The World's Worst Destinations For Sustainable Travel

  • 01 of 08

    The Least Sustainable Places in the World

    Italy, Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore, Townscape at sunset
    RilindH/Getty Images

    Ah, the relaxing atmosphere of the beach. The excitement of the world’s most romantic cities. We love traveling and experiencing these things until there are one too many people on the beach or you aren’t the only one “pushing” the leaning tower of Pisa up in your picture. Overcrowding is only one part of the problem when it comes to issues concerning sustainable travel. The idea follows that the more people visit a place, the greater the impact is left behind. This is especially true for smaller islands and places that don’t have structural integrity set up. For example, the beautiful infinity pools you see in ​Santorini overlooking the caldera, may be a travel dream for most but the weight of the water and pools is causing cliff sagging. This becomes especially concerning when you understand that this island is prone to earthquakes and is the result of a volcano. The danger factor goes up significantly and building more pools on the cliffs because of tourism demands, becomes an increasingly problematic issue.

    There are many popular places that are experiencing unsustainable tourism and are contributing to either the total destruction of the place or the overall wear and tear. Cinqe Terre comes to mind and has recently limited the amount of tourists allowed to visit at a time. With that in mind, we’ve selected seven destinations that are in the midst of their own kind of struggle and that we recommend considering avoiding.

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  • 02 of 08

    The Taj Mahal

    Taj Mahal
    RAZVAN CIUCA/Getty Images

    In early 2011, the Taj Mahal announced that it would potentially be closing due to the rotting wooden structure of its foundation. Initially, they predicted that in five years, if urgent care wasn’t taken, they would be closing indefinitely. While the 358-year-old marble mausoleum still keeps its doors open for tourism, there is an ever-looming threat of closing for good. In 2013 UNESCO declared that the famous spot would be closing in 2017 due to air pollution and human interaction causing the white marble to crumble. Visitors will still be able to gaze upon the building from afar but the experience of going in will be limited to workers and conservationists. 

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  • 03 of 08

    Venice, Italy

    Venice is sinking. Or rather, the sea level is rising and swallowing up the canals. Not only is flooding becoming normative, but a recent study found that the city is starting to tilt slowly to the east due to the subsidence.This is due to the ground compacting from centuries of building and from water pumping and extraction from the ground. The two factors combined have caused the settlement to tilt. It’s estimated that it’s subsiding one to two millimeters a year. The city has plans to build anti-flooding walls but mass tourism and human impact only worsens the problem.

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  • 04 of 08

    Great Barrier Reef

    In a controversial article, Outside Magazine officially declared The Great Barrier Reef as dead in October of 2016. While the scientific community responded in horror and outrage, many took the news at face value. The reef is not officially dead. That said, it is dying at an alarming rate. 93% of the reef has experienced bleaching due to extreme changes in climate, light, and nutrients. Some of the damage is due to human touch and the oils our skin leaves behind. Scientist ​don’t want the public to give up on the idea that it’s past the point of no return. The Australian government has a REEF 2050 PLAN that would rehabilitate the area. While an estimated two million visitors come every year to swim amongst the coral, our opinion is to sit this one out until the revitalization of the coral is possible and we can experience it in a more sustainable way.

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  • 05 of 08

    Potosi, Bolivia

    2 Backpackers Travel Community

    Trash is an understatement when you see the amount of waste that sits around in Potosi, Bolivia. The UNESCO world heritage city is known for a few things. One, being one of the highest cities in the world and two, a major silver mining spot. It’s now also being called one of the most polluted cities in the world. Not only is there a blase attitude towards throwing garbage anywhere, the mining has caused pollution in the water. Lead, arsenic, calcium, and sulfur all leak from the mines. Mining tours are especially popular amongst visitors and that demand leads to more pollution.

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  • 06 of 08

    Machu Picchu

    The Inca Trail blazes through the hearts of many. The thrill of climbing to the top of the 7,970-foot peak excites many! Unfortunately, due to a high volume of foot traffic the trail has to be closed in February of every year to repair the damage. It also happens to be the rainy season and as such becomes more dangerous for travelers to take it. Rumors of the closing come and go often in part because of the annual closing in February but also because the erosion is starting to become more noticeable. While Machu Picchu itself is not closed, the iconic Inca Trail possess the greatest threat of environmental stress.

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  • 07 of 08

    The Great Wall of China

     This one hurts us too. The Great Wall of China is crumbling. It’s easy to understand how when you consider that ten million visitors flock to it each year. Not only do some sections of the wall have graffiti damage, but squatters and campers have left behind tents, trash, and urine. Since there is no clear ban on sleeping on the wall, it’s hard to regulate this issue. There are even occasional raves held on the wall, where empty bottles and remnants of a major party are left behind. The struggle to balance tourism and allowing people to enjoy the wall and staving off the destruction of the wall is not easy when you consider that the total length of the wall is 13,170.69 miles.

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  • 08 of 08


    The extremely fragile eco-system of Antarctica continues to be threatened not just by climate change but also by tourism. Because of its remote location, getting to the glaciers requires air and boat travel. The pollutants from that travel contribute to the overarching problem of climate change. Invasive species unknowingly brought over by tourist (seeds, insects, etc.) can also cause trouble to the area. Another concern is how wildlife is affected by tourism. Birds that have been breeding often will abandon their nest due to high-volume of people. While tourism to Antarctica can be a way to advocate for conservation, it’s still a very fine line to walk. Tourism went up %14 in recent years, which is significant for a place where no one lives and everyone who comes there is considered a tourist for a short time.

    While some of these places may be at the top of your list, we want to remind you that if done properly and with great care, visiting them is not entirely out of the question. Until major solutions are found and put in place, consider finding alternative places that celebrate sustainability.