How Instagram Has Changed The Way We Travel

Instagram travel

How Instagram has changed travel

Remember when you used to get travel books to plan your vacation? Or was it skimming magazines about travel to see photos of different locations in the world? Remember post cards? A lot has changed in the world of travel and we have Instagram to thank for part of that. Now with 1 billion users, Instagram has spread to almost every corner of the world.

When Instagram started it was a platform to post pictures and share with friends. It has evolved into a way to show the world your photos and become a digital influencer. Instagram has influenced the world as a marketing tool for travel.  It has also brought about the new adjective “instagramable“(a photo that or location that is photo worthy of posting on Instagram). Yes, the age of Instagram and digital media has changed how we view locations, how we learn about places, and even influences us on where to go, stay, and what to eat.

Even if you don’t have Instagram, you are most likely influenced by it in several ways. Instagram has changed travel as we knew it in the past. In this article we are going to talk about how it has changed travel and how to best use Instagram for travel.

A picture that launched a thousand vacations

Have you ever seen a photos to appeals to you so much, that you want to go there? This happens to a lot of people nowadays. The perfect beach, stunning clear turquoise water, a hotel that is architecturally stunning, all of these in photo form can get your imagination going. You can imagine being in such a remarkable place for your vacation. Often, just a photo that gives an idea, will launch a whole vacation.

In some cases, it is almost as if it is a treasure hunt to get to that photo. The rest of the time is not as memorable, because it was all about a photo. We all have become photo collectors. In this digital age we can take a photo, edit it, and post it to be seen by all our friends in practically real time. Selfie sticks, camera phones and photo ops are all the new ways of getting that vacation trophy. We have become sharers and consumers of digital media, mainly travel photos.

Instagram travel
Beautiful Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

How is this different than the past?

In the past, travel books, magazines and even movies showed people another place. These were mainly from large media companies. Nowadays, each person can be a promoter. It is also done instantly. You can see photos posted daily from thousands of destinations and everything is at your fingertips. There is a much wider range of opinions and perspectives available these days, and in part, Instagram is to thank for this.

How Instagram has affected tourism locally

Instagram can be a powerful marketing tool. Hotels, clubs, restaurants and destinations all use it to influence people to come visit. Not all people recognize just how influential instagram can be. Even if you don’t use Instagram, you probably have seen some stories of famous Instagramers in the news or photos in publications.

Here are three good examples of how Instagram has affected local tourism in our area.


The Tulum hashtag has over 4.4 million posts currently. This is a lot compared to Playa Del Carmen with 2.8 million posts considering Playa Del Carmen is larger and has been around longer. Tulum in a word is  “instagramable” This is not by mere chance though. Many hotels in Tulum know the power of marketing on Instagram and have invited thousands of digital influencers to “visit” the area to take photos and post. Many hotels and beach clubs even design their places to have a photo op where guests can snap that memorable Instagram photo.

Over time, the Tulum has created an image of chic, Eco friendly, bohemian beach town on the Caribbean. This is a powerful draw for Millennials and others that are familiar with Instagram. It has affected tourism so much that the real estate market in Tulum is booming. Since so many people are coming to the area to experience it, more places to stay are needed.

The pink water of Las Coloradas

What was once a “too far away” place to visit and offer tours to, has become a popular spot for tourists from the Riviera Maya. Las Coloradas is a salt producing area of the peninsula that has been turned into an Instagram hotspot. People love to take a photo with these unusual pink lakes.

For years, this has been just a dry and dusty fishing village area that happened to have a salt making area. A few tourists would visit the area because of its uniqueness. Over the past few years, though, there have been some famous instagram photos taken here (some of which are not even possible to take due to regulations at the area). Even though this area is about a three hour drive from most places in the Riviera Maya, tourists want to go here just for one photo (or maybe a few).

The increase in tourists coming to the area has led to a boom in local entrepreneurship. Local guides offer tours and VIP access behind a roped off area, so you can go to an area that is considered the best to take a photo. In the past, you could just drive right up and walk around, and be about the only people there.

Rio Lagartos
The pink waters of Las Coloradas are very famous in Instagram.

Cenote Ik Kil

One of the most photographed cenotes is the Ik Kil Cenote near Chichen Itza. It is a beautiful and stunning location. Many people see the photos of it and have ideas of a tropical and lush jungle escape. The truth is, it is pretty much like the photos. The only thing that most photos don’t tell you, are the crowds of people and busses in the parking lot. There is a whole complex of gift shops, a buffet restaurant, bathrooms, showers and snack bars around these grounds.

This cenote is added onto many Chichen Itza tours, so there are bus loads of tourists that come daily. Not all go for a swim, some only come for a photo. The photos of this cenote has for sure sold many tours!

best chichen itza tour
Cenote Ik Kil.

Tips for using Instagram to your advantage

Like everything available online, it can be a tool for good usages. Here are some examples of how you can use Instagram to your advantage

For personal use

If you are going on a trip, you can do some reconnaissance of places, restaurants and other things that you might like to visit.

  • Check the weather and conditions by searching the hashtag. Note: not all photos are current, so it is good to compare several photos.
  • Want to go to a good restaurant? Search the hashtag and see personal photos of the food and restaurant.
  • Want to discover some beautiful local places? Do a broader search, for example: #RivieraMaya or #Yucatan for places in our area that are within a day trip.

Instagram for businesses

Instagram is free to use, so it is a free tool to promote your business. This, however, does not mean it is the best tool or only thing you should rely on. Here are some tips on how to best use Instagram for a business.

  • Hashtag your city you are in so people will see it if searching the area.
  • Don’t post more that one time a day. People don’t want to be spammed with tons of photos of your business and it also won’t be seen that much.
  • Not all businesses are good for instagram. For example a flooring company will not really be something that would effectively be advertised on Instagram.
  • Use your space at the top of your profile to add important information like where is the business and hours. It is pointless to advertise your business if people don’t know where you are.
  • Hashtag your business name. People sometimes search for photos by your name, so this will help you be seen.
  • Edit your photos. Instagram is a very visual medium and your photos should be appealing.

For more about marketing your business in Playa Del Carmen, see our article here.

How the reality of an Instagram photo can be very different

Have you ever seen a beautiful photo on Instagram and wondered if it was really like that? Or perhaps you visited the actual location of a photo you saw, but were disappointed? There are a lot of tricks behind the scenes that can augment reality to make it be perceived to be more of a photogenic place than it really is. Here are some of the photo tricks that can fool you into thinking a photo is taken at the most beautiful place and why you need to look at Instagram with a grain of salt.

Taking a photo at the right time

People that like to use Instagram and pride themselves on good photos, like to choose the right time to take photos. This can mean getting up at dawn or waiting until the light is in the right spot for the best photo. It can also mean getting a jump on the crowds, so the photos feature the place and not the reality of thousands of visitors. Often, though, most of the popular places are often crowded with other people trying to get the same photo and experience.

For example, the photo below shows the main site of Chichen Itza. Even though thousands of people visit this site daily, it can be possible to take a picture with no people in it.

instagram travel
Timed just perfectly, a photo can be captured with no people.

Editing, editing, and more editing

Most people will edit to some degree photos they post in Instagram. This can be good because no one wants to see amateur photos taken in bad light. If conditions for that perfect photo are not there, you can edit it in a way to balance out this. However, it is possible to edit photos so much that it can actually change the location. Unnatural colors, editing out power lines, and other heavy editing can make a location seem idyllic, but this still does not change reality.

Tip: Videos are much harder to edit. So often they show the real look of a place.

Mislabeling a photo

Have you ever seen a beautiful place to go swimming, only to search for it and cannot find it where it is said to be? Some photos posted on Instagram are stock footage and thought to be certain places. Advertisers online and on Instagram will use photos to project an idea about a place even though it might not be taken there. We have seen this with real estate companies posting pictures of waterfalls and jungles of Tulum, that are not even in the area.

Two other factors that lead to photos being mislabeled if how photos are added to Instagram. First, when you go to add the location, Instagram knows where you are currently and will offer this as a suggested location. If people are not careful, they will mislabel the location of the photo. Secondly, people will add more hashtags to photos to give it a wider audience. For example, people will hashtag #playadelcarmen, #cancun, #Tulum to get more views.  People add a wide range of locations to a photo to gain more likes and followers.

The lesson to learn is, if you see a photo that you have not seen before, it might not really be where they say it is.

Different time, different place

Some places change a lot from season to season. Some places will be totally green some times of the year and than others, totally dry and brown. This can change the look of a place dramatically.

While it is commonly assumed that most photos are taken recently, a lot of people on Instagram recycle photos and post photos from past vacations. Sometimes photos you see are years in the past and conditions have changed. It is always good to compare photos to others you see in the same location to know if it is a recent shot.


Remember, Instagram is a tool that can be used for good when applied correctly. There is not one tool or source of information that can give you everything you need for your trip. Researching places, reading reviews, and searching online can give you a good overall view of what places are good for you to visit.

Most importantly, searching for that perfect spot to take a photo is great, but there is so much more to travel. Take time to experience everything, the people, food, and there are times you just have to sit back and take it all in. Sometimes it is more important to remember the things we learned and how we felt rather than taking a photo to show others what we saw.

Thank you for reading our article about Instagram and how it affects tourism. If you would like to follow along on our Instagram feed, you can do so here with our link. We also have a lot of galleries on our website where you can get a glimpse of things in our area.

Instagram photo
A photo worthy of Instagram?

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