When it comes to travel, too many of us procrastinate. We reassure ourselves we can visit our bucket list destinations when we have a little more money, we’re retired, or we settle down with a partner.
But dozens of historical and natural wonders are under threat around the world. For example, in 2018, Maya Bay in Thailand closed to the public indefinitely after suffering years of damage from tourist overcrowding. The once-pristine site was the setting of the film “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, making it an instant attraction – one you can no longer visit.
Many other travel destinations are measurably deteriorating with every passing year. And in 10, 20, or 30 years, some may be gone. So plan to travel to these wondrous but endangered places in the upcoming year – before it’s too late.
Pro tip: Before you travel to any of the countries, make sure you sign up for a two-month free trial of CLEAR. This will allow you to quickly pass through airport security.
Endangered Places to Visit Before They Disappear
These must-see destinations may not always be around, so visit them now while you still can.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
In the early 21st century, millions of visitors swarmed the famous Inca city every year – far more than the 2,500 daily maximum recommended by UNESCO (Machu Picchu is a World Heritage site). And they caused significant damage to the ancient buildings and streets.
Peru’s Ministry of Culture has placed increasingly tight restrictions on tourism to protect the site. As of 2020, a licensed tour guide must accompany all visitors, who must pay a fee toward a conservation fund. No more than 5,940 people can visit the city each day, and they must do so in shifts. Each visitor can stay for up to four hours.
Expect even tighter restrictions in the coming years, as foot traffic continues to cause irreparable erosion to the nearly-600-year-old structures.
To save money on the trip, get cheap accommodations by staying at Peru’s many bed-and-breakfasts that can be booked through Vrbo or Hotels.com. Just be sure to double-check the user ratings and download Google Translate to help you communicate.
2. Glacier National Park, United States
A glacier is a body of snow and ice with enough mass to move on its own, driven by its own weight. It carves enormous furrows in the landscape, creating unique and beautiful formations.
In 1910, there were roughly 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park. By 2015, there were 26.
By 2030, there could be zero, per the U.S. Geological Survey. Glacier National Park is quickly becoming glacierless.
After 2030, the park will no doubt still be open to the public and still have ice caps on the mountaintops. But if you want to see a true gl9.acier at Glacier National Park, visit sooner rather than later.
3. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Since 2016, fully half of the Great Barrier Reef has died, according to National Geographic. And 2018 studies by the International Panel on Climate Change project the remaining half could be dead by 2030.
The largest coral reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches over 1,250 miles and is visible from space. It boasted some of the most impressive biodiversity on the planet. While warm water temperatures in 2016 and 2017 caused the majority of the coral deaths over the last few years, erosion also threatens the reef.
Flights to Australia from the U.S. can get expensive, so use every trick in the book to find cheap flights if you prioritize seeing the famous reef.
Your lakeside getaway in Wisconsin will still be there in 15 years. The Great Barrier Reef might not be.
4. The Dead Sea, Jordan & Israel
Speaking of dying seas, the Dead Sea could soon live up to its name.
The Dead Sea is a saltwater lake heavy with minerals. The water is so dense humans float in it. Its shore marks the lowest point on the planet, at 1,380 feet below sea level – a number that’s growing as the sea rapidly shrinks.
Over the last 40 years, the unique Dead Sea has lost over a third of its area, according to the BBC. Its water level dropped by an astonishing 80 feet, leaving it ringed by barren, previously submerged shoreline. And every year, it drops further, by 3.3 feet on average.
The water continues to drop because neighboring countries have been diverting the River Jordan for human use. Unfortunately for the Dead Sea, the Jordan serves as its only source of replenishment.
Located in an already arid region, many observers see little reason for optimism that the surrounding countries will stop draining the sea’s source river. The Dead Sea will in all likelihood continue to drain.
Knock out two destinations with one flight by flying into Amman, from which you can also visit the stunning lost city of Petra.
5. Petra, Jordan
Dating back to the fourth century B.C., Petra is a city carved into the pink sandstone in the canyons of Jordan. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” features one of its facades – the temple carved into the canyon cliff face – in the film’s climax.
Those remote desert canyons kept it hidden for over 2,000 years, and it was only rediscovered in the 1800s. But its deterioration is accelerating. It suffers erosion, saltwater damage from flooding, and rockfalls – in part due to increased traffic from tourists.
See the “Rose City,” as it’s called, while you can because it deteriorates more every year.
6. Venice, Italy
Venice has been slowly sinking for years, and flooding has worsened over the last decade. In November 2019, water levels reached 6 feet, 2 inches – the highest in over 50 years.
Scientists initially blamed groundwater pumping from below along with compaction of the ground beneath the city for the sinking. The Italians stopped pumping water from under Venice, but the city continues to sink. And just as worrying, it has started to tilt slightly to the east.
And that says nothing of rising sea level forecasts.
It doesn’t help that Venice remains overrun with tourists, with roughly 30 million visitors swarming the historic city every year, per Forbes. The city had planned to start charging visiting tourists an entry fee in 2019, but they postponed it to 2020.
All of this contributes to Venice becoming an ever-more-expensive European destination. Still, savvy travelers can plan a European vacation on a tight budget and include Venice in their itinerary. While in the region, consider Slovenia and other European countries that remain cheap to visit.
7. The Forests of Madagascar, East Africa
The fourth-largest island in the world, Madagascar was once blanketed in virgin rainforest. As an island nation isolated for millions of years, its ecosystem evolved unique species of plants and animals that exist nowhere else in the world, such as lemurs, aye-ayes, and catlike fossas.
Today, over 90% of Madagascar’s forests are gone. And what little remains could be gone within the next 35 years per a joint project between NASA and the University of Maryland. Its remaining wilderness shrinks every year due to large-scale deforestation and wildfires.
As its forests disappear, the unique flora and fauna of Madagascar may soon appear only in zoos and botanical gardens.
8. The Seychelles, East Africa
Not far from Madagascar lies the island archipelago nation of the Seychelles, renowned for its beautiful beaches. Beaches that are, unfortunately, eroding quickly into the Indian Ocean.
Beyond the threats posed by beach erosion and reef deaths, the people of Seychelles also fear rising sea levels. In 2019, the country’s president, Danny Faure, gave a televised speech from an underwater submersible pleading with countries across the world to do more to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. He expressed fears that water will engulf the low-lying Seychelles in a matter of decades due to global warming.
9. The Maldives, South Asia
The Maldives is another archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean. It has 1,192 islands, which have the lowest elevation of any country on Earth, at an average of only 5 feet.
Having spent my honeymoon there, I can attest to the beauty of the Maldives. You genuinely feel like you’re at the Earth’s end. Most of the islands are tiny and uninhabited, with some featuring one small resort.
The government of the Maldives is so concerned about rising sea levels the country purchased sovereign land from other countries as a contingency plan for displaced citizens.
10. Tuvalu, the South Pacific
Even more remote than the Maldives are the nine islands of Tuvalu, which also rise only a few feet out of the water.
Tuvalu is the world’s fourth-smallest nation, flung far in the equatorial depths of the Pacific, and is home to only around 10,000 citizens. They too fear rising sea levels. But their fears don’t end there.
Residents say storms have increased in severity since the 1980s, with cyclone season extending to a year-round threat. Erosion has also reshaped and washed away parts of the islands – a World War II-era gun embankment built on dry land now sits 20 feet offshore.
Stranger still, residents talk about a new form of flooding beyond the standard rain or storm surge. Hilia Vivae, the nation’s chief meteorologist, told the Smithsonian that water started coming from the ground in the late 1990s. At first, it appeared in puddles. But eventually, it became “a whole sea.”
11. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat means “Temple City” in Khmer, the official language of Southeast Asian country Cambodia. It’s the largest religious monument in the world, spreading over 400 acres. It was originally a Hindu temple complex, then later converted by Buddhists.
Often referred to as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” the massive temple complex doesn’t disappoint with its intricately carved stone facades, colonnades, and towers. It is also one of the oldest religious temples in the world, built between 1113 and 1150.
But the booming local tourism industry, from restaurants to hotels to coffee shops, is rapidly draining the region’s underground aquifers, causing the massive stone towers of the temple city to sink into the ground.
Beyond the risk posed by sinking, every year, millions of tourists wreak havoc on the monument. The stone complex is quickly eroding and chipping from tourists climbing all over the ancient temple.
12. Athabasca Glacier, Canada
The most-visited glacier in North America, the Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield, which spans 2.3 square miles. Over the last 125 years, the glacier has melted considerably, losing roughly a mile from its southeastern edge per the Canadian Park Service. It’s currently melting at an even faster pace, losing between 6.6 and 9.8 feet per year.
It won’t disappear in the next decade. But it’s visibly retreating and becomes less impressive with each passing year.
13. Congo Basin, Central Africa
The second-largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon is also fast retreating. That rainforest currently straddles six countries in the Congo Basin. But according to a 2018 study conducted by the University of Maryland, it lost 165,000 square kilometers between 2000 and 2014 – an area the size of Bangladesh.
The same study found that if current trends hold, no virgin rainforest will remain in the region by 2100. Researchers note that the United Nations forecasts a fivefold increase in the population between now and then, which bodes poorly for the “world’s second lung.” Local farmers clearing the rainforest have caused most of the deforestation.
The Congo Basin rainforest is among the most biodiverse areas in the world, home to 400 species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds, and 10,000 plant species. And those species are under significant threat if the region’s current urban development and poor resource management practices continue.
14. Taj Mahal, India
The iconic Taj Mahal is one of the top attractions in all of India. And the 400-year-old mausoleum faces risks on several fronts.
First, it suffers from erosion caused by both the usual culprits: the elements and tourist wear and tear. But it has also shown increasing discoloration in recent years.
Unfortunately, regional air pollution is so dense it has browned – and, in some areas, blackened – the once-pristine white marble blocks. And the problem doesn’t end with air pollution. A surplus of sewage in the nearby Yamuna River has drawn record swarms of local insects, which excrete a green sludge during mating season. That green sludge now coats the Taj Mahal.
The Indian government responded with a lengthy “mud bath” treatment to remove the stains. The procedure took several years and proved temporary, per the Times of India. The pollution problem in the area worsens by the year.
If you want to see the domes of the Taj Mahal in their original gleaming white glory, time your trip around the government’s restoration treatments.
15. The Great Wall of China
What is true is that tourism, development, and erosion have already damaged two-thirds of the giant wall. Some sections also face peril from frequent sandstorms.
But the worst threat comes from looting. The 13,171-mile barrier, built to withstand war, is crumbling as locals pluck bricks to sell to tourists or use as “free” building supplies. In response, the Chinese government initiated a crackdown in 2016, which includes tip hotlines, regular inspections, and stiffer punishments for looters.
The theft continues, however, with laws difficult to enforce, given the sheer size of the structure.
16. Mayan Ruins at Mirador Basin, Guatemala
The Mirador Basin was the cradle of Mayan civilization dating back as far as 1000 B.C. It’s home to the largest-known Mayan city ruins, including pyramids that stretch hundreds of feet in height. The area turned on its head the notion that the Maya gradually grew more sophisticated over time.
The ruins in the Mirador Basin predate by 1,000 years other ruins previously considered to be the peak of Mayan civilization, per the Smithsonian. Archeologists don’t know why the Mayans abandoned this early metropolis or why their civilization seems to have lost the complexity it demonstrated previously.
Sadly, the entire basin is under threat. Humans are burning the virgin rainforest surrounding the region for agriculture.
Equally disappointing is the illegal looting by locals and tourists. Archeologists can’t guard the entire area of the ruins – it’s three times the size of Los Angeles.
17. The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
Often described as “the creepiest place on Earth,” the Darvaza gas crater in Derweze, Turkmenistan, is a sight to behold. The “Door to Hell” opened in 1971 when Soviet oil prospectors mistook it for an oil shale and started drilling – only to have the crater collapse beneath them and start belching methane into the atmosphere.
Methane displaces oxygen in the lower atmosphere, so nearby animals started dying en masse. The Soviets decided to light it on fire, expecting it to burn out in a few weeks. But the 230-foot-wide crater continues burning to this day, and no one knows how long it will continue to do so.
The Turkmenistan government continues to debate whether to extinguish the ongoing flames, and scientists disagree on the least harmful solution to the problem. But if you want to see the creepiest place on Earth while it’s still burning, prioritize it as this year’s Halloween travel destination. It may not be there next Halloween.
18. Amazon Rainforest, South America
In 2020, deforestation of Brazil’s rainforest reached a 12-year high, according to the BBC.
The once-vast Amazon is shrinking at an alarming rate. Over a million square kilometers of Amazon rainforest have disappeared since 1978. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has actively encouraged deforestation for agriculture and mining and defunded agencies that enforce land-use restrictions and environmental laws in the Amazon.
But Brazil isn’t the only country mismanaging the Amazon. Other countries encroaching on the Amazon include Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana.
Visit the Amazon to see unique flora and fauna (including pink dolphins, jaguars, and black caiman), visit indigenous villages, and see virgin rainforest before it disappears.
It’s easy to say you’ll get around to visiting bucket list destinations later. But that doesn’t mean you will – or that you’ll be able to.
Start by budgeting money for travel and making a firm commitment to see specific places on a concrete timeline. Whether you love history, eco-tourism, adventure travel, or relaxing on the world’s best and most remote beaches, choose an endangered destination to see sometime this year. You won’t regret going, but you might regret not going.