If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably seen this picture a lot: a blue sky, waters so clear you may spot a fish or two or three, and a powder white beach. Maybe it’s a couple sharing a sweet moment against this paradise backdrop or a woman posing in a bikini. In either case, it looks like an idyllic vacation on an island that’s not only beautiful, but also deserted.
The reality? That small strip of sand is likely teeming with hundreds of tourists jostling for a spot to capture the ‘perfect’ photo for the ‘gram. The coral reefs in the surrounding waters, which serve as homes to diverse marine wildlife, are probably eroded or on their way to complete degradation. And most of all: plastic. Whether it’s from snack packages, gear, or water bottles—the boatloads of tourists who arrive at these once pristine destinations rarely leave them untouched.
The combination of a rising global middle class, affordable prices, and a generation who has grown up in the era of social media FOMO has helped give rise to a trend that many experts are calling ‘overtourism.’ With this phenomenon, we’re seeing accelerated damage to the environment and marine wildlife, locals being pushed out of their land, rowdy parties, and filthy beachfronts. Here are 20 once incredible beaches ruined by obnoxious tourists.
20 Boracay, Philippines - 6 Month Closure To Recover From The Tourist Influx
Just this year, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay Island for up to six months after calling the top destination a ‘cesspool’ during a previous visit.
Back in 2012, it was awarded the title of best island in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine.
Two years later, it was at the top of Condé Nast Traveler’s list of best islands of the world. Before the international fanfare, Boracay was already an economic boon for the Philippines. But as it steadily garnered a name for itself as one of the best beach destinations in the world, more and more tourists came in—first from around Asia—then suddenly, from around the globe.
It would only be a matter of time before the small island would show signs of buckling under the pressure of that many visitors. Because of unmonitored tourist activities like snorkeling and diving, the surrounding coral reef ecosystem declined by a staggering 70 percent from 1988 to 2011, according to a study conducted by the the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.
The six-month closure will cost the Philippine economy about PHP 1.96 billion ($37.3 million USD). The country’s top economist says this will be offset by tourists being diverted to other domestic beaches. Here’s to hoping that an influx of tourists won’t ruin those destinations too.
19 Maya Beach, Thailand - Needs Some Time To Recover Since The Movie 'The Beach' Made It Become So Popular
Before it was catapulted to the international zeitgeist by the film adaption of the novel ‘The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Maya Bay on the island of Ko Phi Phi Leh was very quiet, clean, and above all, peaceful.
Its position as one of the world’s most famous beaches is thanks to, in large part, the movie— which is ironic because DiCaprio played a backpacker who was on a quest to find the perfectly untouched beach.
As of late, it’s been anything but untouched. The grandeur of high cliffs flanking each side of the bay dwarfs the fact that the main beach—the one where everyone wants to take that iconic Instagram photo that Thailand has come to be known for—is only 200-meters long.
This means travel bloggers, families, honeymooners, and package tourists alike are usually shoulder-to-shoulder when trying to find that serene spot to snap a photo.
In the same vein as Boracay in the Philippines, Thailand officials have also decided to close off the area this year in order to give the bay’s coral reef some time to recover. For the first time since its steady rise to popularity, tourists and tour boats are forbidden from entering Maya Bay for four months.
18 Koh Tachai, Thailand - Too Popular For Its Own Good
Though not as popular as Maya Bay, Koh Tachai’s vibrant coral and marine wildlife is still a huge draw for snorkelers.
The island is part of Similan national park in southwest Thailand and a popular idyll for day trippers from the mainland or tourists island hopping in longtail boats. Its remote location and small size makes it a perfect getaway spot for those looking for a quiet respite from the bigger, and more commercialized islands of The Andaman Sea archipelago.
But the problem with any place getting a reputation for being too ‘perfect’ and too ‘remote’ and too ‘beautiful’ is its propensity for becoming too popular for its own good. A beach on the island can hold up to 70 people, but authorities say that more than 1,000 visitors would crowd the small shorelines at any given day during peak season.
As a response, Thailand closed it off in 2016 for an indefinite period. Officials pointed to litter and food waste, gasoline leaking from tour boats, and coral damage as some of the reasons why over-tourism has threatened Koh Tachai’s health.
17 Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand - *The* Party Destination In Southeast Asia
Many of Thailand’s beaches are known for their quietude and romance, but one island in particular is known for the exact opposite, it is instead known for its rowdy, drunken, and loud Full Moon Parties every month: Koh Pha Ngan.
Its hilly and lush jungle interior is surrounded by long white beaches—the perfect combo of greenery and aquamarine that drew backpackers to it long before ‘Gap Year Backpacking’ was even a thing.
Since the 1980s, the island was in no short supply of visitors. But it wasn’t until the the advent of early social media that Ko Pha Ngan cemented its title as *the* party destination in Southeast Asia.
The infamous Full Moon Party is an all-night beach fest on the night of, before, or after every full moon. The centre of the action is Haad Rin beach and the fest is one that attracts a party crowd of mostly foreigners willing to participate in all types of debauchery. In fact, the crowds have gotten so big and the waste so unmanageable that Thailand was forced to impose strict bans with expensive fines on certain tourist activities this year.
16 Santorini, Greece - Cruise Ship Visitors Are Taking Over
I bet you can’t think of Greece without thinking about the blocks of white-and-blue buildings of Santorini, as well as breathtaking views. The image is burned into our cinematic psyche from countless films. The picturesque island, however, is suffering from the public’s endless fascination with it.
The island’s town and beaches have been inundated with cruise ship visitors who come in the thousands (even reaching 10,000 per day!) during peak season. Hoping to manage this massive tide, officials began limiting the number of cruise ship revellers to a maximum of 8,000 per day starting in 2017.
In tandem with the influx of tourists, the island has been seeing a steady increase of water consumption and need for supplies. There is growing resentment from locals who struggle to pay their own utility bills about the allocation of funds. After the 2010 debt crisis that left Greece in economic turmoil, local authorities have to now walk a very fine line between receiving as much revenue as they can from tourism but also being able to provide for their residents.
15 Pig Beach, Bahamas - We're Ruining The Lives Of These Magnificent Creatures
News of the death of seven swimming pigs from Big Major Cay in the Bahamas, or what’s come to be known as Pig Beach, made headlines when authorities discovered it may have been the fault of tourists. Taking a photo with the feral animals in the beach water has become a popular tourist attraction.
Large amounts of sand were found in the deceased animals’ stomachs, which may have ended up there because of tourists throwing food on the beach, according to a Bahamas Humane Society inspector. They likely ingested the sand from trying to eat the pieces of food. As of March 2017, only seven or eight of the famous swine remain.
The pigs normally live in the forest and rarely come out to the beachfront, but because of so many tourists, they have started to rely on humans more than ever. Their personalities are often likened to dogs, because they can become very friendly when they are used to tourist contact and enjoy having their bellies rubbed. Perhaps a major problem is that the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website doesn't explicitly forbid visitors from feeding the animals. Instead, the website touts the fact that tourists are "embracing the unique and special experience of swimming with the pigs."
14 Kailua, Hawaii - They Never Wanted All The Attention
Locals from former U.S. President Barack Obama’s favorite Hawaiian vacation spot are not happy that their town was thrust into the spotlight. Kailua quickly became a tourist alternative to more well-known beaches like Waikiki after it was confirmed that the Obamas rented a holiday home for their annual Christmas getaway. The Obamas first stayed at a $25,000-per-week oceanfront estate in 2011 and liked it so much that they've stayed there every year since.
One of their biggest concerns is being priced out of their homes. In online forums, residents complained about the proliferation of pricey bed and breakfasts, rental properties, and large retail chains like Whole Foods supermarket. Average property prices in the largely residential area soared to up to $800,000 USD in 2013.
While the island’s vacation rental owners association argues that the ‘Obama effect’ helps the local economy, residents say the community is beginning to lose its small-town charm because they aren’t able to get to know the tourists who rent short-term properties as true neighbors. Members of the Kailua Neighborhood Board called on Hawaii's Tourism Authority to "stop promoting Kailua as a tourist destination and alternative to Waikiki." That's how strongly they felt about the busloads of tourists packing the weekly farmer's market and wandering the residential streets.
13 Capri, Italy - It May Soon Be Time For Crowd Control Measures
The island of Capri is in fear of “exploding” from overtourism, according to its mayor. It’s in a frantic race to reduce the overcrowding and disruption brought on by about two million tourists a year. In the summer months, the tiny island in the Bay of Naples can get up to 15,000 visitors a day.
The most recent boom is thanks to the popularity of the 2017 Oscar-nominated film Call Me By Your Name, which was shot on the beaches of Sirmione.
Many of them arrive by cruise ship and are led around the narrow alleyways in big tour groups. Others come by way of boats from nearby Naples or Sorrento. But most only stay for the day, which creates a frenzied air in the piazzas of Capri Town; a determination to push through the mob of selfie-takers to “see it all.”
But to “see it all” may not be equate to enjoying the place, even a little, or at all. One possible answer is to campaign for longer stays in Capri so tourists are not herded in and out of the small streets and there’s a chance for them to see unexplored parts of the island. The mayor has said he is planning to follow in the footsteps of Venice and 'experiment' with crowd control measures.
12 Dubrovnik, Croatia - Game Of Thrones.... Um, We Mean Tourists
The sheer foot traffic into Dubrovnik forced UNESCO to threaten taking away the city’s world heritage status citing “management of cruise ships” and sustainability as their main concerns. In 2016, 529 cruise ships called at Dubrovnik, bringing closes to 800,000 passengers, up from 475 ships in 2015 and 463 in 2014.
Dubrovnik has seen an exponential rise in popularity partly because of its prominent role as the location of King's Landing, the capital of Westeros, in HBO's blockbuster television series Game of Thrones. In response, the local government is seeking to cut down the number of cruise ships and a cap of 4,000 visitors into the walled city per day.
Authorities have also installed a network of security cameras in an attempt to study and subsequently manage the flow of traffic in the busy city.
The problems that are tied to the quantity of tourists per day are exacerbated by the quality (or lack of) time spent inside the walled city. Locals observe that little to no money is spent by cruise ship passengers, mainly because there’s so little time allowed onshore. Many don't venture out of the main square and just want to take a picture or two with the Medieval backdrop behind them. Some say 16 hours should be the minimum stay–at the very least.
11 Waikiki, Hawaii - It's Become 'Disneyfied'
The world-famous beachfront on the island of Oahu attracts several million people a year, generating a large chunk (about 42 per cent!) of Hawaii’s revenue from the tourism industry. To keep up with the annual wave of tourists from mainland U.S. and around the world, developers erected hotels, rental properties and numerous amenities.
But this overdevelopment is contributing to the erosion of the beach itself, putting Waikiki beach in danger of disappearing altogether. Since the the late 1800s, the number of seawalls and buildings being erected too close to the natural shoreline have blocked the natural ebb and flow of sand along the beach.
Hand in hand with this overdevelopment is what some critics call a ‘Disneyfication’ of the area–where most hotels offer generic dining packages; there are scheduled theme park-esque activities; and tourists are transported to the water by busloads with little to no autonomy to choose their own way to see the island.
10 Tuscany, Italy - You Better Not Save That Spot For Anyone
Italian beaches are now so packed that police are cracking down on this: saving a seat in the sand. In towns like Livorno, officials are getting serious about taking away umbrellas and towels that beach-goers throw down as a way to save prime spots. The coast guard says it will cost €200 ($222 USD) to reclaim items.
Though it may seem a bit ridiculous, it’s a measure that Tuscany has had to implement because of the deluge of tourists they get year-round. The Tuscan countryside is already popular destination for global tourists, but most recently, Italy has received a lot more visitors from neighboring European countries who are trying to avoid places where there have been terror attacks, like France.
The Tuscan coast is one of many Italian regions, along with Venice and Cinque Terre, that has to grapple with resentment from locals who are fed up with obnoxious tourists who have no regard for their local environment, but also are restricting them from enjoying their daily lives.
Seaside tourism accounts for approximately 40 percent of the travel industry in Tuscany. The village of Castiglione della Pescaia is the top seaside destination in the region, but many tourists, especially the British and the Germans who tend to flock to the Italian sun to escape winter, are no strangers to the many beach towns dotting the coast.
9 Bali, Indonesia - The Resorts Are Taking Over And The Residents Are Suffering From it
Locals and activists from Bali are speaking out against what they consider an unmanageable amount of tourists that come to the island every year. They say the visitors are contributing to the waste and water crisis and a worsening traffic problem. Activists say it’s better to find sustainable solutions for these issues first and foremost if they want to keep Bali’s tourism industry thriving.
An average room in a four-star hotel consumes 300 litres per day, so much of the island's fresh water reserves go to the service industry for the use of tourists, according to Wayan Suardana, a manager at Walhi, an Indonesian environmental advocacy NGO.
Each year, hundreds of hectares of land are converted into hotels and luxury residences for rich foreigners. There is little allocation for the needs of local residents.
Bali’s “garbage emergency” made headlines when popular tourist beaches were flooded with plastic waste. Beaches like Kuta, Jimbaran, and Seminyak took most of the hit, with workers picking up to 100 tons of garbage some days. Even though most of the junk came from neighboring islands or residents, the sheer amount of tourists and the inevitable waste they left on beaches certainly did not help matters.
8 Cinque Terre, Italy - They've Started To Cap Tourists Already
The five fishing villages of the Cinque Terre were once isolated hamlets in a particularly rugged coast of the Italian Riviera. Centuries of beautiful, careful architecture has made this hillside so visually dramatic and one of the world’s most visited and photographed travel destinations today. The pastel houses and structures built on terraces jutting out of the steep mountains and facing the sea is a sight many people want to see with their own eyes.
Officials, however, have recently announced plans to limit the number of people allowed to visit highlighting environmental concerns. In 2015, about 2.5 million tourists visited Cinque Terre. That number was slashed to 1.5 million for 2016 and every year going forward.
For most of its existence, the villages have only had to provide for its own residents. The number of bars, restaurants, and hotels are not enough for the flood of people who come every day. Many tourists come for the iconic photo against the colourful backdrop, but most don’t even bother to hike the trails or venture past a village or two.
7 Barcelona, Spain - The People Are (Violently) Protesting Against Tourists
The capital of Spain’s Catalonia region is known around the world for its art and architecture, but tourists who have had a taste of the Barcelona party scene will say some of the best things about the city are its beaches and nightclubs.
It’s precisely because of this diverse offering of art museums, beach parties, and historical landmarks that Barcelona is one of most popular destinations in Europe and the world. It’s the twentieth most visited city worldwide and it keeps breaking the record of visitors per year.
But locals are getting fed up with the raucous beach-goers and the general overcrowding of the city. In 2015, the local government started banning large groups from the city's famous Boqueria Market and clamping down on drunk tourists at the beach. In a survey, locals even said they were more concerned about tourism than poverty, according to the CEO of Responsible Travel Justin Francis.
Last year, many anti-tourist protests in the city turned violent as an anarchist group broke windows of five-star hotels, damaged tourist bicycles, and let off smoke bombs near busy restaurants.
In one specific incident, assailants slashed the tires of an open-top tourist bus outside the Camp Nou stadium of the city's iconic FC Barcelona football team. The protesters scrawled 'Tourism Kills Neighborhoods' in Catalan onto the bus windows. Tourists on board the bus thought they were the victims of a terrorist attack at the time.
6 Majorca, Spain - Their Population Almost Quadruples With Tourists
Similar to Barcelona, the party island of Majorca is facing a wave of anti-tourism sentiment, especially among young locals. Just this year, a protest group admitted to letting off flames near luxury yachts and disturbing a restaurant with tourist diners by throwing confetti.
Graffiti messages spray painted on city walls saying, "Tourist go home, refugees welcome" and "Tourism is destroying our city" are becoming commonplace, even though 80 percent of the city's economy depends on tourism.
Protesters claim the saturation of tourists in their hometown, especially in the summer months, are restricting their standard of living: the beaches are packed, the traffic jams are unbearable, and there is so much more garbage to clean up. It is the largest island in the Balearic archipelago in the Mediterranean and home to only one million people, but it usually welcomes triple or quadruple that number per year in tourists. Many foreigners also move to the popular beach destination, drawn to its stunning beaches and mild weather.
Majorca is now considering a host of strict restrictions for holiday-goers who vacation on the island just to get black-out drunk. Local authorities are working with hotels and restaurants to curb ‘drunken tourism’ with rules such as prohibiting two-for-one offers for alcoholic drinks and limiting all-inclusive packages.
5 Benidorm, Spain - The Town's Image Is Being Tarnished
Benidorm is yet another Spanish city popular with hardcore partygoers. The resorts in the city are popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Locals complain that these large groups can be very disruptive in public places like the beach and on the streets.
Although Benidorm is not ready to turn away the tourists, officials are not ruling out the possibility of hefty fines for tourists who are caught causing disturbances in public. Since the 1980's, Benidorm has been a popular spot for British tourists to let loose. In a recent incident, four British tourists were arrested for scaling one of the seaside resort's highest skyscrapers, the Torre Levante, and attempting to base jump off it.
Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh said in an interview with Telegraph Travel: "When I was about 17, I went to Benidorm with a bunch of 20 guys and it was a completely crazy, debauched holiday. It was a sort of 'idiots abroad'-type trip with a lot of drinking and partying. I’m surprised we came back alive."
According to local authorities, meetings with businesses in areas such as the popular Levante beach have already taken place so rules can be imposed on tourists who are “tarnishing the image of Bernidorm.”
4 Cozumel, Mexico - The Reefs Aren't As Important As The Cruise Ships, Clearly
Mexico's largest third-largest island, Cozumel, is another prime example of a serene, sleepy town with untouched shores turned commercial dock and one of the busiest ports in the world, with 3.6 million passengers arriving annually. It's a popular destination because of its combination of natural, powdery beaches and rockier vistas.
Back in the 1990s, a deepwater pier was built to allow for big cruise ships, but this damaged the island’s surrounding coral reefs. The remaining coral reefs have also been damaged by pollution from heavy boat traffic and untrained scuba divers. The constant boat traffic is also causing the waters to get warmer, threatening the flora and fauna under the sea.
Despite this environmental degradation, tourism, diving, and fishing make up a big chunk of the island's economy. Most of the businesses on Cozumel are hotels and restaurants which run dive operations and private docks. The trick is balancing economic growth with sustainable practices.
After Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean islands in 2017, even more tourists could end up at Cozumel as cruise companies divert the flow of cruise ships away from popular Caribbean destinations like the Bahamas, St. Thomas, and Cuba as they rebuild and renew those cruise ports in the wake of the devastating hurricane season last year.
3 Galapagos Islands - It's So Sad That This Has Become An Endangered Heritage Site
About 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador is the Galapagos Islands—home to giant tortoises, Darwin’s finches, land iguanas, and so much more diverse fauna and flora that it was the initial inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In 1950, the islands had only 1,346 residents and little to no tourists at all. But when the area opened its arms to tourists, it wasn’t long until thousands made their way to the islands to experience an ecosystem that hosts 9,000 species on land and in the surrounding waters. In 1998, the government of Ecuador enacted the Galápagos Special Law, a legal framework to protect the islands, and created the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
Still, by 2007 the degradation of the natural wildlife became so bleak that the United Nations listed the destination as an endangered heritage site. Illegal fishing and the introduction of non-native species by tourists or newcomers became a threat to the irreplaceable environment of the Galápagos. The World Wildlife Fund led a conservation campaign and spearheaded the construction of the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Today, tourism is strictly monitored. Commercial tourists can only travel to certain places and must always be accompanied by a licensed Galápagos National Park Guide.
2 Haeundae Beach, South Korea - 1 Million People A Day, That Says It All
On a regular summer day, you can expect up to 100,000 people frequenting Haeundae Beach. The popular South Korean beach has seen an influx of foreign tourists lately, especially from China, Japan, and even European countries. This makes the already busy vacation spot unpleasantly overcrowded and hard to navigate in the hot summer months.
On the hottest days in July and August, the beach has seen up to a whopping one million visitors. You'll find thousands and thousands of beach umbrellas and chairs dotting the the stretch of white sand, which is only 1.5 kilometers long. The area around the beach is surrounded by ample accommodation, entertainment and dining options, which is why it’s an easy and convenient spot to flock to. The surrounding neighborhood is also home to Busan's large expat community, so if you love loud parties with the international crowd, this is the place to be in the city.
But if you’re looking for a quiet respite to enjoy a good book or a peaceful nap, maybe it’s best to avoid this destination, unless you’re up for a beach day in the spring, autumn, or winter months. But if rubbing shoulders with fellow sunbathers is your thing, then go ahead.
1 Bondi Beach, Australia - There's Even A TV Show Dedicated To The "Pure Chaos"
Sydney’s Bondi Beach gets over 2.3 million visitors a year, according to Tourism Research Australia. Usually most popular with pro surfers, the place has come to be a hotspot destination for both athletes and non-athletes alike.
The beach itself is only over half a mile long, but its wave swells are impressive enough to attract surfers of all nationalities with varying skill levels. Rod Kerr, the head of Bondi Lifeguards, told GrindTV it “can be pure chaos” in the water when hundreds of surfers are trying to catch a break at the same time.
Although it’s one of Australia’s most well-known beaches, there is still debate whether it should be re-imagined for even more tourists. A proposed $38-million redevelopment of the iconic Bondi Pavilion by the beach is being disputed by critics who say the money should be used for community and cultural spaces, not shops or restaurants for tourists.
References: The Guardian, The Telegraph, National Geographic, Travel + Leisure