-friendly Gocta Lodge overlooks the Catarata de Gocta, one of the world’s tallest waterfalls.
Whereas Italy’s incredible sights attract huge crowds, neighbouring Slovenia can feel overlooked. Ljubljana’s canals and historical architecture are a sublime stand-in for Venice, while the Slovenian coast provides the best of the Med, and Mount Triglav and Lake Bled wow just as much as the Italian Alps and Como.
How: International airlines and the European rail network reach capital city Ljubljana, from where a handy system of trains and buses connects travellers to the country.
Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan
In recent decades, the Mount Everest base camps (in Nepal and Tibet) have suffered from an excess of climbers (and of the waste these climbers leave behind). Similar beauty, trekking and climbing experiences can be had in the neighbouring and virtually unvisited Tien Shan range.
How: Kyrgyzstan’s community-based tourism network connects travellers with local trekking guides and home stays, ensuring money remains in the local economy.
Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet’s Travel Goals © 2019, hardback, recommended retail $34.99, lonelyplanet.com