Thinking of visiting that hot new vacation destination? Think again.

Daniel Threlfall remembers his visit to Chichen Itza, Mexico, a destination billed as one of the wonders of the world. It isn’t a good memory.

Threlfall, an Internet consultant from Greenville, S.C., expected to be wowed by Mayan temples and natural beauty when he traveled to the Yucatan with his family last year. “Instead, we were met with sky-high prices, in-and-out access and an elbow-to-elbow confrontation with throngs of people from all over the planet,” he recalls.

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That’s the thing about too-popular destinations. Once they’re “discovered,” they’re ruined for everyone else. But with the hectic summer travel season now at its peak, there are ways of avoiding these overexposed places, and, if you can’t plan around them, to make the best of being stuck in a “hot” destination with thousands of other visitors.

Finding the right place isn’t easy. Threlfall struggled to discover a more authentic Mexican experience, and, this year, he stumbled upon the perfect hideaway. “On our day-long adventure, we walked through a jaguar forest, climbed a jungle tower, toured ancient ruins, crossed two lagoons by boat, swam a kilometer through a 500-year-old Mayan canal, hiked the wetlands and ate a Mayan lunch,” he says.

Where? “I can’t tell you,” he says, “otherwise it might turn into the next Chichen Itza.”

Fair enough. But a review of Threlfall’s Instagram account suggests he was in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Sorry, Daniel.

Sometimes, when you think you’ve discovered an alternative to an oversaturated destination, you realize everyone else has, too. Lia Saunders, a business-systems analyst from San Francisco who recently spent a month in Mexico, thought she’d found the perfect “anti-Cancun.”

“It’s common knowledge that Cancun is overrun with tourists,” she says. But she heard that Tulum “serves up relaxing, tropical authentic Mexican luxury. Well, not so.”

Instead, she found a commercialized and overpriced destination. “It’s crowded, it’s a totally unauthentic Mexican experience and if you aren’t willing to shell out an arm and a leg to be on the luxurious beach, there is not much to do in the town of Tulum itself,” she says.

Occasionally, the best destination is staring right at you. Earlier this summer, for example, I visited Yosemite National Park in Northern California. Most travel experts warn against visiting Yosemite in June, July and August because it’s too crowded. It is.

But Yosemite is enormous.

At 1,189 square miles, it’s about the same size as the state of Rhode Island. And, most visitors crowd into a small area near the iconic natural attractions, like El Capitan and Half Dome. I found a guide from the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that supports this national park, who took me to the less-trafficked areas of the park, including a grove with thousand-year-old sequoia trees. And, staying in the park, we found a room at the new Rush Creek Inn, only about a mile from the park entrance.

If you know your Mexican geography, then you probably recognize Sian Ka’an as being in Tulum province. Essentially, Threlfall and Saunders went to the same place. But they didn’t. This strategy works anywhere, but particularly well with national parks. Take Glacier National Park, which logged 2.37 million visitors in 2015. Waterton Lakes National Park, just across the Canadian border, only recorded 417,000 visitors in the same period.

“Since the U.S. dollar is so strong versus the Canadian dollar, you get much more value for your money in Canada,” said Whitt Kelly, a spokesman for Travel Alberta.

Another strategy: Go elsewhere, but look for the qualities you like about an overrun destination.

“For example, if someone wants Hawaii, which is notoriously expensive, but they’re looking for natural beauty, beaches, volcanoes and fresh, tropical cuisine, I would steer them toward Costa Rica or Ecuador,” says Jacob Marek, the founder of IntroverTravels, a tour operator that specializes in out-of-the-way destinations.

Many European cities also have acceptable substitutes. Instead of Paris or Rome, he recommends Buenos Aires or Santiago. “Both cities have a European flair and style, and are great launching points to expansive wilderness for those looking for a thrilling experience in nature,” he says.

It’s not the same thing, of course, but it’s relatively close — sometimes close enough. If you have your sights set on a place like trendy Portland, Ore., but you’re wary of summer crowds and the higher prices that go along with them, you might drive a few hours north to lower-profile Olympia, Wash., which also has an indie music scene, outstanding restaurants, craft breweries and boutique shopping. At least, that’s how the area’s tourism authorities are positioning the region.

In short: Avoid touristy destinations if you can. But, if you can’t, look carefully before you jump in. Chances are, there’s a way to sidestep the Instagramming masses.

7 thoughts on “Thinking of visiting that hot new vacation destination? Think again.

  1. I’m not sure I would consider Buenos Aires a substitute for Paris. It is a fascinating destination on its own terms, and its buildings were inspired by Paris. But it is colored by its recent history. Those beautiful Parisian buildings are covered with graffiti that no one even tries to cover up anymore. My nephew spent his semester abroad in Buenos Aires, and on his first day the people who ran the program scared the kids with stories of the crime, telling them to expect to be mugged at least once and how to deal with it by carrying a US 20 dollar bill and offering it to the mugger, who might be satisfied with that. You also have to be on the lookout for counterfeit bills, and watch the taxi drivers to make sure they don’t cheat you. I visited him that semester and I loved the city, but you do have to be vigilant. By the way, I have never had such delicious food as I did in Buenos Aires. Everything I ate there was fabulous.

    I got to see Tulum before it became a victim of its popularity. It was beautiful and unspoiled.

  2. In regards to National Parks, the key is research. We have went to some of the busiest national parks during their peak times and there were times where we ‘felt’ alone. This summer we went to Yellowstone (as well as three others) and we only saw one family from Europe for the entire morning while doing a hike in Yellowstone.

    Another item to research for national parks is entrances. The volume for some entrances are low; therefore, the attractions, hikes, etc. are not that busy.

    If you are staying outside of the park, some national parks are open 24/7…going at night for some attractions can be fun.

    Get up early in the morning and get to the park early…most families with young children can’t get up and they arrive at 10:00 or later when parking can be limited.

    1. It really depends on the particular destination. I’ve been on a hike in Yellowstone and I came across maybe three people. However, almost any place (even if there’s a walk involved) near a parking lot is likely to have a lot of people during the day.

      Even if there’s a hike involved, some places are still pretty crowded. The Mist Trail in Yosemite is somewhat of a journey, but there will be hundreds of people met along the way. However, I don’t let crowds get in the way of my enjoyment.

      1. I agree…there can be a lot of people in the parking lots, the shuttle buses (i.e.Zion, Yosemite, etc.), around the attractions, etc. but you can find places with fewer people. We hiked the Mist Trail a few summers ago and it can be real busy.

        When we visited Bryce Canyon in 2016…we arrived early and most of the other people were stopping at the first few stops. I drove to the end and we work our way back…most of the parking lots were nearly empty.

        1. There’s also more demand depending on time of the week. Many visitors prefer weekends to reduce or eliminate use of vacation time.

          Yeah – I have my spots where I’ve had virtual solitude, yet experienced some incredible vistas. My Disqus avatar is of the Half Dome cables. I did it on a Thursday before the permit system was in place, and found extremely sparse crowds. The next day I went to Clouds Rest where I perhaps came across 5 people and even had it all to myself for a half hour. On the way back to my camp I looked at Half Dome in the distance and saw a huge backup on the cables. And basically the only difference was that it was Friday and not Thursday.

          I haven’t been back to Hard Dome since they instituted a permit system. However, I remember the initial rollout (permits only for Friday-Sunday) and thinking that’s not going to work out because then people will just come during the weekday to get around the permit system. It didn’t take that long before they switched to permits required for every day of the week.

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