Mapping the world’s most visited destinations

heatmapEveryone wants to get off the beaten path, to carve their own, unique experience out of traveling, but how do you do it? The internet is full of tips and guides to out of the way places, but in the end getting of the beaten path is less about where you go and more about what you do when you get there.

Lifehacker recently pointed out traveler Ahti Heinla’s rather interesting heat map of the world’s most touristy places (Heinla also has a travel blog, if you happen to read Estonian).

The map is based on the number of images posted to Panaramio photo service (there’s also a map showing the inverse, interesting remote places). Yellow areas are the most visited, then red, then blue. Grey area indicate no photos.

However, take these maps with a grain of salt. There doesn’t appear to be any normalization of the data (to account for locals uploading their own photos) and of course not every tourist is uploading their photos to Panaramio.

In the end what you’re looking at is not necessarily the most visited places in the world, but the most photographed by Panaramio users. There may be a correlation between the two, but not necessarily.

I trust Vagablogging’s readers will disagree with commenters on Lifehacker’s post who claim that these places are filled with tourists because “they’re the only places worth seeing.”

At the same time I cringe when I hear people boasting of how they skipped Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu because they’re “just full of tourists.” That may be true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own space among everyone else.

So before you head off to the Road of Bones in Siberia searching for tourist-free vistas, bear in the mind that getting off the beaten path doesn’t necessarily mean you have avoid the world’s most treasured spots.

In Angkor Wat for example I avoided the tourists by visiting during the heat of the day, when most people were relaxing in cafes and waiting for the world to cool off. It still wasn’t tourist-free, but I managed to find myself completely alone in numerous temples.

Or consider Paris, which is, according to the heat map, another tourist-filled spot. Stroll down the Champs Elysee in mid-June and, yes, you’ll find hordes of other travelers, but head a few blocks East to the 3rd arrondissement and you just might find nothing but you and the locals.

In the end getting off the beaten path has nothing to do with where you go and everything to do with what you do when you arrive. So sure, if you’re looking for a place that’s off the beaten path, consult Heinla’s maps. But if you’re just looking to avoid the crowds, don’t forget to get follow your nose and don’t be afraid to get lost.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | May 25, 2010
Category: Destinations, Travel Tech, Vagabonding Advice

One Response to “Mapping the world’s most visited destinations”

  1. GypsyGirl Says:

    You make a great point Scott – “In the end getting off the beaten path has nothing to do with where you go and everything to do with what you do when you arrive.”
    In one respect the dire need to forge new, original territory gets way too much thought and not enough action (of just plain wandering that is) Paths, after all-are made for trekking. Usually there is a very good reason why many people visit particular places…for example- Yellowstone National Park is unique and breath-taking. It had 2.3 million visitors in just three months the summer of 2009! The fine print however will inform you most never stray over 50 feet from roads or parking lots, nor take time to stroll the length of the boardwalks! Even in the height of the summer, I’ve paused atop my horse mid path to gaze at the horizon with not another soul in sight…