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5 Spectacular Sites and Species to See While You Still Can

Aug. 26, 2017
7 min read
Caribbean sharks inside the corals
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Our world is filled with beautiful places, and it's not surprising that 1,073 UNESCO World Heritage sites exist, both manmade and natural. Although you have a lifetime to explore the world's most epic destinations, there are a few you might want to see sooner rather than later. With climate change, deforestation and extinction, these sites and species are slowly but surely disappearing. Here's a look at five trips you should take now, before it's too late — and what you can do to help.

1. See Endangered Primates in the Wild

Many of the world's primates are going extinct due to the loss of their natural habitats. Borneo and Sumatra are among the only places in the world you can see orangutans in the wild, and the jungles where they live are being destroyed to create palm-oil plantations. While there is a wide variety of budget and luxury jungle treks you can do to see these expressive, fascinating creatures in the wild, I recommend the eco-friendly and no-frills tour by Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures in Borneo, which costs under $200 for a two-night, three-day camping trip, including treks, boat rides and food.

Rwanda and Uganda are two of the few places you can spot the remaining mountain gorillas left in the wild — as of this writing, there are fewer than 790. Four-hour treks in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park start at $750 per person for a permit, with only 80 permits handed out per day, and the money goes directly toward conservation and to protect against poaching.

How you can help: Be sure to respect the habitats of these majestic creatures when you're visiting and to select treks and trips that respect the environment. Although African countries have expensive tariffs in place to limit tourism and protect the gorillas, orangutans aren't as lucky. Be selective when shopping and choose products without palm oil — it's in pretty much everything and is hard to avoid, but it's worth it, since doing so may help to save their natural habitat.

Seeing an orangutan in the rainforests of Borneo is a really special experience. Image by the author.
Seeing an orangutan in the rainforests of Borneo is a really special experience. Image by the author.

2. Visit Ancient Inca Ruins at Machu Picchu

For years, visitors were allowed to freely roam the ruins without restrictions, time limits or tour guides, but this was taking a toll on the ruins, with stones eroding and temples nearly toppling. The Peruvian government took action a few years ago, and now only 2,500 people are allowed to enter Machu Picchu per day, with only 500 allowed per day on the nearby Inca Trail. Time limits have also been imposed to keep people moving, and lists of what you can and can't bring in are now stricter. There are also limits on how much weight can be carried in, and you must wear soft, rubber-soled shoes that won't damage the stones. Make sure to buy your ticket well in advance if you plan to visit the site to ensure you'll be able to enter.

How you can help: Although Peru has stepped in to protect these ruins, you should still respect the rules during your visit and not bring in any items that are forbidden. We can all do our part to make sure these temples stay intact as long as possible.

A view of Machu Picchu is spellbinding, but comes at a cost to the environment. Image by Stockphoto24/Getty.
Getting a look at Machu Picchu is spellbinding, but comes at a cost to the environment. Image by Stockphoto24/Getty.

3. Roam the Canals of Venice

Venice has been slowly sinking into the Adriatic over the years, and combined with strange weather patterns and rising sea levels, this means the city often struggles with major floods. Although measures are being taken to combat the rising waters, Venice may well find itself increasingly underwater in the future. If you plan to visit, avoid the rainier season (October through January) and be sure to experience a gondola ride through the famous canals while you can. We recommend staying at the JW Marriott Venice, which opened in 2015.

How you can help: Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about the city's slow sinking. But using less energy and generally reducing your carbon footprint can help stop global warming in general, and therefore sea-level rise, at a grassroots level.

Cruise the canals in Venice, Italy. Image by Petegar/Getty.
Cruise the canals in Venice, Italy, while you still can. Image by Petegar/Getty.

4. Hike Glacier National Park in Montana

Thanks once again to global warming, glaciers around the world are melting. This is particularly evident at Glacier National Park, where, back in the 1800s, there were more than 150 glaciers — today, there are just 25 and gloomy predictions say that the park could even be glacier-free by 2030. So head over soon and enjoy the more than 700 miles of hiking trails and the picturesque Hidden Lake, sandwiched between Bearhat Mountain, Clements Mountain and Reynolds Mountain.

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How you can help: There are still glimmers of hope. The rise in the use of solar energy combined with efforts like more fuel-efficient technology could help prevent the average global temperature from rising and may slow down the melting of our remaining glaciers.

Hidden Lake at Glacier National Park in Montana. Image by ninicolor/Getty.
Hidden Lake at Glacier National Park in Montana. Image by ninicolor/Getty.

5. Dive the Great Barrier Reef

Bleaching is a problem happening to corals in several areas of the world, especially the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, when the water is too warm and the coral reacts by expelling algae. When this happens, the coral turns white, though it's still not dead. And while it can survive bleaching and sometimes recover, it's much more susceptible to diseases and other stressors while in this condition. Overtourism has had a direct impact on bleaching, especially when it leads to garbage and other foreign objects floating around in the water and coming in contact with the reef — divers and snorkelers who touch or accidentally kick it can cause bleached coral to die or weaken.

If you're hoping to dive in the most famous reef in the world, go soon. It's estimated that bleaching has killed over 35 percent of the reef, and we're definitely seeing the consequences: The parrot fish that used to eat the coral have almost disappeared, so you may notice fewer fish when diving there.

How you can help: Besides fighting global warming any way you can, you can also make sure you're being a good, responsible visitor. If you're a diver, don't touch, kick or take pieces of coral or any marine life with you. Keep the water clean by picking up your trash, or better yet, pick up other trash you see out there, too — it may not be yours, but it's everyone's planet.

This is what bleached coral looks like. Compare this bone rack to the featured image, which is of healthy coral. Image by Rainer von Brandis/Getty.
This is what bleached coral looks like. Compare this to the image at the very top of this post, which is of healthy coral. Image by Rainer von Brandis/Getty.

What adventures will to go on before it's too late? Sound off below.

Featured image by Getty Images