Tourism has been growing steadily since 1950, with a growth of 419 million in international tourist numbers between 2007 and 2017 according to UNTWO, and this shows no signs of slowing down. 2017 saw 1322 million international tourists travelling around the globe.
Inevitably, some destinations are more popular than others and many iconic sights are seeing record visitor numbers, fuelled by the rise of Instagram and the bucket list, as an increasing number of travellers take their inspiration from travel bloggers and social media influencers.
The term bucket list originated from the film The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally ill men determined to make the most of the time they have left by completing a wishlist of things they want to do before they ‘kick the bucket’. Search #bucketlist on Instagram and you’ll find over 5 million posts, almost all of them travel-related.
As tourists flood to bucket list must-dos for that perfect Instagram photo, from the holding up the leaning tower of Pisa to the many opportunities for optical illusions in the Bolivian salt flats, this overcrowding has led to an anti-tourism backlash in many parts of the world. There have been demonstrations against tourism in Barcelona, with protesters slashing tyres and daubing graffiti on tourist spots, and a ban on new hotels in Venice.
If you want to avoid the crowds, and contributing to the perils of over-tourism, here we present our alternative bucket list trips of a lifetime with lesser-visited but equally inspiring sights and cities.
Iguacu Falls vs Kaieteur Falls
Iguacu Falls are, understandably, some of the most famous falls in South America. However, the lesser-known Kaieteur Falls are just as spectacular and attract only a handful of visitors per year. At its peak, the world’s largest single drop waterfall is a torrent of 30,000 gallons of water cascading over the edge of a 741ft drop into a lush green gorge in the Kaieteur National Park. This is nature in its rawest state, with very little development in the area and certainly no safety rails or tourist shops.
Angkor Wat vs Preah Vihear
One of South East Asia’s most famous sights, sunrise at Angkor Wat has become a must-do when visiting Cambodia. However, it’s hard to feel a sense of zen-like peace as you appreciate the beauty of this ancient temple when you’re surrounded by hordes of tourists all trying to capture the same perfect sunrise shot. Preah Vihear boasts the same intricate Khmer architecture without the crowds, and its clifftop position affords amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Off limits for years because of safety concerns due to a dispute over ownership between Cambodia and Thailand, the FCO lifted its travel ban in 2015 and the site is now perfectly safe to visit.
Machu Picchu vs Choquequirao
Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most famous ancient sites, received 1.4 million visitors in 2016, and, following threats from UNESCO to add the Inca citadel to its list of endangered world heritage sites, the Peruvian government has brought in measures to control tourist numbers, with tickets now limiting the time you can spend at the site to a specific morning or afternoon. For ancient Inca heritage without the need to dodge dozens of selfie sticks, visit Choquequirao instead. Lying just 40 miles from Machu Picchu, and known as a ‘sacred sister’, this site has a similar architectural structure to Machu Picchu and the same stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The government is planning a road connecting it with Machu Picchu, as well as a cable car allowing tourists to avoid the 5 day trek it currently takes to get there.
Egyptian Pyramids, Egypt vs Nubian Pyramids, Sudan
The last remaining Ancient Wonder of the World, there’s no doubt that the Pyramids of Giza are a sight to behold. However, a visit means fighting your way through the hordes of other tourists while doing battle with numerous touts trying to sell you camel rides and trinkets, which can make for a less than enjoyable experience. Visiting with a guide or as part of a tour can make it easier, but for a truly awe-inspiring experience without the hassle visit the pyramids in Meroe instead. On the banks of the Nile, and surrounded by nothing but red desert sands, these pyramids differ from those in Egypt, with smaller bases and steeper slopes, and were built as tombs by the Nubian kings. For this reason, it's one of our favorite alternative bucket list trips of a lifetime.
Lake Garda vs Lake Son Kul
Lake Garda is undeniably enchanting, its shoreline dotted with charming towns, but its picture-perfect quality means that the area can get uncomfortably busy, particularly in the summer months when it becomes a popular Italian holiday spot. If you’re looking for stunning lakeside views without the crowds then look no further than Lake Son Kul. There is nothing more peaceful than waking up and looking through the door of your yurt across the sapphire lake to the mountains beyond, the only thing interrupting your view perhaps being a couple of horses.
Everest Base Camp vs K2 Base Camp
For adventurous types, Everest Base Camp is often near the top of their bucket list, but as the trek grows in popularity and the route becomes busier and busier, that feeling of striding out into the wilderness is lessened. Not so if you choose to tackle the trek to K2 Base Camp instead. There is no readily available information on the number of visitors to K2 Base Camp, but we’re willing to bet it’s a lot less than the 113,000 people who visited Everest Base Camp in 2016. The trek to K2 is even more of a challenge than the trek to Everest Base Camp, at higher altitude, over rougher terrain and with no accommodation option than camping, but it offers a truly wild experience.
Gorilla Trek in Rwanda vs Gorilla Trek in Democratic Republic of Congo
Although Rwanda isn’t exactly a tourism hotspot, it does receive around 700,000 visitors per year, many of whom are tourists hoping to spot gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Contrast this with the Democratic Republic of Congo where Kahuzi-Biega National Park, one of two national parks in the country with gorilla populations, had seen only 75 visitors in 2017 when Wild Frontiers’ founder Jonny and broadcaster Kate Humble visited last year. Not only is the country practically untouched by tourism, park fees to visit the gorillas are significantly cheaper. For more information on Kate and Jonny’s trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo you can watch our short film here.
Venice vs Srinagar
Tourists flock to Venice for its beauty and culture with 28 million visitors in 2017, which averages out at 60,000 per day, compared to the 55,000 people who live there. The city has become so overcrowded with visitors that the Venetian authorities have banned the opening of new hotels and the docking of cruise ships in the city. For a peaceful alternative where the culture is no less interesting and the food no less delicious, visit Srinagar instead. Often referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to its many beautiful lakes, who needs a gondala ride on an overcrowded canal when you can relax and admire the views from your shikara?
Paris vs Buenos Aires
The ‘City of Love’ saw 36 million visitors in 2016, while Buenos Aires, which has been called the ‘Paris of Latin America’, saw less than a tenth of that number despite offering fabulous food, weather and culture. With its long literary history, wide leafy boulevards and traditional breakfast of coffee and medialunas, or small croissants, it’s easy to see where the city got its nickname. Much of the city was built in Argentina’s golden age, when the wealthy aristocracy looked to fashionable Paris for inspiration for houses, gardens and squares, and it retains a very European look and Bohemian feel today.
Thailand’s Beaches vs Andaman Islands
Thailand’s beaches made the news recently when it was announced that Maya Bay, made famous by its starring role in Danny Boyle’s The Beach, had been closed to tourists in low season in an attempt to reverse some of the damage done to its coral reefs by the huge amount of tourists it attracts. The beach receives up to 5000 tourists every day – which equals more tourists per day to one beach in Thailand than the average number of tourists per day for the whole of the Andaman Islands in 2014. The Andaman Islands offer the same barefoot, off the beaten track tranquillity that Thailand’s islands did 20 years ago. You won’t find beach parties and sun loungers there, just empty stretches of sand, delicious sea food and peace and quiet.
Budapest vs Tbilisi
As Budapest has grown in popularity over the last decade, its reputation for cheap beer and wild spa parties has attracted ever-growing numbers of young backpackers and stag and hen parties. Tbilisi offers cobbled streets, Soviet history, fairy tale architecture and thermal baths, without the crowds. Sample the famous Georgian cuisine, stroll along the river and explore the burgeoning arts scene of this picturesque city. The best part of this alternative bucket list trip of a lifetime is the beer is even cheaper than in Budapest!