There are few experiences more valuable than a journey to somewhere new. However, we recognize the risks that come from increased tourism around the world, and the inherent limits on how many people one place can handle. Full of beauty both natural and manmade, these are just a few of the many locales currently in danger from overtourism.
Yellowstone National Park
The world's first national park is today one of those most threatened by overtourism. Yellowstone is a favorite park for many people, but all that love has had an unfortunate downside. With visitation numbers up 40 percent in the decade between 2008 and 2018, the park's infrastructure is struggling to handle the millions of people who descend on the area every year for glimpses of the wildlife and geysers for which the park is known.
Traffic is one of the biggest issues, with major traffic jams caused whenever bison or other animals are spotted along the roadside. There are far bigger risks than only frustrated tourists, however. With increased crowds, people become less mindful about where they walk and where they leave their trash. Sewage, too, has become a major problem here as in many other national parks, and can affect not only the smell but the surrounding ecosystem and water quality.
While Yellowstone has not yet begun to require reservations or impose daily limits in order to manage its numbers, both possibilities have been considered, and may ultimately be necessary solutions to preserve the remaining beauty of this outdoor haven.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Nature isn't the only thing affected by crowds. Amsterdam is a picturesque city full of art and culture where cyclists pedal along idyllic canals past cozy, gabled houses from the Golden Age. Thanks to overtourism, however, the current reality has become quite different. The city of 850,000 residents saw 19 million tourists in 2018, in a rising trend that is expected to continue and reach upwards of 29 million by 2025. That concentration in such a relatively small city means visitors are primarily seeing — and bumping into — other tourists, leaving little of the city's native charm in the midst of the crowds and litter.
The city has already begun taking some steps against overtourism, including encouraging visitors to explore other parts of the country, as well as moving one of the city's most notable photo-ops — the "I amsterdam" sign — to a less trafficked neighborhood. They will also be ending tours of the infamous Red Light District. As with delicate ecosystems in nature, however, the understandable fear is that by the time the tourism numbers begin to drop, what brought so many to the city in the first place — whether it be the tolerance, hospitality, or Old World beauty — will be irrevocably lost.
Maya Bay, Thailand
Thailand's most famous beach is one of the most stunning examples of the dangers of overtourism, as well as the at-times drastic measures that can be taken to counteract it. Maya Bay, made famous by the film The Beach in 2000, was originally a remote paradise of white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters nestled under looming limestone crags. After the influx of visitors inspired by the movie, however — most of whom came by speedboat from nearby Phuket or Koh Phi Phi Island — the cove's coral reef was disappearing and entire populations of its marine life were gone.
Fortunately, Thailand has been willing to address the problem head-on. In 2018, the country's Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation announced a temporary ban on tourists to Maya Bay. The ban was then extended and is now in effect until at least June of 2021. The hope is that, given space and solitude, the natural resources will regenerate and the bay's beauty will be preserved for generations to come. Human efforts in the meantime include replanting coral, as well as expanding the island's infrastructure to better handle its tourism numbers in the future while minimizing the accompanying ecological effects.
So is the ban working? Fortunately for all of us, the sharks say yes.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Who could have guessed that an abandoned city from the 15th century would, six hundred years later, be in danger of having too many people? Like the other sites on this list, the old city of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes has garnered increased attention in recent decades, in large part to its verdant lawns and labyrinthine stone walls being jaw-droppingly photogenic.
In an effort to preserve the site's integrity, the Peruvian government has been taking measures to combat the increasing number of tourists. At first, it was merely the presence of guards to keep people out of restricted territories, and the establishment of set paths for visitors to follow. As the numbers continued to rise, 2014 saw the adoption of new regulations that required visitors to hire official guides and instituted time limits to prevent bottlenecks in the ruins. Early in 2019, additional measures were introduced that now limit tourists to specific entry times, with a maximum of four hours in the area.
While these increasing measures are laudable, it remains to be seen whether they will be sufficient to curb the effects of overtourism at Machu Picchu. In the meantime, if you have your sights set on Peru, consider exploring the ruins of Kuelap instead for some authentic history without the crowds.
Cinque Terre, Italy
While Venice gets most of the attention for Italy's overtourism, it isn't the only beautiful place there in danger. Cinque Terre, a group of five villages on the country's northeastern coast, is known for its colorful houses strung along seaside cliffs, and it has become a popular stop for cruises and land trippers alike. What was initially a secluded journey by foot along hand-laid stone paths has, in recent years, become a convenient train ride for thousands of tourists to flit from village to village, stopping just long enough for a photo and gelato.
The trains aren't the only problem, though; tourists who do choose to walk between the villages are often unprepared for the technicality of the mountain paths, and end up needing the locals for help or a rescue mission. This particular concern has led officials to prohibit inappropriate footwear along the trails, but the problem of numbers still remains, compounded by the fragile nature of the terraced hillsides. While there has been a push for train companies to limit the number of tourists they bring, there has yet to be a comprehensive solution agreed upon by the various villages and train companies involved.