Expectation versus reality.
Travel Destinations

Where the tour groups are: destinations to scratch off your list

The influx of tourists have changed their once-dreamy landscapes. Here are the places you missed while you still had the chance. 
David Celdran | Sep 07 2018

Dubrovnik, Croatia 


The reconstruction of the walled city after the Siege of 1992 plus Croatia’s entry into the European Union in 2013 have brought the tourists back to this once thriving destination on the Dalmatian coast—but blame HBO’s choice of Dubrovnik for the location of its hit series Game of Thrones for putting this picturesque citadel on the mass tourism map. Previous to the outbreak of war and the merciless shelling of the town by the Yugoslav navy during the Siege, Dubrovnik was already popular with Italian, German, and Central European travelers lured to its sandy beaches and historic cityscape. But just like its old rival Venice, Dubrovnik now sees a surge of tourists from cruise ships and coach tours starting to ruin what was once called the jewel of the Adriatic. 


Santorini, Greece 


Don’t trust those postcards of Santorini —yes, the ones showing white-washed church domes on the foreground of the blue waters of the Aegean Sea. Those photos hide one vital but inconvenient truth travelers need to know before they arrive on the island: streets, shops, and restaurants so crowded you’d think those pictures were of another planet. Santorini’s most popular towns, Oia and Fira, offer the most scenic views of the sea and the caldera, but there’s very little room to breathe during the peak travel season, which starts in April and lasts until October. Late autumn to early spring is a wise alternative to travel if you don’t mind that most shops and restaurants are closed. Otherwise, pick a less frequented neighborhood like Pyrgos and enjoy the hilly white- washed streetscape and views of the island without the pesky tourists. Better yet, I’d recommend heading to the mystic and still relatively unexplored island of Patmos instead. 


Reykjavik, Iceland


It’s not clear what put Iceland on the mainstream tourist trail, but you know when a destination has reached its tipping point when most of your Facebook friends have already been there—or planning a trip soon. An aggressive tourism campaign, more commercial lights, and cameos in films like e Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alien: Covenant, and Star Wars: the Force Awakens have transformed the otherwise sleepy countryside of this Scandinavian backwater into one of 2017’s top tourism performers for good. e country is so overwhelmed by tourists today, locals now complain about losing their legendary quality of life. 


Damascus, Syria 


At one point considered a safe alternative to Libya or Iran, the capital of Syria is now a tourist trap for an entirely different reason: you literally risk being trapped in the cross re between the Syrian army and holdouts of ISIS and rebels opposed to the Assad regime in Damascus. And tourists who have wandered too far afield have been reported killed or kidnapped. The country where great empires like the Seleucids once ruled from has had most of its ancient landmarks and historic citadels reduced to rubble by war and vandalism. Most experts give Syria a decade or more to recover and once again open its doors to tourists. 


Banner illustration by Gica Tam