Like drafting a budget or organizing your 401(k), there are some things in life we automatically file into a “later” folder. While your accountant probably won’t approve, there’s one unexpected thing you’ve been putting off that just can’t wait: your bucket list. A glance at the latest headlines says it all. Time describes the rapidly melting ice in Glacier National Park as seriously scary while The Guardian reports that for the first time ever, a mammal species has been wiped out by human-induced climate change. While climate change is real, there are also great manmade wonders at risk of extinction.
And though you may have years ahead, some of the world’s most awe-inspiring locations don’t have the luxury of time. Don’t wait until it’s too late—pick a date to visit these stunning destinations before they vanish.
Where: Africa’s Congo Basin is often described as the “lungs of Africa,” spanning six countries including Cameroon and the Republic of Congo with dense, untouched forests, rivers, savannahs, and swamps teeming with life.
Why: The world’s second-largest rainforest might not be around for much longer. The United Nations predicts two-thirds of it might disappear by 2040, thanks to illegal logging for palm oil plantations. If you want to help stop the devastation of this landscape, be sure to read the ingredients list on the items in your shopping cart. Everyday products like shampoo, soap, and even chocolate bars can contain palm oil.
If you’re intent on visiting Africa before changes set in, be sure to research the tour company you book. There are many ethical tours that let travelers glimpse the forest elephants, mountain gorillas, and stunning flora without putting the ecosystem in jeopardy.
Where: Franz Josef Glacier is a seven-mile-long formation in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the South Island. It is one of the most famous ice hiking adventures in New Zealand.
Why: If traversing the white peaks of Franz Josef Glacier is on your bucket list, we have some disappointing news: You’re already too late. Earlier this year the government announced that tourists are banned from hiking the popular attraction due to dangerous melting ice. Wayne Costello from the Department of Conservation likened the rapidly changing glacier to “a loaf of bread shrinking in its tin.” However, if you’re still intent on seeing the stunning icy landscape spill out between two mountains, all is not lost. Book a helicopter trip to witness the stunning white-and-blue formation from the sky, without damaging the glacier.
Where: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth, comprising thousands of reefs and islands made from over 600 types of multicolored coral. The ecosystem spans almost 133,000 square miles off the coast of Queensland.
Why: The Great Barrier Reef has been in the news a lot this year and not for a good reason. This week, scientists revealed a native island mammal species has become completely extinct, the first-ever recorded extinction from human-induced climate change. In March, reef experts said that coral bleaching was the worst they’d ever seen and described record-breaking temperatures as “frying” the reef. The take-home? Book your trip now to witness the vibrant wonder, and join the Fight for the Reef campaign to show your support.
Where: The Great Wall of China stretches for over 13,000 miles from Dandong in the East to Lop Lake in the West, winding through misty mountains and sprawling countryside, and is one of seven wonders of the ancient world.
Why: The iconic wall might be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but that hasn’t protected it from serious erosion. Seventy-four percent of the wall is in poor condition, and almost a third has disappeared thanks to mining, natural erosion, and construction along its borders. If the Great Wall is on your bucket list, don’t stray beyond the tourist areas. Experts believe part of the damage is due to record numbers of travelers exploring remote parts of the wall that aren’t properly maintained.
Where: Located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is home to over 200,000 plant and animal species, of which three-quarters exist nowhere else on the planet.
Why: Some experts give Madagascar’s forests another 35 years before deforestation and mining developments obliterate the landscape. The World Wildlife Foundation warns that the illegal animal trade is also jeopardising tortoises, chameleons, and geckos. If you want to make a difference from home, the Durrell conservation group offers memberships and a symbolic animal adoption program to protect threatened wildlife.
Where: The icy so-called underside of the world might be known as barren and inhospitable, but those who behold the blue-white icebergs and frozen floating islands swear by the destination as a must-see. The most popular departure port to take the voyage of a lifetime is Argentina.
Why: There’s a heated debate about the future of Antarctica. On one hand, a study in the Journal of Glaciology has revealed that some parts of the frozen continent are actually growing ice, rather than losing it. On the other side of the argument is Johannes Feldmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. His research suggests the eventual collapse of the massive West Antarctic ice sheet will change not just the region, but the world. “In our simulations, 60 years of melting at the presently observed rate are enough to launch a process, which is then unstoppable and goes on for thousands of years,” he said in a press release. Regardless of which side you’re on, there’s no better time to book a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to see the icy landscape.
CAPTURE THE MOMENT:
Where: Glacier National Park covers 1583 square miles of wilderness in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. The area has over 700 miles of hiking trails and stunning glaciers.
Why: There could be as few as 14 years left before the national park loses its largest glaciers. Satellite images from the last two decades reveal the dramatic change of scenery believed to be caused by climate change. In 10 to 15 years, ecologist Daniel Fagre believes, the huge glaciers will become “small, insignificant lumps of ice on the landscape.” It’s time to plan that hiking trip stat.
Where: Once closed off to tourists because of its military regime, Myanmar is now open to visitors and fast-growing in popularity as a star destination for those looking to venture off the beaten track. Inle Lake sits in the center of the Southeast Asian nation and is famous for its stilted villages, floating gardens, and balancing fishermen.
Why: Climate change isn’t to blame for the shifting face of Myanmar, but people are still at the root of the issue. A heady combination of deforestation, excessive pesticide use, and the tourism influx is changing this once quaint fishing village. Our advice: Go now.
Where: The archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa are a favorite among honeymooners, but experts warn the pristine white sand beaches of Seychelles won’t remain forever.
Why: Climate change experts predict that rising sea levels will affect Seychelles and the other 51 smallest island states four times more than anywhere else in the world. Beach erosion and a lack of infrastructure to deal with the changing weather conditions put Seychelles at risk of completely disappearing in the next 50 to 100 years. It’s not all bad news, though. The local community is taking its own measures to protect their home, with group cleanup initiatives and education services like Save Our Seas to teach the next generation how to be custodians and change the fate of the islands.
Where: Peering out above a plume of cloud drifting above the African landscape is Mount Kilimanjaro, an epic mountain and national park area in Tanzania that boasts glaciers over 11,700 years old.
Why: According to a NASA report, Mount Kilimanjaro might not exist for much longer. The mountain’s ice sheet shrunk by a massive 85% from 1912 to 2007, raising concerns that its days are numbered. Free climber Will Gadd told The Guardian he fast-tracked a trip to climb the mountain but was shocked to reach the summit and see how much it had already changed. “The ice that I had pictures of wasn’t there; it was gone. The things I planned to climb were gone,” he said. “It was really striking to stand on top of the mountain and look around and feel this absence of ice.”
If you’re starting to feel helpless against the growing force of climate change, consider this: Simple tweaks like switching out your light bulbs for LED globes and trying to reduce your energy consumption by unplugging appliances on standby mode can have a real-world impact.
Where: Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lie the lush, volcanic islands of the Galápagos. Island locals include the famous giant tortoise, the sei whale, and the marine iguana, which experts believe have thrived thanks to conditions that have barely changed since prehistoric times.
Why: The Charles Darwin Foundation points to rising sea levels as the root cause, which could make it harder for species like the famous Galápagos penguin and tortoise to survive. If you’re planning a trip, make sure to book with an ethical company that practices ecotourism to minimize your impact.
Where: The ancient city of Venice sits on the northeast coast of Italy, intersected by winding canals that connect this unique city to the Adriatic Sea.
Why: Venice might be dubbed the Floating City, but the city is sadly not living up to its nickname. The coastal city is built on more than 100 small, marshy islands, providing an unstable foundation. A 2012 study declared Venice is sinking five times faster than previously thought. The government is reacting to the rising water levels by building flood-protection walls, but even if these efforts slow the process, there’s no doubt Venice is changing. Frequent visitors lament the lost beauty and water damage the buildings and streets have endured, but the city is still one to behold. Book your trip now.
Where: Perched on a mountain peak in a remote part of the Central Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria, stands Buzludzha. Bleary-eyed travelers driving through the Shipka pass might think they’ve seen a UFO, but this brutalist former convention center is a unique remnant of the country’s communist past. Hundreds of communist leaders used to frequent the alien-like structure, which has now fallen into disrepair.
Why: While a communist convention center might seem like an odd place to visit, Buzludzha offers a surreal peek into Europe’s past—it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. Game tourists scurry through manmade entry points to behold the eery building, which locals say has a matter of years left until it’s demolished.