We’ve all been stuck in a hostel common room when some insufferable travel hipster is bragging, “Yeah man, you should’ve seen that place before it was cool”. Well imagine how satisfying it would be to shut him up with, “Oh yeah? You should’ve seen this place while it still existed”. Climate change, mismanagement, and the most menacing danger of all — humans — are threatening some of the planet’s best destinations, so now is the time to book a hostel bed, tread lightly and head to these 15 places to visit before they disappear.
1. The Great Barrier Reef
If you’re planning to live out your own personal sequel to Finding Nemo, you’d better do it quick — the Great Barrier Reef isn’t quite as colourful as it was when Marlin and Dory made their epic journey down Australia’s east coast. Pollution, overfishing, ship traffic and rising sea temperatures are bleaching the world’s largest reef system, literally killing the coral — scientists say half the reef is already dead, and the rest hasn’t got long left. Cruise from Cairns to see the most dazzling sections of the reef while you still can, splashing around with turtles, dolphins and — of course — clown fish like Nemo.
If you look up the word ‘irony’ in the dictionary you’ll find a picture of Che Guevara’s son, who’s launched a motorcycle tour company to capitalise on the new wave of visitors to Cuba. A 61-year-old US embargo has frozen the streets of Havana in the 1950s, with their vintage cars, neon signs and Art Deco architecture. But the recent easing of travel restrictions to the States means that it’s only a matter of time before McDonalds and Starbucks begin to dislodge Havana’s retro cocktail joints and jazz clubs, threatening to erase the city’s old-world charm.
This wild Central American nation appears on plenty of backpackers’ bucket lists, and you should add Nicaragua to your list of places to visit before they disappear, too. Nicaragua is a natural playground of volcanic terrain, serene beaches and virgin forest, but a plan to build a 270-kilometre coast-to-coast canal would change its landscape forever. The $50 billion project has stalled, but if it gets off the ground, the impact on Nicaragua’s native wildlife, pristine countryside and mighty lake will be devastating.
4. The Taj Mahal
Like a smoker’s teeth, India’s most famous building is slowly turning from white to yellow. But it’s not too late to see this white marble masterpiece while it’s still glistening. Air pollution is staining the Taj Mahal a dingy shade of golden brown, and white marble starts to lose its appeal when it begins to resemble the colour of the armpits of an old T-shirt. Fortunately, an army of cleaners are working on a chemical-free scrub to restore the 350-year-old wonder to its pearly-white glory.
There are plenty of good reasons to care about climate change. Melting glaciers? Awful. Endangered species? Tragic. Extreme weather events? Scary. Plummeting wine production… wait, what? Shifts in temperature, rainfall and sunshine in the south of France have slashed Bordeaux’s output of wine, which is predicted to collapse by two thirds over the next half a century. So if you’re planning a trip to Bordeaux’s wine country, you’d better hurry up and do it while there are still grapes on the vine.
6. The Everglades
If you’ll pardon the terrible pun, Florida’s Everglades are quickly becoming the Not-Foreverglades. These vast sun-drenched wetlands near Miami provide a home to alligators, orchids, black bears, manatees, storks and the elusive Florida panther… but water diversions, flooding, industrial pollution, introduced species and urban development are all wiping out their natural habitat. Explore South Florida before it’s see ya later, alligators.
7. The Great Wall of China
Confucius once said: “the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” The Chinese philosopher might as well have been talking about the Great Wall of China, which is being eroded brick by brick. Less than 10 percent of the original 21,000-kilometre wall is considered well preserved thanks to people who chip away pieces to sell to tourists or use in their own buildings. And although the idea of living in a house made out of the Great Wall is pretty cool, it’s not great for the condition of this world wonder.
8. The Dead Sea
It’s time to visit the Dead Sea before it’s, well, dead. Sitting more than 400 metres below sea level, this salty lake between Israel and Jordan has been attracting visitors for millennia who want to float around in the mineral-rich water and reap its magical health benefits. But the over-pumping of the Jordan River upstream is draining the water level about one metre every year, so it won’t be long until the Dead Sea truly starts living up to its name. In the meantime, plan a trip to the martian, bone-dry landscapes of Jordan and Israel to dive into this oasis for yourself.
There are places to visit before they disappear, then there are places to visit before the land literally vanishes under your feet. Since 2007, the Cambodian government has sold its natural resources to the highest bidder — including 80 million tons of sand shipped from coastal mangrove forests to Singapore to expand the tiny nation’s landmass. The sand-dredging industry has endangered native wildlife, ruined local villages and destroyed Cambodia’s natural barrier against rising sea levels, tsunamis and hurricanes. Don’t leave it too late to visit one of the planet’s most spellbinding destinations that offers a smorgasbord of cheap food, raging parties and mesmerising temples like Angkor Wat.
Forget the gondola — soon you’ll need to pack a snorkel to navigate your way through the canals of Venice. Italy’s floating city has been slowly sinking for centuries, and continues to plunge a couple of millimetres into the Adriatic each year. But Venice’s biggest risk in 2019 is flooding, thanks to rising sea levels, extreme weather and cruise ship traffic eroding the fragile foundations of the spectacular buildings that line the Grand Canal. Visit before the City of Canals becomes a real-life Atlantis.
11. The Great Pyramids of Giza
The last remaining wonder of the world has stood for more than four millennia, but it might not survive the 21st Century. Property developers pay little attention to laws restricting construction within five kilometres of the Great Pyramids of Giza, knocking up golf courses, apartment blocks and fast-food restaurants on the doorstep of this ancient marvel on the outskirts of Cairo. Thousands of years of wind and sand erosion have also taken their toll, not to mention the irresponsible visitors who clamber all over the outside.
Straddling the border between Chile and Argentina at the southern tip of South America, Patagonia represents the second largest ice field on the planet. But this remote wonderland of icy peaks and epic glaciers is shrinking fast. Global warming is melting glaciers by about 10 kilometres a year, and Patagonia isn’t the only ice field to visit before it disappears. Antartica is shedding 160 billion tons of ice every year, the number of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park has shrunk from 150 to 25, and Bolivia’s Chacaltaya Glacier has literally vanished over the last two decades.
Remember that movie Madagascar — the one where Ross from Friends voiced a hypochondriac giraffe and Sacha Baron Cohen and his army of lemurs inflicted that mind-numbing ‘I like to move it, move it’ song on the world? Well, Madagascar’s animals aren’t quite as cheery as Hollywood would have you believe — logging, agriculture and charcoal production has destroyed 90 per cent of the island’s natural forest, which the extraordinary array of wildlife depends on. To experience Madagascar’s rich biodiversity at its best, you’d better ‘move it move it’ before it’s too late. Sorry, that was terrible.
The Austrian capital isn’t going anywhere, but its historic centre might be. A playground of elegant churches, dazzling palaces and baroque beauties, Vienna’s gorgeous inner districts have been added to UNESCO’s ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ because of glitzy property developments transforming the city’s skyline. Soaring skyscrapers threaten the ornate 19th Century Stadtpark (city park), while a boom in modern high-rises is chipping away at Vienna’s beautiful baroque architecture.
15. The Maldives
The sunsets in the Maldives are legendary, but the country itself could soon be joining the sun slinking below the horizon. This chain of tropical atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean forms the lowest-lying nation on earth, making the islands vulnerable to rising sea levels. Experts reckon the whole place will be submerged within the next 100 years, so it’s time to admire the Maldives’ white-sand beaches before they’re completely enveloped by sapphire water.
How many of these destinations have you been lucky enough to visit in all their glory? When it comes to travel, there’s no time like the present – start planning your next adventure today!
About the author:
Tom Smith is an Australian writer living in Manchester. Obsessed with sport and travel, Tom has watched cricket in Cardiff, football in Fortaleza, baseball in the Bay Area, and there’s still plenty more to tick off the bucket list yet. Read more of his work here.