Lonely Planet releases list of the world’s unsung places. Is this a good thing?

A Hut on the Salkantay Trek in PeruAs someone who strives to open windows into distant corners of the world by way of being a travel blogger, I feel just a twinge of guilt whenever I write about a place.

It’s the oldest crux in travel. Find a little-visited, exotic corner of the world, have an immensely good time, word gets out, the spot eventually gains notoriety and with its newfound popularity the charm that it once held is lost in a sea of growth and exploitation. Granted, tourism is a massive economic stimulator and a boon for local economies, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

Two examples:

  • Koh Chang, Thailand, in 2009 and Koh Chang, Thailand, in 2011 may as well be two completely different islands. In the span of only two years this once-sleepy island went from having a few options to grab a beer at night to being a full-blown version of Pattaya or Phuket. There are now so many beach bars on Koh Chang — their interiors flush with hedonistic red lights and “girls” with ulterior motives — that the supply far outweighs the demand. In 2009 I sung the praises of Koh Chang. Many of my friends then visited. I feel like an accomplice to murder.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru. It’s unarguably a wonder of ancient humanity and for years sat forgotten in the mists of the Andes. Now it’s understandably on many a traveler’s “bucket list,” which is probably why after rising at 3 a.m. to climb a grueling, switchbacking mountainside in the dark I was met at dawn by a tour bus, which literally belched black smoke in my face the second I conquered the top of the trail.

This isn’t cynicism, just food for thought. Is it possible for a place to get TOO popular? Much like a movie, does the sequel (a destination after it’s been “discovered”) almost always fail to live up to the original? Maybe yes, maybe no. I suppose only time will tell.

It’s with this trepidation I mention that Lonely Planet has released a new list of 10 of the world’s unsung places. I’ve visited a few of them, and while all good choices, the underlying theme is that you want to visit these spots because they don’t have as many people as that spot over there (see: Utrecht vs. Amsterdam, Meknès vs. Marrakesh).

Nonetheless, it’s an inspiring list, which, for better or for worse, makes me want to travel there right now, before anyone else does.