Capri Welcomes 2.3 Million Tourists a Year but Wants to Limit the Trash They Leave Behind

CAPRI, Italy — Luigi Esposito, whose ancestors have lived on Capri since 1810, objects when he hears individuals describe the island as “the most beautiful place in the world.”

“There are many beautiful places in the world,” he mentioned. “So to say this is the best place of all, well, according to who?”

Mr. Esposito, who runs a trekking enterprise in Capri, is amongst many who say the island’s well-known magnificence is below severe menace by these two endemic Italian scourges: vacationers and trash.

The tiny island, simply over 4 sq. miles, is host to 2.3 million vacationers a 12 months, and never all of them take out what they create in.

Long ago, the Capri municipality outlawed all motor vehicles and bicycles; to get around, a network of footpaths and staircases connect everything, with electric carts allowed for carrying goods only. The other side of the island, Anacapri, allows cars.

For some, the new ban on plastics does not go far enough. A local group, Capriamoci, has sprung up to lobby for restrictions on the boats that bring all the tourists — except those rich enough to arrive by private helicopter.

“Since 2,000 years we’ve been welcoming everybody,” said a Capriamoci spokesman, Simone di Martino. “But these people should come and respect the rules.”

The mayor is a bit philosophical about Capri’s predicament.

“We cannot turn back the clock, but we cannot take any more visitors than we have now, we cannot make our streets any bigger than what they are,” he said. “Already we have more than we can handle.”

Capri’s tourist problem may be one of the world’s oldest. The original tourists were the Romans, who rowed over, built a reputed dozen imperial palaces and filled all the best grottoes with statuary and mosaics. Emperor Tiberius built a villa here.

The island’s microclimate supports an astonishing array of flora, but the natural beauty of its holm oak forests and fields of wild orchids has been added to over the centuries with introduced plants like bougainvillea and umbrella pines, which grow capriciously, like nearly everything. Cactuses 30 feet high are not unusual.

Capri is known for its many dramatic rock formations, like the Faraglioni, three famous stacks that rise from the sea, nearly a mile from the marina. Most dwellings are not far from — if not actually on — cliffs hundreds of feet above the sea. Nearly every house has a view, and they have all been protected from development for half a century or more.

The island’s famous Blue Grotto was rediscovered in the 19th century. A partly submerged cave that is lit by reflected sunlight from underneath, the Blue Grotto became part of the European Grand Tour, a go-there, see-that place.

It is hard to imagine writers in today’s Capri, if only because of the expense; housing prices rival the cost of living in central London or Manhattan.

The main shopping street is a parade of Missoni, Fendi, Valentino and Gucci, and on any given day — even off season — there are sightings of regulars like Jennifer Lopez and Keanu Reeves.

Celebrities and high fashion, however, are not the real Capri, maintained Alessandro Pisanzio, who runs Bar Tiberio, one of four cafes on the famous Piazzetta in the heart of Capri.

Mr. Pisanzio supports the plastic ban even though it will cost him more to, say, buy paper straws instead of plastic ones. Capri natives like him who work in the tourism and service sectors are why the island still has a native population of some 15,000.

“We need to do something to preserve our island,” he said. “Our beauty is why people come here. We don’t know how beautiful it is because we look at it every day.”

Mayor De Martino estimated that 85 percent of visitors are day trippers — some 20,000 a day in the summer — who arrive on the early morning ferries and depart before dinnertime, leaving little money behind but plenty of trash.

Capriotes refer to them as the “mordi e fuggi” crowd, literally “bite and flee,” the Italian expression for a hit-and-run.

“This is a very fast-food version of tourism,” said the painter Antonio Palombo, 60, who keeps a studio on a back lane and rarely sees a day-tripper. “These are not people like Graham Greene.”

Bonnie Brown and her husband, Fred, from Iowa City, arrived at the Piazzetta by a funicular train on a recent morning, audio pagers around their necks to stay in touch with their British tour company, which brought them by a private boat from the coast.

They said their total expenditures on the island were a baseball cap, a lemon gelato and some candy for a gift. Their total stay was six and a half hours.

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