Overbooked v overlooked
During a trip to the Czech Republic this summer, Bret Love desperately wanted to escape the crowds at Prague Castle but couldn’t.
‘‘There were thousands of people jostling for space,’’ said the co-founder of Green Global Travel. ‘‘You start to feel like cattle being herded.’’
No matter what you call it – over-tourism, overbooked or a foreign invasion – it’s the same squeeze: A handful of destinations around the world are under siege. The stampede is having a deleterious effect on the culture, environment and spirit of these places.
‘‘You try to keep these cities livable for the residents,’’ said Martha Honey, executive director of the Centre for Responsible Travel, ‘‘but overtourism is killing these neighbourhoods and the reasons we go there.’’
The issue is not the industry itself but the hordes of people who descend on one place in the same time period (often summer). Destinations that are ill-equipped for the masses can’t keep up with the demand, and everyone suffers for it.
Travellers can help ease the pressure by tweaking their trips. For instance, visit off-season, book tickets to major attractions in advance and venture beyond the historical core.
To further help beleaguered destinations, we singled out 10 prized spots buckling under the weight of too many feet and provided less touristy alternatives.
As if sinking wasn’t enough, the Italian city of canals and masquerade balls is drowning in tourists. More than 30 million people visit annually, swamping the local population of 50,000 and causing rifts between the two camps. Several years ago, Unesco warned Venetian officials that the city could end up on its endangered list of heritage sites if they did not curb their enthusiasm for tourists. Officials responded with a raft of initiatives, such as relocating the cruise ship port to the mainland and banning new hotels in the historical city centre. The city is also promoting Detourism, urging visitors to avoid beaten-toa-pulp routes and to behave like a local.
To visit or not to visit, that is such a silly question. Of course you should. The Italian city 120 kilometres west of Venice is the setting of two Shakespeare plays. Similar to Venice, the Unesco World Heritage site comes with the requisite Old World charms, such as a piazza populated by statues of Greek gods, a performing arts venue inhabiting a Roman amphitheatre and a 13thcentury castle built to defend the Veronese from invaders. The destination is also known for its European Union-protected variety of rice. Follow the grain along La Strada del Riso Vialone Nano Veronese IGP – the Rice Route. For a wilder ride than a gondola, go rafting down the Adige River.
Overbooked: Machu Picchu
The 15th-century Incan site has survived the Spanish conquest, a scandal involving a Yale explorer, and flooding, but its downfall could be tourists. In 2013, Unesco aired its concerns about the degradation of Peru’s top attraction. Among its myriad offences: ‘‘Impacts of tourism/visitor/ recreation.’’ In response, the number of daily visitors was capped at 2500. However, last year, 1.4 million people toured the ruins, a clear breach of the directive. To control the chaos, the government announced new restrictions last July, such as requiring accredited guides to accompany all visitors and no more staying all day.
Machu Picchu and Choquequirao might as well be twins – both are similar ancient Incan cities in Peru’s Andes Mountains, though the Choquequirao Hike is more arduous than the Inca Trail. Despite the similarities, lesser known Choquequirao, which is three times larger than Machu Picchu, receives a tiny fraction of visitors – a dozen to 30 adventurers a day. Archaeologists did not start excavating the ruins until the 1970s, more than a half-century after Machu Picchu was cleared. As part of an initiative to double tourism by 2021, the government has floated plans to build a road connecting the two sites, which sit about 65 kilometres apart, and install a cable car.
The capital of Catalonia is the most-visited city in Spain, drawing 32 million people. In one municipal survey, residents blasted tourism as the secondworst urban ill after unemployment. In addition to land travellers, nearly 3 three million passengers arrive by cruise ship annually, a surge officials hope to stem by relocating the port outside the city centre by 2025. The current mayor, Ada Colau, won the election on her proposals to control unchecked tourism.
Trade one Spanish capital for another. Seville is the cultural and business centre of the Andalusian region, plus a great place to take flamenco for a spin. The city goes big with the world’s largest Gothic church, the Seville Cathedral, which brings guests closer to the heavens on a rooftop walk. If pressed for time, go straight to the Royal Alcazar, a palace complex with a strong
Mudejar streak. Moorish influences – chickpeas, cumin, aubergine – appear in the tapas. Of course, the primo ingredient is jamon Iberico. Or eat a Seville orange.
Go ahead and wag a finger at Icelandair. The budget airline popularised the practice of adding a free stopover in Iceland en route to continental Europe. More recently, Wow Air, which started service in 2011, extended the perk to its passengers. Most tourists congregate in Reykjavik and the south-west region, clogging the capital and the Golden Circle, the driving loop fizzing with geothermal features. The government has placed restrictions on Airbnb property owners. Closer to the airport, the Blue Lagoon, which attracts nearly a million guests each year, can feel very crowded.
Overlooked: Baffin Island
Baffin Island, in the north Canadian territory of Nunavut, is the fifth-largest isle in the world. The land mass in the North Atlantic ocean shares several characteristics with Iceland, such as fjords, the midnight sun, Northern Lights, Arctic Circle and, according to recent archaeology digs, Vikings. Though the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit is minuscule compared with Reykjavik, visitors can soak up the northern culture at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museumand, during the Toonik Tyme Festival, a springtime celebration of tribal traditions including igloo-building, dog sledding and skijoring. Outside the city, plunge into the outdoors at several national parks. At Auyuittuq National Park, you can ski, hike on glaciers and ice fields, and climb Mt Thor, which has the world’s longest vertical drop. Or scour Sirmilik National Park for narwhals, caribou, polar bears, ringed seals, belugas, and killer whales.
Overbooked: Mt Everest
The world’s tallest mountain, which straddles Nepal and Tibet, suffers from the same ills as
You’ll enjoy a more relaxed vibe with a stunning sunrise in Rovinj, than you’ll get visiting Banje beach in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia, inset, is impressive but a visit to Triana Bridge, the oldest bridge of Seville, is more relaxing.