Go Here, Not There: Overtouristed Beaches

Upgrade your beach getaway by avoiding these overcrowded spots

Two hammocks in the crystal clear turqoise water at a beach on the Island of Holbox, Mexico
Malorny / Getty Images

We're dedicating our July features to the world’s most beautiful and unique beaches and islands. With many travelers finally able to take the coveted beach vacation they’ve had to put off for over a year, there’s never been a better time to celebrate the sensational coastlines and calm waters that nab a starring role in our dreams. Dive into our features to learn more about off-the-radar beaches you should consider for your next trip, how one Spanish community came together to save its coastlinean ultra-exclusive Hawaiian island you might not have heard of, and game-changing beach hacks recommended to us by the experts.

Overtourism happens when excess crowding or unsustainable management harms a destination. That negative effect can be on the quality of life for locals or on the natural environment. And an overcrowded beach? Well, it’s more than just a nuisance. It can also create massive pollution problems or disturb wildlife. 

While experienced beachgoers may already have a few tricks up their sleeves to beat the crowds, some stretches of sand are simply too busy to enjoy. Some beach destinations are known worldwide, and they are popular for a reason, but still, there’s something special about lounging on a beach with just a touch more solitude.

We rounded up alternatives to 15 world-famous beaches that are already suffering from overtourism or could in the future. Do your part to divide the crowds (and maybe get a little more space between your towel and your neighbor’s) at these lesser-visited beaches.

(Remember that if you visit less crowded or hidden beaches, you'll likely be sharing them with locals enjoying their days off or spending time with family, so always be respectful and practice good beach etiquette while exploring.)

01 of 15

Instead of Barceloneta Beach, Try Bogatell Beach

El bogatell beach, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
curtoicurto / Getty Images
Playa de Bogatell, Barcelona, Spain

Seeing as the city of Barcelona has become somewhat of a poster child for overtourism in recent years, it comes as no surprise that its busiest beach has some of the world’s largest crowds. There is always something happening at Barceloneta, whether it's volleyball tournaments or groups of tourists riding bikes along the seafront. Instead, check out Bogatell Beach just a couple of miles north for a cleaner, safer option without the hoards of crowds. Bogatell is a 20-minute walk from the closest metro station.

02 of 15

Instead of Tulum, Try Isla Holbox

Hammocks in the water at Punta Cocos, Isla Holbox
zstockphotos / Getty Images
Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Tulum became one of the world’s hottest beach destinations almost overnight, and the area’s infrastructure has had trouble keeping up. What was once a little-known backpacker destination is now making way for overpriced tourism developments and hoards of celebrities (and those who follow them on social media). Although there are some pretty amazing cultural sights to see around the area, including preserved ruins and historic cenotes, most visitors sadly don’t step outside of the Tulum bubble long enough to experience them.

Instead of vying for a spot on the beaches of Tulum, head north about 100 miles and hop on a boat to the sleepy island of Isla Holbox, an often overlooked vacation destination free from luxury resorts and full of outdoor adventures like bird watching, whale shark watching, and kayaking.

03 of 15

Instead of Patong Beach, Try Kata Noi

Tranquil beach with warm turquoise water
Pete Reynolds / Getty Images
Kata Noi Beach, Karon, Mueang Phuket District, Phuket 83100, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, boasts vibrant nightlife and one of the country’s most popular beaches: Patong Beach. This is absolutely the place you want to be if you’re looking for a full moon party, but if you’re looking for some tranquil rest and relaxation, you won't find it at Patong. A better option for that is Kata Noi, one of two Kata beaches on the southwest side of Phuket. Kata Noi is the smaller of the two, with the nearby Katathani Resort attracting more families and older crowds than party seekers. Though the beach is on the smaller side, the sand is soft, and the water is clear blue, perfect for leisurely sunbathing. 

04 of 15

Instead of Kuta Beach, Try Balangan Beach

People and ocean at Balangan Beach in Bali
Joel Carillet / Getty Images
Balangan Beach, South Kuta, Badung Regency, Bali, Indonesia

Perennially popular with tourists, Kuta Beach also hosts one of the most popular surfing schools on the island of Bali. As crowded as it is during the day, it gets even more congested during and after sunset. Luckily, you can get the same classic Bali scenery and the same stunning sunset at Balangan Beach on the island's southern tip, just 15 miles away. Take in the serene turquoise water from the top of limestone cliffs before hiking down to get to the water; plus, the surfing here is just as good (if not better) than at Kuta. 

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05 of 15

Instead of La Pelosa, Try Bombarde Beach or Cala Luna

Small waves at sunset in le Bombarde beach
Gabriele Maltinti / Getty Images
Bombarde Beach, Italy

Sardinia’s most popular beach has become so overcrowded that officials had to step in and set strict rules for tourists to curb environmental damage. During the summer season, a maximum of 1,500 adults are allowed on the beach each day, which seems like a lot until you realize the beach regularly saw about 6,000 people daily.

Luckily, there is no shortage of gorgeous beaches on Sardinia. Check out Bombarde Beach in Alghero or Cala Luna on the east coast; the latter requires a difficult 2.5-mile hike or a ferry ride to get there, but the effort will be well worth it to experience a slice of paradise.

06 of 15

Instead of South Beach, Try North Beach

North Miami Beach Pier From Above
Art Wager / Getty Images
North Beach, Miami Beach, FL 33141, USA

Miami is well known as a spring break destination for college students, celebrities, and locals, and South Beach is its epicenter. Tourists flock to this area to spend their days on the sand and continue into the area's famous nightclubs once the sun goes down. This has resulted in large crowds and a large amount of trash on the beaches (not to mention, the entire area has become extremely expensive as a result).

That’s not to say that Miami doesn’t have more subtle beach options, one of which is North Beach, a more laid-back suburban area with an amazing assortment of more reasonably priced restaurants owned by local families.

07 of 15

Instead of Maya Bay, Try Pileh Bay

pontoon boats surrounded by cliffs in Pileh Bay
Balate Dorin / Getty Images
79 หมู่ 5 Tambon Ao Nang, Amphoe Mueang Krabi, Chang Wat Krabi 81180, Thailand
Phone +66 75 656 150

Maya Bay, another oft-cited example of overtourism, rose to fame after “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio came out in 2000. Crowding got so bad that national park officials were forced to close the bay in 2019 to help rehabilitate its environment, even publicly suggesting alternatives like Pileh Bay and Loh Moo Dee Bay, both of which are part of Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park on Koh Phi Phi.

The lagoon off Pileh Bay has similar views and arguably just as much beauty as Maya Bay, offering opportunities for snorkeling and boating that will rival any bucket list spot.

08 of 15

Instead of Santorini, Try Anafi

Small white church on a rock hill with the ocean in the background
George Bougiakas / Getty Images
Anafi 840 09, Greece

As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, the 30 square miles of Santorini host a few million visitors each year. Instead, we recommend going to nearby Anafi, one of the least visited Cyclades islands. There you can experience a unique volcanic landscape and natural scenery. Although it is located very close to Santorini, you would never know it based on the lack of tourists.

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09 of 15

Instead of Waikiki Beach, Try Waimanalo or Haleiwa

Sunny beach in Oahu Hawaii with a mountain in the background
tornmaps / Getty Images
Waimanalo Beach, HI, USA

Famed Waikiki Beach attracts tourists from all over the world who come to soak in the Hawaiian sun and sip mai tais at Duke’s Barefoot Bar. The island of Oahu is the most tourist-heavy in the Hawaiian island chain, but many travelers spend their entire trip within the boundaries of Waikiki. Save yourself from the groups of tourists hopping off catamarans and thin film of sunscreen on the water’s surface by visiting the east and north sides of the island instead. Haleiwa and Waimanalo both have much quieter beaches and snorkel spots to enjoy. Ala Moana Beach Park, located just a few miles away from Waikiki, is still one of the best beaches on Oahu.

10 of 15

Instead of Ipanema, Try Prainha Beach

large rocks on a beach in Brazil with a mountain in the background
Igor Prahin / Getty Images
Prainha Beach, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Ipanema Beach is great for people watching and sunbathing but, as one of the most popular beaches in Rio, finding an open spot on the sand can feel impossible. Instead, consider Prainha Beach, located southwest of the city in Barra da Tijuca. The half-moon-shaped beach is bordered by verdant green cliffs and rocks that help it blend into nature, while the waves are perfect for more experienced surfers. Keep in mind that the secluded location means no cell phone service, so either drive yourself or arrange your transportation ahead of time to avoid getting stuck.

11 of 15

Instead of Santa Monica Beach, Try Will Rogers State Beach

car on an empty beach with volleyball nets. There is a helicopter in the sky above
David McNew / Getty Images
17000 CA-1, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, USA
Phone +1 424-526-7777

Locals know to stay away from the pier section of Santa Monica Beach to avoid the bulk of the crowds, but during the summer, there is simply no way to avoid the hordes. Located just west of Santa Monica, Will Rogers State Beach offers a less crowded option off the Pacific Coast Highway. The beach here has been touted as one of the best beaches in the state for swimming, but it's also great for learning how to surf, especially on a southern section of the beach known as Sunset Point.

12 of 15

Instead of Bondi Beach, Try Shark Beach

Aerial photo of Sydney - Shark Beach
Szilard Toth / Getty Images
Shark Beach, New South Wales, Australia

Sydney’s most popular beach is a half-mile stretch of sand lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels. Bondi Beach is extremely crowded during the warmer months, with travelers spilling out into other nearby destinations.

However, Shark Beach, in the city's eastern suburbs, is an exception. It's part of Nielsen Park and offers three picnic areas and a cafe in addition to crystal clear waters. Don’t let the name scare you off—there’s a large shark net that protects the main swimming area during the summer, making it a great option for families and children.

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13 of 15

Instead of Haeundae Beach, Try Ilsan Beach

Beach umbrellas lined on the edge of Ilsan beach's rocky coastline

Steve Slep / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Ilsan-dong, Dong-gu, Ulsan 682-050, South Korea
Phone +82 52-209-3363

Known for the various festivals, parties, and fireworks shows throughout the year, Haeundae Beach is one of the highlights of a visit to South Korea. High season means huge crowds at Haeundae, so opt instead for Ilsan Beach. It's located just 14 miles from Seoul in a recently renovated area of Ulsan. This public beach has plenty of cafes and restaurant options nearby for Korean food. It's located near Daewangam Park, where you can see some beautiful rock formations and enjoy the ocean views. 

14 of 15

Instead of Dameisha Beach, Try Xichong Beach

wave rolling in on the sand at a beach
Drbouz / Getty Images

Dameisha Beach in Shenzhen in Guangdong province is one of the most crowded places in all of China, attracting hundreds of thousands of people over the weekends. Needless to say, it is not the best place for peace and quiet. About 25 miles away (but still in Shenzhen), Xichong Beach is a lesser-known coast of a large bay with gentle water and smaller crowds. Avoid the central section of the beach to find more empty spots and look into camping options so you can wake up on the sand.

15 of 15

Instead of Ibiza, Try Formentera

Aerial view of the ocean and a large island with solar panels
David Navarro Azurmendi / Getty Images
Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain

Ibiza is synonymous with partying, and though the island can feel extremely crowded most days, there are quiet escapes outside of the main tourist hotspots. To avoid the crowds for at least a portion of your trip, consider taking a ferry ride to Formentera, a hidden gem and the smallest of the Balearic Islands.

The island limits its visitor numbers and noise pollution, investing instead in ecotourism to help protect its wildlife and natural environment. Although it is often overlooked, there are still several hotels and dining options to choose from and activities like bike riding and markets that sell locally-made souvenirs.

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Go Here, Not There: Overtouristed Beaches