Think of all the grand monuments of ancient times and the cities and wildernesses that have survived for millennia. These are places you want to visit before they disappear.
Endangered places are on everyone’s bucket list. Threats to these places include wind and rain erosion, sea-level rise, fire, floods, earthquakes, and the constant press of humankind. Go now, visit these places before they disappear.
Kasbah Telouet, Morocco
Constructed in 1860, the mud and brick Telouet Kasbah housed one of Morocco’s richest men – Thami El Glaoui. The Kasbah sits along the road caravans traveled from the Sahara over the high Atlas Mountains bringing their goods to Marrakech.
Due to the Kasbah’s precise location on the caravan trail, the El Glaoui family dominated the olive, saffron, and salt trades. As Thami El Glaoui’s riches increased, so did his political influence. As the Pasha of Marrakech, his Kasbah was decadent and fully adorned to show his position and wealth and power.
But in the mid-20th century, during Morroco’s independence movement, Glaoui sided with the French to oust Sultan Mohammed V. In the short term this, served him well. But when Mohammed V returned from exile and took back Morocco from the French, Glaoui was declared a traitor.
Seeing El Gloui as a traitor, the state has not invested in restoring the fortress. Wind, rain, and time have reduced much of the beautiful palace to rubble. Only one section of the Telouet Kasbah, maintained by Glaoui’s descendants, remain accessible to tourist. Endangered or abandoned? It’s up to you to decide. But Kasbah Telouet is a place you should visit before it disappears.
Venice, Italy – A City Disappearing into the Sea
Venice is a city like no other. Surrounded by sea and with water (canals) making up its street and highways, Venice seems to float.
Over tourism hits Venice hard. But the city also depends on tourism for much of its economy. Try to visit Venice in the off-peak seasons when it is less crowded; you will have more options and probably a better experience. Choose to stay for several nights. Shop and eat locally and explore off the beaten track.
Make sure to visit the artisans’ workshops and learn about the ancient trades that still exist today in Venice. If you buy souvenirs, make sure to choose original products and do not purchase any goods of questionable origin. Explore the islands in the lagoon(Murano is famous for its glass making) and stop by mainland Venice. Learn a few words of Italian; talk to local people, show your love.
Venice suffers from climate change and sea rise; the city is slowly sinking. Adding a massive amount of tourism to this fantastic city aggravates its already tenuous existence. Solutions lie in a more delicate balance, but we must find answers, or Venice may disappear forever.
The area on the Greek Peloponnesus, known as Olympia, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Around the 10th century BC, Olympia became the center for the worship of Zeus. The Greeks built Altis here – the sanctuary to the gods. The site was home to over 70 temples, treasuries, altars, and statues.
In 776 BC, the Greeks held the first Olympic Games at this site to honor Zeus. The Games were held every four years until 393 AD when the Christian Emperor Theodosius I implemented a ban.
The “modern” Olympic Games began in 1896. Every four years, a few months before the start of the games, Greeks hold a ceremony on this ancient site. The lighting of the Olympic Flame occurs in front of the Temple of Hera, and the torch relay begins!
Preservation of these ancient temples and statues is an ongoing project. But the geographical area is subject to floods and fires, and conservation is not perfect. This is why Olympia is a place you should visit before it disappears
The Dead Sea, Israel
Sitting on the border of Israel and Jordan is the Dead Sea. In actuality, the Dead Sea is a landlocked salt lake whose main tributary is the Jordan River. Sitting at 434 meters below sea level, this “sea” is the lowest body of water on the planet.
The mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea beckon travelers from all corners. Along the Israeli shore at Ein Bokek Beach, you can enjoy a few hours being pampered at a mineral spa. The high salt concentration of the water (34%) is 10 times greater than the ocean. So you can feel free to take a float in the turquoise-blue waters.
But the Dead Sea is quickly shrinking. Ein Gedi Spa, built on the shore just 20 years ago, now sits nearly a mile from the water. Most of the water from the Jordan River is diverted by Jordan, Israel, and Syria for domestic and agriculture use.
The countries surrounding the sea need to come to an agreement on water usage or a way to replenish the water they remove. Until this happens, the Dead Sea will continue to shrink by about one meter each year. So plan your visit soon before this endangered place disappears.
You remember that great ancient city in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?” That’s Petra. Since its movie debut in 1989, Petra has become a tourism mecca. Every year over a million people journey to see this 3,000 year-old city that has survived the Romans and the Crusaders.
With its buildings cut into the pink sandstone walls of the valley that surrounds it, the city is also known as the “Rose City.” The architecture of Petra is stunning. Most people today recognize the building called the “Treasury” at first sight. The Treasury and the equally impressive Monastery both arrive along with the Romans around 63 BC, sharing unmistakeable Corinthian columns.
But more critical to the existence of the city in ancient times was the ability of the Nabataeans to create and maintain an extensive water system. The dams, cisterns, and water channels that brought life-giving water to Petra are unrivaled.
Sandstone, however, is a very soft stone. Wind and rain are slowly eroding the city. And with Petra being the primary economical source for the current residents of the area, tourism is promoted heavily.
Petra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and now enjoys a higher level of protection than in the past. But when you visit this place, remember: tread lightly, take nothing but memories and leave nothing but footprints.
The Maldives – Endangered by Sea Rise
Ever dream of spending a week at one of those glamorous resorts where each room sits over clear deep blue water and is accessed by its own pier? You can do that in the Maldives. This island country sitting in the Indian Ocean is made up of just shy of 1,200 small islands. Some of the islands are so small you can barely see them as you sail by.
Male, the capital of the Republic of Maldives, is the most populated island. But even this island has only around 3.5 square miles of land and sits just eight feet above sea level. Aside from Male, most of the islands may house just one resort. Your desire for isolation will undoubtedly be met in this island paradise.
A word of caution, though. The Maldives is an entirely Islamic nation. There are laws regarding dress, public displays of affection, and alcohol consumption that you must follow. The rules are not much enforced when you are at a private resort. But as always, know the customs of the place you are visiting and be respectful of that culture.
If this is your dream vacation, you should go soon. The Maldives could disappear. Natural erosion and rising sea levels have already claimed several dozen of the islands. But even before the islands disappear, tourism may be limited. Access to potable water is diminishing as the saltwater from the seas interferes with the freshwater aquifers. A lack of freshwater will impact all aspects of the islands, from agriculture to tourism.
Taj Mahal, India
Commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal was built to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Later, when Shah Jahan passed, he was entombed here as well. The mausoleum is constructed of white marble and is regarded as the best example of Mughal architecture.
There are many fascinating things about the Taj Mahal. One is how the white marble changes hues with the changing sunlight (or moonlight, if you have the opportunity to visit at night). Another is the acoustics inside the main dome that allows a single note to reverberate up to five times.
From the garden, the mausoleums perfect symmetry is accented by the buildings to its east and west. These buildings, the mosque and the jawab are built out of red Sikri sandstone to contrast and compliment the white marble of the Taj Mahal.
Each year nearly 8 million people visit the Taj Mahal. Most of these visitors are from India itself, with only around 1 million foreign tourists. But why is the Taj Mahal one of the places to visit before it disappears?
People and pollution are threatening the famous white marble. To mitigate the damaging effect of pollution from vehicles, visitors must now park up to a kilometer away from the property. There are electric busses that transport tourists to the complex.
Acid rain, traffic, and industrial pollution place India’s most famous monument under threat. Sometimes the smog and air pollution are so dense that the building can’t be seen from the tourist fort.
The Great Wall, China
The building of the Great Wall of China started as early as the 7th century BC. These fortifications were built to protect China from the nomadic groups that roamed the steppe to the north. The wall continued to grow under many dynasties.
But the wall we know today came into being under the Ming dynasty, who ruled China from 1368 – 1644. In addition to defense, the Great Wall served as a border patrol. This allowed the Chinese to impose duties on goods transported along the Silk Road.
Seeing the Great Wall of China is truly impressive; it seems to go on into infinity. Archaeological surveys conclude that the walls built by the Ming dynasty measure around 5,500 miles. Along the wall, you find watchtowers, barracks, garrison stations, and temples.
Here again, you see the threat and damage caused by nature and human activity. Over the years, nearby residents have taken stones and bricks for their own use.
Some portions of the wall have been cut away to build highways and railway. Tourists walking the wall add to the erosion of the wall along with thousands of years of rain, wind, and earthquakes
Japan’s Snow Monsters
Snow Monsters or “Juhyo” as they’re called in Japan, come every winter to Mount Zao near Yamagata, Japan. Formed by the snow, ice, and relentless Siberian winds, the Snow Monsters are actually native fir trees covered in a thick coating of ice called rime.
You can reach this region in under two hours by bullet train from Tokyo. A stay at the Zao Onsen Ski Resort puts you smack dab in the middle of the action. You can view the Godzilla-like creatures from the Onse. Take a walk, or ski through the forest to see the Snow Monsters up close. If you are not that fond of the cold, you can take the cable car ride round trip.
Climate change is the most significant danger here. With winters being shorter and warmer, there are fewer “Monsters” to be seen. Visitors must travel farther and higher up into the mountains to get the views they want for Instagram. The sooner you visit this endangered place, the better chance you will have to see Snow Monsters before they disappear.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Off the coast of Queensland, Australia lies the world’s most massive coral reef system, The Great Barrier Reef. They claim that this reef is the only living organism that can be spotted from space. And while that may be true, you really need to see the Great Barrier Reef up close and in person.
Composed of over 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef covers an area of over 344,400 square kilometers. Famous for its diversity of marine life, the reef is truly a diver (or snorkeler’s) paradise.
All the most sought after creatures of the sea are here: Turtles, manta rays, sharks, and whales. When you first dive into the water, you feel like you are in the largest aquarium ever. Angelfish, Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, and even Clown Fish surround you. As you look closer at the reef and the seafloor starfish, sea urchins, and mollusks of all sorts abound.
The Great Barrier Reef is truly a place you should visit before it disappears. Warming sea temperatures is causing coral bleaching. The bleaching, combined with increased pollution, is causing an increase in starfish who eat the coral. These problems and others have reduced the coral cover of the reef by nearly half in just the past three decades.
You won’t see Zebras, lions, or penguins, but if you like lemurs, Madagascar is the place to go. This colossal island that broke off from India some 88 million years ago is the only place on earth that you can see lemurs in the wild. In addition to the lemurs, you will find fossa, a cat-like mammal, and chameleons.
There are no poisonous snakes or spiders in Madagascar. The animal life is generally friendly. At one time, many Nile crocodiles were living along the rivers on the coast. But over-hunting of the crocodiles for their skins make their siting a rare occasion these days.
Because Madagascar has been on its own for so long, it also boasts an incredible array of flora and fauna found only on this island. There are a mind-blowing 10,000 native species of plants, 90% of which are unique to the island country.
The most famous plant in Madagascar is the Baobab Tree. We’ve all seen Baobab trees in pictures, straight and tall, with a few spindly branches up at the very top.
Madagascar sits quite close to the African continent (just 250 miles off the East coast). But its people are closely aligned with the Asian-Indian cultures from whence the island drifted. The first settlers of Madagascar were of Malayo-Indonesian descent, migrating from Indonesia, Sumatra, and Java.
Unfortunately, this magical place is losing much of its uniqueness and diversity. Large-scale deforestation is occurring as the residents use slash and burn methods to clear land for agriculture.
Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
It’s estimated that about 30% of the world’s species and 10% of the world’s biodiversity can be found in the Amazon Rainforest. This is the world’s largest tropical rainforest covering over 2.1 million square miles (5½ million square kilometers). And running through the north of this rainforest is the Amazon River, many waterways networked into one and stretching for over 4,250 miles (6840 kilometers).
Yes, the Amazon Rainforest is vast! But why should you visit this place before it disappears?
As large as the Amazon is, it is equally beautiful. In some parts of the rainforest, the canopy is so thick, sunlight never reaches the forest floor. But as you look up, you will catch a glance at some of the over 40,000 flowering plants.
Also, up in the canopy, you will find more monkeys, birds, frogs, snakes than you ever thought possible. On an Amazon River cruise (the only way to really see this place), you will see the famed Pink Amazon River Dolphins. Black Caiman, which can grow up to five meters in length, may swim past your boat. Under the water, the Arapaima silently graze on other fish and small terrestrial animals that get too close to the water at the shore.
The Amazon Rainforest is threatened by human activity as needs for agriculture, ranching, and commercial fishing increase. Deforestation is happening at a rate of 20,000 square miles per year.
Bio-Piracy and Smuggling is on the rise in the Amazon. Plants and animals are removed from the rainforest to be sold to the highest bidders.
Visiting Endangered Places Before they Disappear is a Privilege
Those of us who love travel know it’s a privilege that we should enjoy responsibly. This means we must make our journey’s in ways that maximize the positive impacts of our footsteps and minimize the negative ones.
Everyone should have a chance to visit these places before they disappear. So when you visit an endangered place, take some time to see what you can do to leave it in better condition than when you came.