The great­est tourist at­trac­tions are also a mag­net for the big­gest crowds. It’s time to dis­cover some lesser-known won­ders

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

On a metal bal­cony over­look­ing Ar­gentina’s Iguazu Falls, ev­ery­one is lean­ing over the balustrade to get a pic­ture. Most are bent on get­ting an im­age of their gurn­ing faces in front of a par­tic­u­larly vo­lu­mi­nous fall known as the Devil’s Throat.

Stills and film clips will be shared with friends and fam­ily across the world. Every­body wants to show how spe­cial their hol­i­day is. Over­tourism – the con­cen­tra­tion of large num­bers of peo­ple at no­table sights of in­ter­est – has al­ways been with us. But there’s some­thing about the dig­i­tal age that high­lights it: an ir­re­press­ible urge to spam the en­tire world with im­agery, voice mes­sages, so­cial me­dia up­dates and tweets.

Such herd be­hav­iour is ma­nip­u­lated by the travel in­dus­try, which has the most to gain by con­cen­trat­ing a lot of peo­ple in lim­ited places.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Over two decades of trav­el­ling around Latin Amer­ica, I have seen many ex­am­ples of re­spon­si­ble, thought­ful tourism, usu­ally as a re­sult of in­tel­li­gent col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­nity co­op­er­a­tion.

One in­stance was right there at Iguazu. I was stay­ing at the new Awasi lodge, a five-star, 14-villa wood-framed ho­tel in dense jun­gle, with space for just 30 guests. The ethos of Awasi, in Iguazu and at its prop­er­ties in Chile and the Ata­cama Desert, is worth not­ing. “We want to open up the re­gion,” Matías de Cristóbal, Awasi’s di­rec­tor, told me. “Ninety per cent of vis­i­tors want to see the Falls. It’s our chal­lenge to take them to un­known parks.”

I stum­bled upon no crowds while bird­ing with a guide in the Urugua-í Provin­cial Park. I saw maybe three cars on the red dirt road through the vir­gin rain­for­est. I saw only two other peo­ple – lo­cals – at the re­hab cen­tre for res­cued, in­jured and ex-zoo an­i­mals, such as a gor­geous ocelot I vis­ited.

Machu Pic­chu, an­other crowd mag­net, has found ways to take pres­sure off the fa­mous Inca Trail and the citadel it­self. Lim­it­ing the num­ber of hik­ers on the trail to 500 per day is the key con­trol. By not build­ing a road into Machu Pic­chu, and en­cour­ag­ing a range of rail op­tions, the Peru­vian tourist board ex­er­cises more con­trol over its best-loved na­tional park than do author­i­ties in coun­tries that are far less re­liant on the tourist dol­lar. The author­i­ties have also pro­moted al­ter­na­tive trails and cam­paigned to get peo­ple to think about vis­it­ing the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites at Cho­que­quirao and Kue­lap.

My last trip to the re­gion, in 2016, in­volved a stay at the all-in­clu­sive Ex­plore Sa­cred Val­ley lodge. I climbed a moun­tain, vis­ited three lesser-known ru­ins, and cy­cled into the val­ley. I “for­got” to go to Machu Pic­chu. Seriously. I just didn’t want the crowds.

But tour op­er­a­tors and boards can’t take all the blame. We travel jour­nal­ists have also gen­er­ated de­mand for a spe­cific kind of ex­pe­ri­ence.

It’s ur­gent we now work to­gether to fo­cus at­ten­tion on off-radar places and ideas. Travel need not be a boxtick­ing, bucket-list­ing ex­er­cise. Why chase jaguars round a boat-jammed chan­nel in the Pan­tanal when you can look for them qui­etly on terra firma? Why join the rat-run up to the sum­mit of Su­gar Loaf when you can go up one of the lesser­known gran­ite mor­ros in Rio and en­joy the same view?

If I can claim spe­cial in­sight, it’s down to Patag­o­nia, a re­gion with no easy “sells”. I’m talk­ing about the steppe, not the turquoise lakes and the glaciers. In­land Patag­o­nia has few wild an­i­mals, few spec­tac­u­lar at­trac­tions. It’s lonely and harsh yet mes­meris­ing. Why? Be­cause it com­pels vis­i­tors to make an ef­fort. Or as Paul Th­er­oux puts it in The Old Patag­o­nian Ex­press: “The land­scape taught pa­tience, cau­tion, tenac­ity…

In­land Patag­o­nia mes­merises be­cause it com­pels vis­i­tors to make an ef­fort

You had to choose be­tween the tiny or the vast.”

One day, vir­tual hol­i­days may well re­place this gas-guz­zling, la­bo­ri­ous, en­vi­ron­men­tally crazy pas­time we call tourism. Un­til then, we’ll have to find ways to adapt to be­ing so nu­mer­ous and free to roam. It’s time to visit empty, dif­fi­cult, un­pho­to­genic land­scapes, cliché-free, for­got­ten, re­mote towns and ci­ties and forests and shores lack­ing in in­fra­struc­ture and home com­forts.

It’s time to in­dulge in the lux­ury of the less ob­vi­ous – that is, it’s time to travel.

Chris Moss lived in Ar­gentina for 10 years and is an ex­pert on South Amer­ica

Crowd alert: Iguazu Falls in Ar­gentina

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