How to steer clear of crowds as tourist sea­son peaks.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - The Nav­i­ga­tor

Daniel Threlfall re­mem­bers his visit to Chichen Itza, Mex­ico, a des­ti­na­tion billed as one of the won­ders of the world. It isn’t a good mem­ory.

Threlfall, an In­ter­net con­sul­tant from Greenville, S.C., ex­pected to be wowed by Mayan tem­ples and nat­u­ral beauty when he trav­eled to the Yu­catan with his fam­ily last year. “In­stead, we were met with sky-high prices, in-and-out ac­cess and an el­bow-to-el­bow con­fronta­tion with throngs of peo­ple from all over the planet,” he re­calls.

That’s the thing about toopop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions. Once they’re “dis­cov­ered,” they’re ru­ined for ev­ery­one else. But with the hec­tic sum­mer travel sea­son now at its peak, there are ways of avoid­ing th­ese over­ex­posed places, and, if you can’t plan around them, to make the best of be­ing stuck in a “hot” des­ti­na­tion with thou­sands of other vis­i­tors.

Find­ing the right place isn’t easy. Threlfall strug­gled to dis­cover a more au­then­tic Mex­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, and, this year, he stum­bled upon the per­fect hide­away. “On our day­long ad­ven­ture, we walked through a jaguar for­est, climbed a jun­gle tower, toured an­cient ru­ins, crossed two la­goons by boat, swam a kilo­me­ter through a 500-year-old Mayan canal, hiked the wet­lands and ate a Mayan lunch,” he says.

Where? “I can’t tell you,” he says, “oth­er­wise it might turn into the next Chichen Itza.”

Fair enough. But a re­view of Threlfall’s In­sta­gram ac­count sug­gests he was in the Sian Ka’an Bio­sphere Re­serve. Sorry, Daniel.

Some­times, when you think you’ve dis­cov­ered an al­ter­na­tive to an over­sat­u­rated des­ti­na­tion, you re­al­ize ev­ery­one else has, too. Lia Saun­ders, a busi­nesssys­tems an­a­lyst from San Fran­cisco who re­cently spent a month in Mex­ico, thought she’d found the per­fect “anti-Can­cun.”

“It’s com­mon knowl­edge that Can­cun is over­run with tourists,” she says. But she heard that Tu­lum “serves up re­lax­ing, trop­i­cal au­then­tic Mex­i­can lux­ury. Well, not so.”

In­stead, she found a com­mer­cial­ized and over­priced des­ti­na­tion. “It’s crowded, it’s a to­tally unau­then­tic Mex­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence and if you aren’t will­ing to shell out an arm and a leg to be on the lux­u­ri­ous beach, there is not much to do in the town of Tu­lum it­self,” she says.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, the best des­ti­na­tion is star­ing right at you. Ear­lier this sum­mer, for ex­am­ple, I vis­ited Yosemite Na­tional Park in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Most travel ex­perts warn against vis­it­ing Yosemite in June, July and Au­gust be­cause it’s too crowded. It is. But Yosemite is enor­mous. At 1,189 square miles, it’s about the same size as the state of Rhode Is­land. And, most vis­i­tors crowd into a small area near the iconic nat­u­ral at­trac­tions, like El Cap­i­tan and Half Dome. I found a guide from the Yosemite Con­ser­vancy, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports this na­tional park, who took me to the less-traf­ficked ar­eas of the park, in­clud­ing a grove with thou­sand-year-old se­quoia trees. And, stay­ing in the park, we found a room at the new Rush Creek Inn, only about a mile from the park en­trance.

If you know your Mex­i­can ge­og­ra­phy, then you prob­a­bly rec­og­nize Sian Ka’an as be­ing in Tu­lum prov­ince. Es­sen­tially, Threlfall and Saun­ders went to the same place. But they didn’t. This strat­egy works any­where, but par­tic­u­larly well with na­tional parks. Take Glacier Na­tional Park, which logged 2.37 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2015. Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park, just across the Cana­dian bor­der, only recorded 417,000 vis­i­tors in the same pe­riod.

“Since the U.S. dol­lar is so strong ver­sus the Cana­dian dol­lar, you get much more value for your money in Canada,” said Whitt Kelly, a spokesman for Travel Al­berta.

An­other strat­egy: Go else­where, but look for the qual­i­ties you like about an over­run des­ti­na­tion.

“For ex­am­ple, if some­one wants Hawaii, which is no­to­ri­ously ex­pen­sive, but they’re look­ing for nat­u­ral beauty, beaches, vol­ca­noes and fresh, trop­i­cal cui­sine, I would steer them to­ward Costa Rica or Ecuador,” says Ja­cob Marek, the founder of In­tro­verTrav­els, a tour op­er­a­tor that spe­cial­izes in out-of-the-way des­ti­na­tions.

Many Euro­pean cities also have ac­cept­able sub­sti­tutes. In­stead of Paris or Rome, he rec­om­mends Buenos Aires or San­ti­ago. “Both cities have a Euro­pean flair and style, and are great launch­ing points to ex­pan­sive wilder­ness for those look­ing for a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence in na­ture,” he says.

It’s not the same thing, of course, but it’s rel­a­tively close — some­times close enough. If you have your sights set on a place like trendy Port­land, Ore., but you’re wary of sum­mer crowds and the higher prices that go along with them, you might drive a few hours north to low­er­pro­file Olympia, Wash., which also has an in­die mu­sic scene, out­stand­ing restau­rants, craft brew­eries and bou­tique shop­ping. At least, that’s how the area’s tourism au­thor­i­ties are po­si­tion­ing the re­gion.

In short: Avoid touristy des­ti­na­tions if you can. But, if you can’t, look care­fully be­fore you jump in. Chances are, there’s a way to side­step the In­sta­gram­ming masses. El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. Email him at chris@el­liott.org.

Some­times, when you think you’ve dis­cov­ered an al­ter­na­tive to an over­sat­u­rated des­ti­na­tion, you re­al­ize ev­ery­one else has, too.

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