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

As 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.

Libya: A new place to head in your travels

When I was in the Peace Corps one of my Gambian friends moved to Libya for some reason. This was back when the U.S. and Libya weren’t on the best of terms. I wasn’t ever sure why he went to Libya–all I know is that, once he went there, his wife and kids moved back to live with her mother and I didn’t see him again. I only saw his family one other time.

Brett mentioned in a September post that Libya is opening up to tourists. I second that. There was a travel article today in my Sunday paper that caught my attention. Anna Johnson’s AP article “Libya becoming a bit easier to visit” paints a wonderful picture of an off-the-beaten path destination. However, here’s one country where being an American won’t get you a visa easily. Canadians and Europeans have it a bit easier, but there’s still some red tape. If you’re American, you apply for a visa through a Libyan embassy outside of the U.S. For Canadians and Europeans apply for a visa through a Libyan approved government travel agency. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge hassle to get a visa, just time consuming. It could take months if you are an American. Here’s a tip: If you have a passport stamp from Israel, you won’t get the visa, so get another passport first.

Okay, so why bother with the hassle, you might be thinking? Like Brett mentioned there are some phenomenal ancient sites. He mentioned a few. Here’s another. The Leptis Magna was built by the Roman Empire, and is one of the five UNESCO World Heritage sites in Libya and is considered one of the most important cities of Roman times. There’s also the Sahara Desert, the Mediterranean coast which has not been developed yet–but like Brett wrote, development is coming, the Jebel Acacus Mountains and a lot more. For more terrific shots by Libyan Soup who took this one of the Infudha Rock Arch, head here to Flickr.