It’s easier than ever to find amazing travel spots in the world. Simply google, “best beaches” or “Most beautiful islands,” and you’ll find thousands of people willing to fill you in on a practically empty paradise they stumbled upon. But this easy accessibility leads to some serious downsides for the environment. The blight of overtourism is real. Iconic and very Instagramable spots are starting to fall apart from the rush of tourists looking to experience the moments they see on screens. And governments are starting to realize that if we don’t get overtourism under control, we’ll lose these natural wonders, maybe forever.
Cities like Barcelona and Venice, historical sites like Machu Picchu, and national parks everywhere are tempering the stampede of travelers by severely limiting how many people can come in and when. It might not be enough, which has led some places to shut down tourism completely. Maya Bay (Thailand) and Boracay (Philippines) made headlines last year as they succumbed to too many of us loving these places to death — like a collective Lenny hugging a rabbit.
So, what’s become of the paradises that closed to visitors? We have some updates on status, but we also want to help you become a more conscientious traveler. So, even if they’ve reopened (or are opening soon) — we don’t all need to rush back in. We’re offering alternative destinations that are similar to these places but not suffering from too many visitors. It might be time to blaze your own path. The world, after all, is amazingly vast.
Maya Bay, Thailand
Maya Bay shot to worldwide fame after Leonardo DiCaprio starred in The Beach, much of which was set in the beautiful area. Then the tourists came…. and came…. and came. Before the movie, Maya Bay received about a hundred visitors a day. Last year, 5000 swarmed the beach and its waters daily. And by last summer, more than 80% of the coral in the region was estimated destroyed due to pollution. So, in June of 2018, Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation announced they would be closing the beach temporarily.
UPDATE: Maya Beach was initially supposed to be closed for a month, maybe two. But the damage was too severe from over a million tourists trampling through every year. The natural habit might be irreparably damaged. In October of 2018, the Thai government shut down the spot indefinitely. It is still closed.
The good news is, the closure has made a difference. BBC recently visited the area to see how it’s doing. They reported that about 50-60 blacktip reef sharks have returned and are starting to give birth again. Officials still don’t know how long it will take to repair the damage — so there’s no reopen date, but they say that, “Authorities say they are committed to re-opening Maya Bay when they know what the true capacity of the beach is – that is how many people can sustainably visit on a daily basis.”
Alternative: Patokan Beach, Indonesia
Look, there are thousands of other beaches in Thailand. Ao Nang comes to mind if you still want to indulge in amazing Thai food on the streets every night. If you’re willing to go a little further afield and support a community that isn’t under threat of overtourism, hit Indonesia.
There are about a gazillion beaches on Indonesia’s 20,000+ islands. Most of them are empty. Patokan Beach in North Sulawesi is idyllic, unique, and worth the extra effort to reach. Plus, there are tons of beaches nearby that you may well have to yourself (don’t litter or ruin them).