Tourist Destinations You Should Think Twice Before Visiting
There are plenty of “Best of” travel lists out there filled with suggestions for relaxing on tropical beaches or touring some of the world’s most famous sites. However, before you book your next flight, you should know which world-famous destinations are better left unexplored.
Whether they are overhyped, dangerous, unwelcoming or simply too expensive, these destinations earned spots on our list of top places you shouldn’t visit. Read on to learn how your next trip stacks up.
Mount Everest, Himalayas, Nepal (Southeast Ridge Route)
There’s almost nothing more annoying than waiting in line. What could make it worse? Waiting in a line of 200 people while your oxygen supply thins. Believe it or not, this has become a reality for many Nepal-bound climbers, thanks to the growing commercialization of Mount Everest.
Starting in May 2019, crowds of climbers got stuck in a queue waiting to ascend to the mountain’s summit. At 26,247 feet, the area where the line forms has been dubbed the “death zone,” due to its limited amount of oxygen. Overcrowding and inexperience among mountaineers contributed to a whopping 11 deaths in May.
New Delhi, India
New Delhi, an urban district in Delhi, boasts some of India’s most beautiful historic sites and museums. However, a joint study conducted by Greenpeace and IQ AirVisual named New Delhi the most polluted capital city in the world in 2018.
The study in question measured the concentration of PM2.5 — or atmospheric particulate matter. These easily-inhaled particles have been linked to heart and lung disease as well as the worsening of chronic respiratory problems. The concentration of PM2.5 in a cubic meter of air measured about 113.5 — more than double that of Beijing, China.
Niagara Falls, Niagara, Canada
To be fair, Niagara Falls is definitely worth the stop — as long as you have another final destination in mind. The 188-foot cascade of water is jaw-dropping, easily landing the falls a spot on the greatest natural wonders of the world list. But the town of Niagara? Not so much.
Filled with quickie wedding chapels, casinos and Hard Rock Cafe-level restaurants, Niagara is a weird combination of natural beauty and cheesy tourist traps. With all that in mind, Niagara Falls is best saved for a road trip or a one-night pit stop on the way to Toronto. (Or maybe Buffalo?)
All press is good press — until that press goes too well. Although the Netherlands’ beautiful, canal-filled city of Amsterdam garners about $91.5 billion a year through tourism, the city and its residents feel more overwhelmed than grateful.
In 2018, a whopping 18 million people visited Amsterdam, and experts estimate that number will climb to 42 million visitors by 2030. Longtime resident Ellen van Loon told CNN, “We [the Dutch] don’t want to turn into a Venice,” a city that’s become synonymous with overtourism. Some advice? Visit another part of the country — unless you want to get in Dutch.
Koh Tachai (or Tachai Island), Thailand
Like most Thai marine parks, Koh Tachai, an island in Similan National Park, is closed every May through October for monsoon season. But in 2016, the park didn’t reopen. The beautiful beaches had been overrun with 14 times the number of people experts said the beaches should hold.
Officials decided to close the island for rehabilitation, although many fear the damage is irreparable. In addition to problems related to general overcrowding, inexperienced divers — who were more concerned with photographs than their surroundings — damaged the island’s fragile reefs. As of 2019, Koh Tachai is closed to tourists indefinitely.
Although New Delhi, India, has surpassed Beijing in terms of poor air quality, that doesn’t mean the Chinese capital now has fresh air. In 2016, Beijing announced its first red alert for smog. Since then, the city has more actively addressed its infamous pollution problem.
Overtourism also looms in the background. In 2022, millions will descend on Beijing for the Winter Olympics — and most of those visitors will want to see the nearby Great Wall of China. Unfortunately, parts of the Great Wall that aren’t developed as tourist sites have become increasingly popular with misguided visitors, leading to damage.
Reader’s Digest named Madagascar one of the most dangerous travel destinations in the world, citing the country’s crime rate. Unfortunately, the people of Madagascar are suffering due to high rates of unemployment, which has led to an increase in crimes, such as robbery, highway carjacking and mugging.
Of course, muggings and pickpocketing can happen anywhere you go. That’s why places sell those handy — or hands-free, really — money belts. A larger concern when traveling to Madagascar might be that as recently as 2017, upwards of 2,000 people were infected with a deadly plague.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Comprised of the tourist towns Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, Los Cabos was the most dangerous city in the world in 2017, according to USA Today. With 365 homicides reported in 2017, Los Cabos jumped from not making the list — with a relatively low 61 reported homicides in 2016 — to topping it.
Despite this rise in violent crime and the accompanying travel warnings, roughly 2.7 million people flock to Los Cabos annually — and that number is only rising. Nonetheless, travelers should take the warnings seriously.
Ibiza is known as one of the Mediterranean’s hottest party islands. Like any good hotspot, it offers a multitude of beach clubs and nightclubs. In 2007, the local government even passed a law requiring all hotels to be five-star institutions.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s all sunsets and celeb sightings. In 2013, there were a reported 18,640 drug seizures, and that number hasn’t changed much since. Even worse, local authorities believe dealers are using tourists as guinea pigs for new drugs. Although Spain doesn’t keep track of sexual assaults, tourists are told to be on high alert for that risk as well.
A Travel + Leisure poll found Moscow to be the unfriendliest city in the world. Atlantic City, Los Angeles and New York City ranked just below Moscow, so if you’re local to one of those cities, maybe you’ll have a thick enough skin to visit anyway.
Even if you can get past all the rudeness, a TripAdvisor survey from 2014 determined Moscow to be the worst city for your next getaway. Although Moscow has been called one of the world’s fastest-growing tourism hotspots, reviewers cited bad hotels, a lack of shops and the cost of visiting as its biggest barriers.
After the Arab Spring, many tourism companies suspended operations in Egypt, causing the amount of travelers to dip between 2012 and 2015. Today, as tourism regains a foothold in the area, popular sites, such as the nearby Great Pyramid of Giza, are surrounded by metal detectors and bag checks.
Nonetheless, Forbes reported the results of a survey conducted by Trip by Skyscanner, which named Cairo the most unsafe place for women to travel alone. Forbes suggested that women wear sunglasses (eye contact can be considered flirtatious), wear loose-fitting clothing and opt for Uber over taxis or the metro.
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Known as Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. The landscape encompasses snow-capped mountains, vast expanses of savannah and lush tropical forests that are home to mountain gorillas, African bush elephants and lions.
However, following the Second Congo War, rebel groups and park personnel have been embroiled in a deadly conflict. Between 2017 and 2018, 10 rangers were killed by militia groups. In 2018, two tourists were kidnapped, leading to a seven-month closure of Virunga. That said, according to TripAdvisor reviewers, travelers may want to book with a tour company if seeing Virunga is high on their lists.
After decades of isolation, Cuba saw the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time in about half a century. Although President Barack Obama thawed the United States’ relationship with Cuba, the tourism boom that followed may not have been in the island’s best interests.
Tourism often boosts a country’s economy and quality of life. However, a record 3.5 million visitors vacationed in Cuba in 2016, causing Cubans to go without food as commercial restaurants snatched up all the available produce and other items for tourists’ consumption. Moreover, it’s still difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba.
Thanks to its natural oil reserves, Venezuela was once one of the wealthiest countries in South America — until corruption and strife took hold. Despite the unrest and high crime rate, Venezuela is trying to usher visitors to its beautiful beaches.
In 2018, Minister of Tourism Marleny Contreras tweeted, “Tourism is the oil that will not run out.” Unfortunately, many of Venezuela’s cities, including Caracas, are considered among the most dangerous cities in the world. In 2019, World Population Review reported that Caracas’ murder rate was 111.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
Although the readers of Condé Nast Traveler consistently vote Italy the best country to visit, it’s important for tourists to remember that there’s more to the Mediterranean nation than Venice, the birthplace of overtourism.
A city built on water has a very particular smell to it — not to mention a very large pigeon population. In all seriousness, if these minor detractors don’t give you pause, maybe the Venetians’ 2017 protest of tourism will. The Guardian reported that 28 million visitors arrive in Venice annually, while approximately 2,000 residents abandon the city each year due to tourists.
With unparalleled natural beauty, Myanmar has been touted by the likes of Fodor’s and Lonely Planet as a prime vacation destination. However, the country has been plagued with a number of human rights violations, from the Burmese Army’s use of child soldiers to human trafficking and slavery.
Most recently, genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya people, a minority group, was called “one of the most vicious and destructive campaigns of ethnic cleansing in recent history” by the Washington Post. As of August 2019, the U.S. Department of State has issued an “increased caution” travel advisory.
The Galápagos Islands are home to flora and fauna that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. Sound like a must-see travel destination? Think again. Centuries of isolation have made the species on the Galápagos — as well as the islands’ fragile ecosystems — very vulnerable to outside interference.
To curb overcrowding, the Ecuadorian government has put very strict travel guidelines in place. Nonetheless, an estimated 200,000 tourists visit Charles Darwin’s favorite volcanic archipelago each year. Even with fair warning, visitors are unpredictable. In 2013, a German tourist tried to smuggle four endangered land iguanas off the island.
This next destination may be an obvious “no go” for most travelers, but — believe it or not — some folks need this warning to be repeated. Before Otto Warmbier’s death, The Guardian reported that an estimated 800 Americans were still visiting North Korea annually.
Accused of taking a poster from his hotel room, Warmbier was detained, sentenced to more than a decade of hard labor and then sent back to the U.S. in a comatose state. He died from a mysterious brain injury after being brought home. In 2017, the U.S. government placed an indefinite travel ban on North Korea.
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Sure, “Meet me in St. Louis” has a nice ring to it, but the Gateway to the West isn’t necessarily the place to be right now. Home to renowned museums and beloved sports teams, St. Louis has also been dubbed one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
Currently, the city holds the highest murder rate in the U.S. at 66.07 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2017, the NAACP issued a travel warning for the entire state, alerting Black folks and people of color to avoid Missouri or visit with extreme caution.
Machu Picchu, Andes Mountains, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru’s most well-known Inca citadel, is one of those destinations everyone puts on their bucket list. Unfortunately, this wonder of the ancient world wasn’t built to sustain the more than 1.2 million tourists that trek to the archeological site annually.
Since Peru can’t just close its most popular tourist spot, a new ticketing system was implemented in 2017 to promote preservation. A reporter for The Telegraph noted that the swell of people attending the morning slot made for “a flush of flesh, cameras and backpacks… [that] threaten[ed] to burst Machu Picchu at the seams.”
Boracay is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But those beaches were closed to tourists in 2018 by the president of the Philippines. According to Fodor’s, an estimated 1.7 million travelers visited the island within a 10-month period, raising major infrastructure concerns.
Namely, sewage treatment became a huge problem, leading to pipes carrying raw sewage into the once-pristine sea. Boracay will fully reopen to visitors in 2019, with officials hoping the work-in-progress project will help fortify the island’s infrastructure and protect its delicate environment.
Rapa Nui (or Easter Island), Off the Coast of Chile
Rapa Nui — often known to Westerners as Easter Island — is facing the preservation issues that accompany overtourism. The island tops many bucket lists, thanks to its famed stone sculptures, or moai. The purpose and origin of the 887 stone figures remain a mystery.
In the past, a couple thousand visitors could take one of two flights a week from Santiago to Rapa Nui. These days, 100,000 annual visitors can choose from one of three flights every day. To make matters worse, some do it to take disrespectful novelty photos, in which they pretend to pick the nose of a moai.
Honduras is known for offering some of the best diving spots in the world — filled with beautiful coral reefs and unique creatures like manatees and whale sharks. However, this natural beauty is marred by Honduras’ crime rate.
Between 2011 and 2015, the murder rate dropped from 88.5 deaths to 60 deaths per 100,000 people, but it’s still a staggering number. Additionally, queer and transgender folks are often targets of this violence. According to Reuters, more than 300 LGBTQ+ people have been murdered in Honduras since 2009.
Turkey is in the midst of rebuilding its tourism industry, but as recently as 2016, political violence led to 300 people killed in the streets of Istanbul during an attempted coup. A national state of emergency lasted two years and led to upwards of 50,000 arrests.
Overall, travel has become less dangerous, but the U.S. Department of State reiterates that travelers should “exercise increased caution when traveling to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.” If you’re headed to Eastern Turkey — or anywhere near the Syrian and Iraqi borders — the U.S. government suggests you reconsider your travel plans.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Jamaica is known for serving up quality rum and all-inclusive resorts. Unfortunately, tourists who travel to Montego Bay will most likely be confined to sipping drinks in their resort of choice due to the high crime rates and the city’s recent increase in homicides.
In 2018, a state of emergency was declared for Montego Bay. The Independent reported that “the only times when [travelers] should leave the resorts are for ‘travel to and from the airport or for excursions.'” Additionally, Jamaica has a reputation for homophobia — although the country is trying to change that perception.
Although it joined UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites back in 1979, Dubrovnik only recently emerged as one of the Mediterranean’s top tourist destinations. Unfortunately, according to Fodor’s, locals claim the Old City’s historic cathedrals, fortresses and buildings have swelled with Disneyland-level crowds.
Due to the popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones, multiple cruises dock in Dubrovnik each day. The city’s famed walls — an enclosure complete with turrets and towers that stretch more than a mile in length — were used to portray the fictional city of King’s Landing. Needless to say, overtourism is coming.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In 2016, Rio de Janeiro hosted the Summer Olympics, budgeting a whopping $14.2 billion for expenses. Instead of repurposing the added infrastructure for tourism, much of what was built for the 2016 Olympics now sits abandoned. To make matters worse, in 2017, record homicide rates caused many potential tourists to reconsider their visits.
Following this spike in violence, Brazil’s president ordered the army to take control of Rio’s public security. Unsurprisingly, this did little to de-escalate things. For years, Brazil has had the most homicides of any country, as well as a significant number of other violent crimes, such as rape and assault.
According to The Telegraph, Greece may be on the brink of an overtourism crisis — one of the few economic-adjacent crises the country has avoided in recent years. In 2018, the country hosted an unprecedented 32 million visitors, whereas back in 2010, that figure was 15 million.
The Greek National Tourism Organisation says it plans to strategically extend what is considered the summer holiday period so the influx of tourists doesn’t “[move] beyond the carrying capacity of the environment.” Of all locales, the small island of Santorini has been hit hardest, garnering a whopping 5.5 million annual visitors.
Nestled between mountains and the sea, Barcelona is a must-visit for many tourists. Well, for too many tourists, perhaps. In just 16 years, the number of visitors jumped from 1.7 million in 1990 to upwards of 8 million in 2016. As one of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Barcelona simply has no room for expansion.
Moreover, residents feel tourists are destroying the unique fabric of the city, and they have protested accordingly. The Guardian reported that folks have even coined a term to describe what overtourism is doing to the city: “Parquetematización — the act of becoming a theme park. Barcelona has become an imitation of itself.”
Komodo Island, Indonesia
Named after its famous residents, the two mile-long Komodo Island is part of the Lesser Sunda chain of Indonesian Islands. The island’s Komodo National Park is home to upwards of 4,000 of the world’s largest lizards — as well as beautiful volcanic hills, mangrove shrublands and coral reefs.
Although all of this sounds inviting, the island is closing its doors to tourists in 2020. Some travelers may want to squeeze in a trip before the closure, but, for the sake of the Komodo population, you may want to reconsider a visit. Recently, a dragon-smuggling ring was busted by officials. Reportedly, kidnappers were trying to sell over 40 dragons for a whopping $35,000 each.
While this is an extreme example, it certainly begs the question: What other harmful behaviors are tourists engaging in while visiting Komodo Island?
Leptis Magna, Libya
Founded by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, Leptis Magna was later reshaped by the Roman Empire. Located in the present day city of Khoms, just east of Tripoli, Leptis Magna is now one of the most well-preserved Roman cities left in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Over a decade ago, the Libyan government created new visa restrictions, limiting the amount of tourists entering the country via cruise ships. For years, it has become increasingly difficult to visit the country in North Africa — let alone the ruins perched over the Mediterranean. In 2019, official word from the U.S. Department of State is that travelers should not travel to Libya at all due to “crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping and armed conflict.”
Plymouth, Montserrat, Leeward Islands (West Indies)
Back in 1989, Hurricane Hugo swept through the Caribbean, damaging the British Territory of Montserrat in the Leeward Islands. Less than a decade later, the territory in the West Indies — and, in particular, its capital, Plymouth — was changed irrevocably after a volcanic eruption.
The long-dormant volcano had been considered extinct by experts, making the eruption particularly surprising — and devastating. Ash-covered Plymouth remains abandoned in an off-limits exclusion zone to this day. Although tourists can’t visit on foot, they can take a helicopter ride over the ghost town. Still, be aware that scientists are now closely monitoring the volcano in anticipation of future eruptions.
Many travelers want to set foot on each of the Earth’s continents, and who could blame them? It is certainly a cool feat to check off the ol’ bucket list. But researchers and environmentalists have a real fear that tourists — especially larger groups of them — could do irreparable damage to the planet’s last wilderness.
Boats that sail around Antarctica are only allowed to transport up to 500 passengers, though many carry even fewer folks around the southernmost continent. CNN reported that between 2016 and 2017 a whopping 44,367 tourists have made the difficult trek to the icy Pole. Do your part and do not contribute to what many fear is the start of a tourism boom.