Last month, Punta Ventana, a popular tourist spot in Puerto Rico was destroyed during a 5.8-magnitude earthquake. Then, wildfires ripped through Australia, burning 12.35 million acres of precious land. As travellers, this is upsetting, but as humans living on Earth, it’s devastating and alarming.
Overtourism, wars, and a constantly changing climate are all contributors to these devastating events. And, it’s left travellers with a very important choice to make: continue to contribute to the destruction of these places or make a conscious effort to help extend the life of some of the world’s most beautiful destinations before they disappear.
There’s got to be a happy medium. You can visit some of the world’s most magnificent wonders while also helping to save them. Here are 50 beautiful endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear, where you’ll fall in love with the magic and wonder of Mother Nature over and over again.
Seeing as these places are in need of salvation, however, if you visit you’ll want to ensure you’re respecting local laws and regulations. Tread lightly, reduce your impact where you can, and if you’ve got the time, give back to local charities and organisations. Travel isn’t just about seeing as much of the world as possible, it’s about making an impact on it as you do.
Endangered Travel Destinations To Visit Before They Disappear
Nearly 2.6 million tourists visit this temple complex each year, which is fantastic for the country’s economic development but horrible for the temples themselves. Not only are visitors trampling the temples, causing them to wear down bit by bit, but nearby hotels are draining underground reservoirs, causing surrounding land to sink. When visiting, be careful of where you step. And, pick up any trash you see that others left behind.
The Old Walled City of Jerusalem has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s in danger. UNESCO cites problems such as “deliberate destruction of heritage and loss of historical authenticity” as some of the main issues. Numerous other outlets report a deterioration of monuments due to lack of maintenance and responsible management. So, it’s best to visit before its historic value is completely stripped away.
Sure, Venice has been sinking for years. But, did you know that Mexico City is sinking too? According to officials, the groundwater overdraft in the city is leading to a depletion beneath the city, which is causing it to sink. While this has been going on since the 19th-century and it’s not as severe as the sinking of Venice, it’s getting progressively worse in recent years.
Global warming affects the Arctic twice as harsh as the rest of the world. And, this is the case for the Northern Alaskan Tundra. As the coldest biome in the world, the desolate arctic tundra is home to a variety of local wildlife, namely polar bears. A National Geographic video of a starving polar bear in the Arctic went viral a few years ago, and with the Alaskan Tundra heating up at an alarming rate, this could become more common.
Seychelles is perhaps one of the most Instagrammable islands in the world. However, that’s not what’s causing its demise (at least not yet). The islands, located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar, are being affected by something called beach erosion. Time Magazine reported that in 50 to 100 years, the entire archipelago could be submerged.
Pink sand beaches are a rare phenomenon caused by, at least in Barbuda, crushed coral in the sand. The rose champagne colour of the sandy beach in Barbuda is stunning, to say the least. But, natural disasters continue to jeopardise the beauty of this island. Hurricane Irma destroyed nearly 90% of homes on Barbuda. And, earthquakes continue to ravage this part of the Caribbean, which means that it’s absolutely one of the most endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear.
Located on the southeast coast of the Big Island, you’d think Kamilo Beach would be the personification of everything lush, green, and tropical. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Media nicknamed “Trash Beach” until recently when students from Canada’s University of Sherbrooke in Quebec worked to build a machine to make cleaning up the plastic waste easier. Underneath all the waste, it’s one of the most beautiful endangered travel destinations that you can visit. Participate in a beach clean-up to help ensure it doesn’t disappear completely.
Situated along the route that carries travellers from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains and all the way to Marrakech, the Glaoui Kasbah was constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, it’s at risk of collapsing due to erosion from the Atlas Mountains. While the government has recently taken measures to ensure it doesn’t crumble completely, it’s one of the world’s most beautiful endangered destinations to visit before it disappears into the rubble of the red sand desert.
Image: Pedro Roberto Prado
Not only is the Etosha National Park a pretty great spot for a luxury safari, but it’s also teeming with wildlife. Here, you’ll find nearly every animal in the kingdom, including lions, leopard, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, and black rhinos. Seeing as black rhinos are critically endangered, it makes this a precious spot to visit in order to see them up close and in person before they’re gone. Investing in a vacation to the Etosha National Park also ensures that they’ll be able to turn around and put that money back into efforts to help preserve the species.
Fancy feeling a bit like Indiana Jones for the day? Exploring the Lost City of Petra will help you do so. However, you might not be able to explore it for long. The massive archaeological site was built entirely out of a rock face. This makes it prone to damage caused by erosion and saltwater. And, while this kind of damage is occurring naturally, one scientist claimed that the deterioration of the site seems to be accelerating rapidly. So, if you want to get lost in the Lost City, it’s better to do so sooner rather than later.
The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is one of the 53 places which the World Heritage Committee has put on its list of World Heritage sites that are in danger. In the 2.5 million hectare rainforest you’ll find more than 10,000 plant species, 200 mammal species and some 580 bird species. Most of them are in danger due to road construction, agricultural encroachment, and poaching. Seeing as the Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, visiting now and giving back in any way you can will ensure future generations can enjoy the destination as well.
If you’ve ever seen The Beach then you’ll recognise the iconic Maya Bay. In fact, the movie made the beach so popular that it forced local authorities to close it down. Some 5,000 visitors a day severely damaged the environment, causing the coral to nearly completely die off. It’s one of the biggest examples of what overtourism can do to a travel destination. And, now that it’s slated to re-open, it serves as a reminder of how not to treat an environment in which you are a guest.
It’s pretty ironic that the Great Wall of China was built to protect China from enemy invasions. Because, as the country’s most iconic tourist destination, it’s now become subject to foreign (and local) invaders who are destroying it with every visit. First, there’s the issue of locals taking bricks from the wall to make a buck off of tourists willing to buy them. Then, there’s the issue of natural erosion after years of foot traffic. In short, don’t buy bricks taken from the wall. It’s destroying one of the world’s most endangered travel destinations.
Puerto Rico has been through a lot. Really, the entire country is one of the most endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear. But, the impressive and magical Bioluminescent Bays are particularly enchanting. Here, microscopic organisms produce a “glow-in-the-dark” effect when moved. While the bays aren’t necessarily at risk of disappearing, local tourism boards have done a fine job at preserving these sites. It’s an example of how to work towards sustainable travel, especially when it comes to some of the most magical wonders of the world.
As the focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring in Washington, DC, it’s alarming that the Tidal Basin was listed as one of the most endangered places in America. The narrow sidewalks around the basin flood nearly every day when there’s heavy rainfall. Experts note that if flood levels continue to rise, it could affect the long-term health of the trees. This means that the cherry blossoms are without a doubt one of the most endangered travel sights to see before they disappear.
Nuuk was ranked as one of the hottest travel destinations to visit in 2020. Why? The Arctic sea ice now declining at a rate of 12.8% per decade. And, it seems that travellers want to get a chance to visit before it’s gone. Towering mountains and dramatic fjords make Greenland a great travel destination for any adventurous traveller, but oil drilling could turn the spot into one of the most endangered travel destinations to visit before it disappears.
Ah, Machu Picchu. The apple of every Instagrammer’s eye. Travel to this historic Incan citadel grew so quickly that authorities had to begin restricting travel to the Lost City. The ancient Incan ruins are at risk of eroding, which is why there’s a 2,5000 visitor limit each day to the ruins and only 500 per day on the actual Incan Trail. Natural erosion and landslides are also a part of what’s causing the damage. So, if you’re going to visit, do so now. But, be sure to be extremely respectful of the site.
Ever wanted the chance to get to see real-life snow monsters? In Japan, heavy snowfall and freezing winds create “snow monsters” out of trees in the winter. You can take a cable car up the mountain and gawk at the dramatic snow-covered trees below. But, as one of the most endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear, you might not be able to do so for many years to come. If average winter temperatures continue to increase, these enchanting snow monsters could disappear within the next two generations.
Despite the fact that The Galápagos National Park strictly regulates how many visitors are allowed into the park each day, this incredible bucket-list destination is still at risk of disappearing. Global warming and overfishing are damaging local ecosystems. Rising ocean temperatures, an invasion of foreign species, and too many tourists are all contributing to the issues here. So, if you’re going to visit, do so sustainably. Be respectful of local wildlife and find ways to volunteer in order to protect biodiversity.
Jasper National Park is easily one of the most-visited, most beautiful and most Instagrammed national parks in North Ameria. And, while it sure is a stunning sight to see, the Athabasca Glacier has also been shrinking for the past 150 years due to climate change. It’s retreating at a rate of up to 16.4 feet per year, which is leading scientists to believe it could be totally gone by the time the next generation gets a chance to see it.
Similar to the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is also on the World Heritage Committee’s list of World Heritage sites that are in danger. UNESCO notes that illegal lodging and a general deterioration of law and order and the security situation in the region are leading causes of danger. With such an abundance of plant and wildlife, it’s one of the top travel destinations to visit before they disappear completely. Come on, it’s home to fierce jaguars and spider monkeys.
At one point in time, Glacier National Park was home to 150 glaciers, but due to climate change, there are now only 25. And, that’s all happened within the last 80 years. Researchers suspect that if things continue at this rate, the glaciers will be completely gone by 2030. So, if it wasn’t on your list of the most beautiful endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear, it should be. And, fast.
Deforestation has destroyed nearly 90% of Madagascar’s forests. So, if visiting the 50 species of lemurs here is on your bucket list, you better prepare to do so soon. Climate experts once predicted that these forests will only be around for another 35 years or so. So, add it to your bucket list, do some research on how you can give back when you visit and plan to visit one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
The Outer Banks are personified mostly by the 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that stands out against the horizon. And, while that sight’s a stunning one to see, rising sea levels are completely eroding the local land. According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, about six feet of costal land erodes every year. This means that in the next few years, the Outer Banks as you know them could look completely different.
With a nickname like “The Mountain That Eats Men,” you’d think that people mankind would disappear before this Bolivian mountain does. However, that’s not quite the case. It’s got quite the sombre past, with Indian slaves mining the mountain’s silver for years to the benefit of the Spanish. Now, it’s been so mined that it’s risking collapse. Not only would that be dangerous for locals, but it means it would disappear completely, taking with its horrid past.
Regardless of whether it’s going to disappear or not, visiting Shibam should be high on your bucket list. Known as the “oldest skyscraper city” in the world, the city is made up of impressive, mystifying 16th-century buildings made of mud bricks. As you can imagine, they’re pretty susceptible to erosion. And, that makes them easily one of the world’s most intriguing and endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear.
We know what you’re thinking. Who wants to visit a place called the Gates of Hell, right? While it doesn’t sound particularly charming, this unique natural wonder was once a natural gas field that collapsed into itself. Located in the Karakum Desert, the cavern has been on fire since 1971. Nobody can tell for sure when the fire will go out, meaning that the gates of hell could only be open for a few more years. Visit and indulge while you can.
The Congo Basin is responsible for nearly half of the world’s oxygen, making it one of the world’s most crucial areas to protect. Due to deforestation, mining and the illegal wildlife trade, environmentalists predict that, unless we do something to stop it now, animals could disappear by 2040. That’s only 20 years to visit, help, and work to reverse the effects of these kinds of actions. Go Volunteer Africa has lots of great opportunities for travellers interested in giving back while visiting the Congo Basin.
Nearly all of California has been hit pretty hard by droughts and wildfires in recent years. In January of this year alone there have been 60 fires in the state of California. However, few other places are at risk of disappearing as much as Big Sur, one of the area’s most marvellous natural wonders. Known for stunning highway drives, this place is plagued by droughts, landslides, and forest fires.
The Franz Josef Glacier is New Zealand’s answer to the stunning glaciers found in similar areas such as Patagonia. It’s just as breathtaking. And, it’s just as much at risk for disappearing from the face of the Earth. Since 2008, the Franz Josef Glacier has been in a period of retreat. According to one study, “Franz Josef has one of the fastest melt rates observed of any glacier in the world.”
Seeing as they date all the way back to the 14th to 16th centuries, the Mosques of Timbuktu aren’t as well-constructed as they might have been in more recent times. These UNESCO World Heritage Site structures are made out of mostly mud, which means that they’re especially susceptible to increased rainfall and high temperatures caused by climate change. They’re one of the most intriguing and historic endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear.
The historic centre of Vienna is one of the very few European destinations on the World Heritage Committee’s list of World Heritage sites that are in danger. Although rich in architectural ensembles, including some fascinating Baroque castles, the famous city centre is in danger. How? Glitzy, modern skyscrapers and other new construction threaten the authenticity of the city centre. It’s true that Vienna could lose its historic charm throughout the next few decades, so it’s best to visit now.
The Patagonian Ice Fields are the second-largest in the world. And, after years of land acquisition, 60 communities across the region will now be able to develop tourism ventures that will help protect the biodiversity of the region. That’s great news. But, that doesn’t change the fact that the ice fields are diminishing 1.5 times faster than normal. If you plan on visiting, be sure to engage in responsible tourism and to find ways to give back to the local communities.
Nauru is the world’s least-visited island and the second-smallest country in the world only after the Vatican. And, while only 200 tourists a year make it out to this tiny island in Micronesia, that number might soon drop to zero. Anibare Bay and the rest of Nauru has fallen prey to both climate change and irresponsible economic growth. 80% of the island’s land was destroyed by phosphorus mining.
If you’re not familiar with the area then you’ll be pleased to learn that Joshua Tree gets its name for, well, the Joshua trees that are found scattered throughout the area. Known also as palm tree yucca, these unique trees could disappear from the region completely by 2070. Droughts affecting California are hitting the Mojave Desert pretty hard. So, if you haven’t made it out to the trendy Joshua Tree National Park already, add it to your list of the world’s most endangered travel destinations to visit before the tree disappear.
Well-known across social media for being the site of numerous wacky and wild photoshoots, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia are the world’s largest salt flats. However, they’re sitting directly on top of half of the world’s lithium reserves. And, as tends to happen when a natural wonder is in the way of some type of resource, they’re being destroyed by the government as they extract the lithium. Some people believe this means that the salt flats could disappear by 2040.
Climate change has hit this area of England especially hard. The impressive, photogenic White Cliffs of Dover are reportedly eroding nearly ten times faster than in the past thousand years. Why? Climate change has caused an increase in severe storms that are weathering away at the seaside cliffs. Factor in ocean acidification and it could spell the end of the cliffs for good by the end of the century.
Sure, scientists have proven that glaciers go through large-scale cycles of melting and freezing over and over again. However, at the end of the last Ice Age, the Swiss Alps began to melt and then sped up at an alarming rate beginning in the 1980s. And, while this makes for beautiful, crystal clear lakes that are alluring to visit, it’s not so great for locals. If snow avalanches fall into the lakes it could cause high tidal waves to tear through nearby villages.
Mount Kilimanjaro will be around for quite a while. However, if you’re after the iconic photo op that is the snow-capped mountain towering behind a herd of elephants, you’ll want to rush to Tanzania and get it soon. Between 1912 and 2007, Kilimanjaro’s ice sheet shrunk by 85%. Deforestation is also a huge issue here, making it one of the most at-risk endangered travel destinations to visit before they disappear.
First, we lose all of our world’s natural wonders to climate change. Then, we can’t even indulge in wine to help ease the pain? Talk about a double whammy. Climate change has recently caused major shifts in Bourdeaux’s wine country. Experts believe that within the next 40 years, it could lead to a two-thirds decrease in production. While winemakers are moving vineyards to places such as Kent, England, it’s just not the same.
A World Heritage site, the Sundarbans is a mangrove forest, and one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. You’ll find it on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, containing close to 4,000 miles of water and land. However, deforestation, pollution, and fossil fuels are causing sea levels to rise rapidly. This is affecting wildlife, such as the tigers who live here, due to the erosion of local coastlines.
As the name suggests, this Greek city was home to the first-ever Olympic Games in 776 BC. And, despite it being one of the country’s most well-known and well-preserved historical sites, things have been heating up in recent years. Dry, hot summers have caused wildfires that have roared through the area. They’re getting closer and closer to the ruins, meaning that if you want to experience a true slice of this history, you’ll want to do it soon.
A mixture of local sewage and rising groundwater is causing the plates underneath the Pyramids of Giza to weaken. While it’s not necessarily an immediate cause for concern (they’re the world’s tallest human-built structures and have been around for more than 4,000 years), it’s still worrisome. If it continues, generations after might not be able to witness one of the world’s most marvellous, enchanting wonders.
This iconic Indonesian island was actually created specifically to host the endangered komodo dragon. It was established in 1980 and has since become a hotspot for international tourists looking to get a chance to snap their photo with a dragon before laying out on a pink-hued beach. However, coral bleaching and ocean acidification are causing major changes to the island’s landscape. And, the Indonesian government even considered closing the island altogether due to the fact that tourists were encroaching on the dragons’ habitats.
Water levels in the Dead Sea are water levels are declining at a rate of around three feet per year. That’s pretty scary considering it’s already the lowest point on Earth. Once the water is gone, what will there be left but barren land? The Jordan River is its main water source, and it’s slowing down on its way out to the Dead Sea. So, within the next few decades, the water could completely disappear and the Dead Sea will actually be, well, dead.
The Amazon Rainforest is home to the highest biodiversity of anywhere in the world. Here, you’ll find around 30% of the world’s species as well as to 390 billion trees. However, the 2019 Amazon Rainforest fires burned at an 80% increased rate over the previous year. And, while experts note that this is a part of natural cycles in the region, the most recent fires were caused by deforestation. This is what’s especially alarming, even to scientists.
The Taj Mahal was built as a massive display of love and grief. In 1632, the mausoleum was commissioned by emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife. And, while the structure itself isn’t going anywhere any time soon, the pollution surrounding the area is causing the colour to change. Reports state that the pollution in Agra is staining the white building. However, other reports claim that workers are developing a chemical-free scrub to restore the building to its original colour.
For years, it’s been widely understood that Venice is sinking. And, while there’s more to the issue than the buildings simply “sinking” into the surrounding waters, in 2019, something pretty devastating happened. A tidal surge, combined with high winds, caused the Italian city to flood. Tourists still visited, but it dealt a huge blow (over a billion Euros to be exact) to the city’s homes and most historic sites. Water levels were the highest they’ve been since 1966.
The Maldives has got to be one of the most beautiful island nations in the world. Located in the idyllic Indian Ocean, you’ll find over-water cabanas and stunning clear seas for miles. And, while that all sounds like paradise, it could soon be lost. The islands are slowly sinking. No, they’re not sinking at the alarming rate that scientists once though back in the 1980s. But, recent studies show the island nation could be largely affected by climate change in the near future.
The sun-drenched, dream-like Everglades is home to 180 plant and animal species that are listed by the State of Florida as threatened or endangered. Once ranked as the most “endangered” national park in the United States, the Everglades are being affected by factors such as urban development, industrial pollution, and flooding. This is devastating to the alligators, orchids and Florida panthers that live there. But, if it’s on your bucket list of places to visit, it’s surely upsetting to you too.
Australia, perhaps more than any other country at the moment, deserves a lot of attention. Recent wildfires have ravaged a large portion of the country. However, The Great Barrier Reef is a particularly important place to look at. As one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, you’ll find 2,900 coral reefs and more than 1,500 species of fish here. But, it’s lost about half of its coral in just the last 30 years. Travel to Australia, volunteer, and take time out to learn about your impact on the environment. It’ll make you a better traveller, we promise.