If you’re saving up for that one day holiday, you might want to rethink holding off. Some of the world’s most iconic destinations are undergoing profound changes. Here are 10 places to tick off the bucket list before it’s too late.
- Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest coral reef system is home to astounding marine life and 900 pretty-as-a-picture islands scattered like jewels over the Coral Sea off Far North Queensland. However, the reef is also facing serious challenges: climate change, coastal development and agricultural run-off have contributed to half the reef’s coral cover disappearing over the past 30 years. Dugong and seabird numbers have also declined, along with water quality. The Federal Government is working to improve the health of in-shore areas. Cairns is the most popular springboard for reaching the reef: take a day trip to Green Island to snorkel, dive and swim among coral gardens and fish, or see them through a glass-bottom boat.
Those keeping watch on Antarctica’s glaciers believe the frozen continent is thawing as a result of greenhouse gases influencing wind patterns, which in turn drive warmer waters towards its shores. To minimise further impact from tourism, strict guidelines have been applied to cruise ships, which can carry no more than 500 passengers to Antarctica to see penguins colonies, iceberg graveyards, frolicking seals and whales, ice shelves, mountain ranges and more. The port of Ushuaia, in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, is the usual gateway for Antarctica expedition cruises.
- Mekong River
Life along the Mekong is rapidly changing as progress marches in. One day, a tiny riverside village can be selling souvenirs handmade by its residents; the next, it’s flogging machine-woven textiles imported from Thailand. There are also big-picture changes at play: no one is sure, for instance, how plans to dam the Mekong further upstream will affect its ecology. Yet the Mekong remains one of the world’s hottest river-cruising destinations. Its charms range from The Lovers’ Museum in Vietnam’s Sa Dec to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, reached after leaving the Mekong to cruise the Tonle Sap river and lake north of Phnom Penh.
Interest in Myanmar has boomed since 2010 when the country held its first elections after decades of military rule and global boycotts. In just a few short years, ATMs have arrived in Yangon and Mandalay, new hotel and cruise operators have set up shop and a solid tourism infrastructure has started to take shape. Much of the tourism is still centred around religious shrines – golden pagodas and stupas dot the countryside.
This magical Italian city, built atop wooden posts sunk into a lagoon bed, has been slowly sinking for centuries. Incidences of acqua alta – when water floods low-lying areas of the city – rose throughout the 20th century. However, Venice is finally realising controversial plans for flood barriers that will protect the lagoon from the Adriatic’s high tides – the Mose Project is set to be fully operational by next year. Wading through a flooded St Mark’s Square might be about to become a thing of the past.
Time-warped Cuba is set to join the 21st century as relations with the United States continue to warm and American tourists start showing interest in visiting (JetBlue will begin flying from New York City to Havana in July, joining charter services already flying from NYC and Florida). Many hope this diplomatic thaw doesn’t radically alter the retro charm of Cuba, which is filled with inventively repaired vintage cars and crumbling colonial architecture.
- St Helena
St Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic west of Angola, is most famous for being the place where Napoleon died in exile. That might change when its first airport opens next year (flights from Johannesburg are scheduled to start in February). If you want to go now, catch the boat that departs from Cape Town every three weeks – you’ll arrive five days later. Visitors can look for exotic birds such as the St Helena plover and tour Longwood House, Napoleon’s former residence.
- Montana’s Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park is home to 25 active glaciers that move due to thawing and melting. Yet over the past century, the park’s namesake glaciers have shrunk by two-thirds and there are predictions that they could be gone altogether by 2030. Those who visit now can still admire the frosted mountains – and perhaps spot a wolf, grizzly bear, mountain goat or golden eagle.
Since China laid claim to Tibet in 1950, many fear the loss of the region’s distinctive culture. Many monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, and tourism and modernisation continue to impact the formerly isolated region. Those who head to Lhasa should avoid the city’s modernised sections to spend time wandering the charming alleyways of the whitewashed Tibetan quarter.
Rampant logging and land-clearing in Borneo, the world’s third-largest island that’s split between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, continue to threaten large native species such as the elephant and orang-utan, as well as smaller mammal species. Road and trail construction not only breaks up the animals’ habitats but allows poachers easier access to once-remote forests. Visitors can see orang-utans being fed at Sabah’s Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre.