It’s Not Hard to Escape the Travel Crowds

I’ve read a few articles and blog posts lately complaining how overrun some places have become (like Ankor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance) and then making the false logical leap that this there aren’t any undiscovered places left in the world. We’re all on the same circuit, all flying to places millions of people have experienced already.

This is bunk.

A week from today I’m taking a trip to Morelia in Mexico? Never heard of it? You’re not alone. My Lonely Planet Mexico book calls it “the coolest place you’ve never been.” From everything I’ve seen, it’s a fantastic place to visit, but I’ll probably be able to count on one hand the number of gringos I see over the weekend. When I went to awesome Zacatecas last year, I ran into two. They lived there.

In the past few weeks I’ve talked to four people who have been to Salta, Argentina but did not make it through the canyon to laid-back Cafayate. There are no real “sites” in Cafayate except the canyon outside of town, so many tourists give it a pass. So it’s mellow, sleepy, and feels undiscovered, despite the proliferation of wineries all around town. There are a dozen little pueblos in that region that are in dramatic settings but they get even fewer visitors.

Sure, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley are jam-packed with visitors now. Take a trek to Choquequirao though and your group will have the grand ruins to itself. Or just do a trek in the Sacred Valley to places where the tour buses aren’t stopping. Or head to northern Peru and gaze at 5,000-year-old ruins in solitude.

The other Czech Republic

Prague is completely jammed with tourists, especially in the summer, but it’s a whole different story in the Moravia region in the south. Same with Eger in Hungary or Poland away from Warsaw and Krakow. Even in France and Italy, if you take your time instead of zipping around checking off boxes, you can stay in places nobody you know has heard of (except maybe Rick Steves).

Escaping the travel crowds is no harder now than it was 20 years ago. Two decades from now you may be reading about Morelia, Cafayate, and Eger all over the place and you may sigh, “Oh, it was so much better when…” But there will be awesome places not swarming with tourists that are still off the radar. Go enjoy them.

  1. John

    My experience is that there is a kind of travel writing circuit. If you watch it you can usually successfully not only avoid it, but also find some really interesting places to visit. For example I remember when Guanajuato, Mexico was really crowded with tourists and all the travel writers were talking about it, now you don’t hear much about it, but I am sure in a few years it will come back again. In the 2000s Mexico City wasn’t much of a tourist destination, but the last two years I have seen tons of articles on it. It is just a cyclical thing.

    • tim

      John, there is some real validity in this because when a tourism bureau is spending lots of money bringing writers in then naturally you see more articles showing up about the place. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling cycle too: once a place is seeing lots of tourist traffic, it can afford to spend more promoting the destination. In the glossies, it is mostly driven by new luxury hotels opening (i.e., advertisers) in the region. Lots of nice new hotels open in Mexico City or Marrakech, for example, so then you suddenly see lots of articles about the place in T&L and Conde Nast Traveler touting the place as “the next big thing” or “a city on the rise.”

      I can’t remember ever reading much about Guanajuato in magazines though, except articles I’ve written myself. This has always been a big tourist town for Mexicans, but the local business owners say they’ve never had many gringos around except language school students. San Miguel de Allende down the road is a different story…

  2. Jeffrey Feldman

    Seems like the crowds migrate from location to location. Vegas used to be jammed packed – now its almost dead – the perfect time to go!


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