7 Travel Destinations Being Ruined by Tourism

A highway runs right past the world-renowned Stonehenge site in England.

Aaron Black / Getty Images

Travel provides folks with the opportunity to discover new places, experience different cultures, and learn about the great wonders of the natural world. While tourism can be positive for some in the local economy, it isn't always beneficial to the environment or local residents. Unfortunately, many of the most beautiful places in the world are being marred by too many visitors.

Here are seven places around the world that are being threatened by tourism.

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Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu on a bright, sunny day

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Perched high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, these Incan ruins remained relatively unknown to outsiders until 1911 when archaeologist and explorer Hiram Bingham was led there by local Quechuas. Since then, hundreds of thousands of tourists have flocked to Machu Picchu every year, threatening the fortitude of the ancient site. In January 2020, for instance, the Peruvian government deported several tourists who had snuck onto the grounds and caused damage to the stone wall of the Temple of the Sun. UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, has issued repeated warnings of the ongoing threat posed to Machu Picchu by tourism.

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A pyramid at Teotihuacan near Mexico City

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Constructed between the first and seventh centuries CE, the pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan is a spectacular display of Mesoamerican civilization that sits just northeast of Mexico City. The remarkable ancient city and the structures found there, like the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, are under constant threat of urban development encroaching ever closer to the site. 

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Angkor Wat

The large temple Angkor Wat is reflected in a pool on a cloudy day

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The massive Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia contains the remains of the Khmer Empire, including the iconic Angkor Wat temple, and has been under threat since opening up to tourism in the 1990s. One significant issue created by the influx of tourists involves the tremendous amount of strain put on the local water supply. Due to these shortages and the resulting tapping of groundwater to make up for the losses, the water table in the area has dropped to dangerous levels. In turn, this has caused the soil on which these ancient temples stand to begin to sink.

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Stonehenge on a clear day in the English countryside

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Stonehenge, the famous Neolithic arrangement of stones in southern England, receives more than one million visitors per year. The roughly 5,000-year-old monument is situated amid bucolic rolling hills that might inspire tranquility, if not for the loud and often-congested two-lane highway that runs near the site. To remedy this, a proposal was approved in 2020 to replace the problematic section of road with a tunnel that would carry passengers underneath the grounds. Many archaeologists, as well as UNESCO’s world heritage committee, however, have expressed serious concern that the tunnel’s construction would destroy millions of artifacts in the soil that have yet to be discovered.

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Mount Everest

A line of climbers hike toward Mount Everest's peak

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The 29,032-foot-tall Mount Everest on the border of Nepal and China was first summited in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Since then, adventure-seekers have reached the mountain’s peak with ever-increasing frequency, with many more (500 per day during peak season) ascending to the mountain’s Base Camp. As a result of this influx of tourists, Mount Everest has become riddled with trash and its footpaths have begun to erode. In 2019, 24,000 pounds of trash were removed from the site, but the root cause of the problem persists.

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Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in India on a clear, blue-sky day

Tony Shi Photography / Getty Images

Built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife, the Taj Mahal is considered one of the premier architectural wonders in the Indo-Islamic cultural sphere. The white marble mausoleum has attracted more and more tourists each year, with several million visiting per year. To limit any potential damage to the site by the large, daily crowds, UNESCO has proposed that an “Integrated Management plan is necessary to ensure that the property maintains the existing conditions.”

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Ngorongoro Crater

A female lion hunts in the Ngorongoro Crater

Abdelrahman Hassanein / Getty Images

The Ngorongoro Crater in the United Republic of Tanzania is one of Africa's great natural treasures. Known for being the biggest, unbroken caldera, or volcanic crater, in the world, the Ngorongoro Crater is home to many endangered species, like the black rhino, and archaeologists have discovered much about human evolution from evidence found beneath its soil. Unfortunately, the rapid increase in tourism to the crater is placing severe pressure on the infrastructure needed to support such numbers. Further construction of roads and accommodations for tourism pose threats to the crater’s natural state and the wildlife that lives within it.