20 destinations to see before they disappear

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 28.10.2021

1. Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

Millions of years old and home to over a third of planet Earth’s plant and animal species – plus some of the world’s last uncontacted tribes – the vast forest nicknamed the "Earth’s Lungs" is under serious threat from deforestation. Over the past four decades around 40 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed, primarily for mining, industrial agriculture and illegal logging.


© PARALAXIS/Shutterstock

2. Olympia, Greece

The site of the first ever Olympic Games in 776 BC, the ancient city of Olympia has been inhabited since prehistoric times and is one of Greece’s top archaeological sites. In recent years, hot and dry summers have led to rampant wildfires that have scorched surrounding areas and encroached worryingly close to the ruins. With rising temperatures and lower rainfall in the area, ancient history buffs would be wise to visit sooner rather than later.

Greece Olympia, ancient ruins of the important Philippeion in Olympia, birthplace of the olympic games © Oleg Znamenskiy/Shutterstock

Greece Olympia, ancient ruins of the important Philippeion in Olympia, birthplace of the olympic games © Oleg Znamenskiy/Shutterstock

3. Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

With 700 miles of hiking trails spanning alpine meadows and gorgeous lakes, Montana’s Glacier National Park is a favourite among outdoorsy locals and visitors. But, this rugged national park may soon be facing a name change. Of the 150 colossal glaciers that existed in the national park 100 years ago, only 25 remain today. Scientists have given the surviving glaciers a lifespan of just 15 years if the planet continues to warm at its current rate.


© Rawin Cheasagul/Shutterstock

4. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Described by Charles Darwin as "a little world within itself", the Galápagos archipelago offers an overwhelming variety of flora and fauna, ranging from giant tortoises to the flightless cormorant. But change is afoot on these once-secluded islands. With a swelling population, four busy airports and a regular influx of cruise passengers the inevitable human wear-and-tear of the Gálapagos is well and truly underway, prompting debate about the ethics of visiting the islands.

Blue footed boobies with iguana, Galapagos ©  reisegraf.ch/Shutterstock

Blue footed boobies with iguana, Galapagos © reisegraf.ch/Shutterstock

5. Congo Basin, Congo

Spanning six countries and responsible for nearly half of the world’s oxygen, the Congo Basin is one of the most important and yet vulnerable wilderness areas on the planet. Teeming with gorillas, elephants and buffalo across savannas, swamps and forests, the basin is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Threatened by deforestation, mining and the illegal wildlife trade, environmentalists worry that a significant proportion of the forest’s plants and animals could disappear by 2040.

Elephant, Congo Basin, Congo @ Shutterstock

© Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

6. Venice, Italy

The ‘Floating City’ may soon lose its moniker. Not only has Venice been sinking on its wooden foundations (it subsided around 120mm during the twentieth century), it is also under threat from rising sea levels (approximately 110mm over the same period). A project to install a system of mobile flood gates is underway, but climatologists dispute whether these defences will be enough to save the city.


© Efired/Shutterstock

7. The Sundarbans, India & Bangladesh

On the border of India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans (or "beautiful forests") is home to a wealth of threatened species, from the tree-climbing mudskipper fish to the world’s last population of mangrove-dwelling tigers. Today, this World Heritage Biosphere is under increasing threat from harmful sewage, industrial pollution and heavy deforestation for timber in the area.


© lavizzara/Shutterstock

8. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Immortalised in Ernest Hemingway’s 1936 story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the snowcapped summit of Africa’s highest mountain is one of the most vivid examples of global warming in action. Scientists have found that 85 percent of the ice that covered the mountain in 1912 has now melted, and more than a quarter of the ice present in 2000 is no longer there. Some predict that Tanzania’s legendary glaciers could disappear entirely within two decades.


© Juergen_Wallstabe/Shutterstock

9. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

A magnet for travellers with a knack for smartphone photography, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni are the largest and most entrancing salt flats on the planet. They are also sitting on half of the world’s lithium reserves, which are now being extracted by the Bolivian government. As the demand for lithium batteries (the ones, incidentally, used in smartphones) increases, Bolivia’s untouched salt flats may soon become the stuff of legend.


© Chris Howey/Shutterstock

10. Patagonian Ice Fields, Argentina

Comprising the largest body of ice in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica, the Patagonian glaciers are thinning at an average rate of six feet per year. Just three of the glaciers – including the poster child Perito Moreno – have been expanding in recent years, but the remaining 90 percent are shrinking. Now’s as good a time as any to witness southern Argentina’s ice fields before they are lost to the sea.


© Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

11. The Maldives

Pristine beaches, stunning snorkelling spots and five-star resorts lure droves of visitors to the Maldives every year. But the future doesn’t look bright for the world’s lowest lying country. The UN Environmental Programme has predicted that the Maldives could become the first nation to be lost to the ocean – potentially by the end of the twenty-first century – if sea levels continue to rise at their current rate.


© CreativeVideo/Shutterstock

12. Madagascan Rainforest

Home to 50 species of lemur, two thirds of the world’s chameleons and the peculiar giraffe weevil, Madagascar is a mecca for wildlife lovers. Nature documentaries and animated children’s films often depict a thickly forested idyll; however, the truth is far from that. Nearly 90 percent of the island’s original forests are now gone, and it is a sad reality that many of Madagascar’s unrecorded endemic species will be lost before they’re ever discovered.

Giant gecko in Madagascar's rainforest © Artush/Shutterstock

Giant gecko in Madagascar's rainforest © Artush/Shutterstock

13. Komodo Island, Indonesia

Established in 1980 to protect the endangered Komodo dragon, this Eastern Indonesian national park attracts divers and underwater photographers for its wealth of coral species and rare marine mammals. Today, it is the island and its surrounding waters that are under threat. Coral bleaching and ocean acidification threaten to kill its spectacular reefs, while a rise in human population and backpacker tourism is quickly changing the face of this once untouched island.

Komodo dragons fight © Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

Komodo dragons fight © Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

14. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Home to 2900 coral reefs, 600 islands and more than 1500 species of fish, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet… for now. Australia’s beloved reef has lost about half of its coral coverage over the last 30 years as a result of increased tropical storms, coral bleaching and ocean acidification. If carbon pollution levels and sea temperatures continue to rise, experts predict that the coral communities could face irreversible damage by 2030.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia ©  I Shafiq/Shutterstock

© I Shafiq/Shutterstock

15. Glaciers of the European Alps, Switzerland

The Alps started melting 150 years ago at the end of the ‘Little Ice Age’, and since the 1980s the rate of glacial retreat has risen dramatically. One positive outcome of melting glaciers is that hundreds of new crystal clear bodies of water have emerged in the Alps. This is little consolation for locals, who worry that snow avalanches may tumble into the lakes, causing high tidal waves to cascade through their villages.


© Pascal Uehli/Shutterstock

16. The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan

In the depths of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert, the Door to Hell was set alight in 1971 after engineers feared it was emitting poisonous gases. Over 40 years later the gaping inferno continues to rage, drawing in the small number of tourists who venture to the country each year. It is hard to predict when the government might finally extinguish the methane-fuelled inferno, or how long it will take to burn out naturally, but it’s certainly a sight worth seeing while you can.

Derweze, Turkmenistan

© Iwanami Photos/Shutterstock

17. Dead Sea, Israel, Jordan & Palestine

It’s a cruel irony, but the Dead Sea is finally dying. Known for its high salt levels – allowing visitors to float without effort – and alleged curative properties, the sea has long attracted tourists and sunseekers from around the world. A mix of human and geological factors have contributed to the demise of this ancient sea, where the water levels are falling at a rate of around three feet per year. Watch out for the sinkholes if you do visit – around 1000 have emerged over the last 15 years.

Dead Sea, Jordan © Photographer Lili/Shutterstock

Dead Sea, Jordan © Photographer Lili/Shutterstock

18. Choquequirao Archaeological Park, Peru

Machu Picchu’s forgotten archaeological cousin, or the "other Inca Trail", is tricky to reach and still fairly unknown. However, with plans in place to lay a fast road link from nearby Cusco and a cable car being built across the Apurímac valley, it won’t be long until Choquequirao takes its cut of the thousands of visitors who visit Machu Picchu every day. Go now, before the ruins are well and truly ruined.


© Enselme Arthur/Shutterstock

19. Bordeaux Vineyards, France

When the apocalypse finally comes we may not even be able to drink our sorrows away with a glass of Bordeaux. France’s beloved wine-growing region could be facing a two-thirds fall in production over the next 40 years due to subtle shifts in temperature, rain and sunshine. As a result, French wine producers are racing to buy land in Sussex and Kent in southern England, where acreage under vine has nearly doubled over the past ten years.

Saint Emilion, Bordeaux vineyard, France © FreeProd33/Shutterstock

© FreeProd33/Shutterstock

20. The Alaskan Tundra, Alaska, USA

The vast, desolate arctic tundra covering Alaska’s northern and western coasts is the coldest biome in the world. However, in recent years Alaska’s northern regions are seeing a dramatic rise in temperature – faster than the average global rate – which has led to the thawing of the region’s permafrost. Increased coastal erosion rates will have a direct impact on polar bears and the prey that keep them alive.

River in tundra of Alaska © Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

River in tundra of Alaska © Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

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