Isn't it ironic that as it gets easier to travel around the world, there are fewer amazing things to see. The earth's most revered marvels are increasingly falling victim to overcrowding, global warming, and untrammeled development. Of course, the rush to see those disappearing treasures means—ironically, again—that they become even further endangered. Climate change and human encroachment are without doubt the double karate chop to many of the world's most special wonders, threatening to KO them for everyone. So while we're suggesting that you put these spots on your must-do list, we also hope you visit them in a low-impact, environmentally sustainable way. And spread the word: With the right kind of attention, these wonders will be around for future generations of travelers.
1. The glaciers of Europe
Where: The Alps
What's at stake: From Alaska to Greenland to New Zealand, glaciers worldwide are retreating at an alarming pace. ("Retreating" is a nice way of saying melting.) In Switzerland, the change is particularly noticeable since many of these beautiful fields of ice are in popular resort areas. Scientists from the University of Innsbruck predict that if melting continues at its current pace, most glaciers will be gone as early as 2030.
Get yourself to: Chamonix, France, near the borders with Switzerland and Italy. Beyond the appeal of the glaciers themselves—and the postcard-perfect views of Mont Blanc—serious skiers will have lots to enjoy in Chamonix, with plenty of off-piste terrain. It's also an ideal spot for those who just want to take in the view and indulge in the après-ski scene. Splurging vacationers will love the Grand Hotel des Alpes, right in the center of town, while those watching their euros should check out the moderate Hotel Croix-Blanche, the oldest hotel in the area, established in 1793.
For more information:
World Glacier Monitoring Service
For more information:
Grand Hotel des Alpes
Tel: 33 4 50 55 37 80
Doubles from $427
Tel: 33 4 50 53 00 11
Doubles from $135
2. Africa's lion population
Where: Kruger National Park, South Africa
What's at stake: The king of the jungle. In 2006, it was estimated that fewer than 50,000 lions remained on the entire African continent—down from 200,000 three decades ago. There are several factors to blame for the decimation. Ranchers are killing lions who prey on their livestock; poachers and hunters are taking them for sport and profit. Even the lions that live in national parks and preserves are endangered by disease and inbreeding, matters made worse by chronic underfunding and corruption among park officials and rangers. Some governments are trying to convince livestock farmers that lions are worth more alive than dead, encouraging them to build game lodges on their properties. But it is an uphill battle.
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For more information: Read Susan Hack's illuminating report, "Where Have All the Lions Gone?" in Condé Nast Traveler's September 2006 issue.
Tel: 27 21 683 3424
From $1,133 per person, all-inclusive
3. Central America's cloud forests
Where: Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica
What's at stake: Those impressed by natural beauty will be awed by the sheer scale and lushness of this Central American landscape, which is deteriorating due to climate change and deforestation. Located in the northern part of the country, it's a high jungle straddling the Continental Divide and home to an astonishing number of species, including 30 kinds of hummingbirds and 420 types of orchids. Several species of frogs have already disappeared from the ecologically rich nature preserve in recent years, including the beloved Monteverde harlequin frog. (He's a cute little bugger.) Even the clouds themselves, which provide the forest with life-sustaining moisture, are reportedly dissipating due to deforestation.
Get yourself to: The hotel El Establo, tucked away in the misty cloud forest; it provides the best view of the scenery in addition to creature comforts like a heated pool, Internet access, and tennis courts. This may be the only time on vacation that you'll be relieved to experience yet another cloudy day.
For more information:
Friends of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve
Tel: 506 2645 5122
El Establo Hotel
Tel: 877 623 3198 (toll-free)
Tel: 506 2645 5110
Doubles from $187
4. Orangutans of Borneo
Where: Tanjung Puting Biosphere Reserve, Borneo
What's at stake: The chance to see these amazing mammals just hanging out like, well, you know. Some 50,000 orangs call Borneo home, yet the island, which is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, is critically threatened. First loggers and now palm farmers have destroyed the tropical rain forest. The Indonesian government argues that creating jobs for its many poor citizens outweighs the harm. Yet even beyond orangutans, the biodiversity on the world's third largest island is phenomenal: Borneo serves as a refuge for the Asian elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros.
Get yourself to: For optimal wildlife viewing, we recommend staying at Rimba Lodge, adjacent to Tanjung Puting Biosphere Reserve, a wildlife park established in 1977. This small lodge offers guided tours for a glimpse of orangs, proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques, and gibbons in their (still) natural habitat.
For more information:
UNESCO Jakarta Office
Tel: 62 532 671 0589
Doubles from $49
5. The Florida Everglades
Where: South Florida
What's at stake: There's a tragic irony to the name—that "ever" part. The "River of Grass" is a fraction of its former size, thanks to irrigation, farming, and development that drains water away from the fragile ecosystem. Despite a massive federal restoration plan passed by Congress in 2000, the glades—home to many important animals and birds, and a place of stark beauty and intense serenity—are disappearing before our eyes. More than half of the original Everglades has already been swallowed up. We can only hope it doesn't end up being called the Neverglades.
Get yourself to:Everglades National Park, where development is limited but the human touch can still encroach. Avoid airboat rides and paved-over visitor hubs like Shark Valley, and head instead to the Ten Thousand Islands area on the southwest coast. Rent a canoe at Flamingo Marina and explore the patchwork quilt of waterways and mangrove islands in spooky silence.
For more information:Environment Florida
Everglades National Park
Tel: 305 242 7700
Tel: 239 695 3101
6. The Taj Mahal
Where: Agra, India
What's at stake: This may be on your do-it-before-you-die list anyway, but you might want to move it up: The world's most famous mausoleum is under threat from environmental damage, with soot, particulates, and acid rain from nearby factories and refineries turning the monument's white facade a pale yellow. Several restoration projects are being bandied about, including a proposal to temporarily pack the Taj in mud—essentially, a gigantic facial. It's a sad irony that this grand gesture by an emperor to preserve the memory of his wife needs help being preserved itself.
Get yourself to: The Oberoi Amarvilas, a luxury hotel just a five-minute walk from the monument. Nearly all rooms overlook the Taj, and staying here overnight means you can appreciate it at its finest hour: sunrise, when the white marble turns various shades of pink—naturally.
For more information:
UNESCO World Heritage
Tel: 800 562 3764 (toll-free)
Tel: 91 562 223 1515
Doubles from $741
Slideshow: Celebrating world heritage 7. Arctic polar bears
Where: Northern Manitoba Coast, Canada
What's at stake: The graceful beauty of the snow-colored polar bear, which goes well beyond those holiday-time Coca-Cola ads. The bears of Canada and Alaska live on sea ice, but global warming is melting that ice rapidly, decreasing the food supply of these magnificent creatures. Making matters worse, the Bush Administration recently leased 30 million acres of the polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea for oil exploration. In 2007, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report saying that if global warming trends continue at their current pace, the species could be wiped out by 2050.
Get yourself to: Northern Manitoba in the fall, where you can still see polar bears in the wild. Stay in the mobile Tundra Buggy® Lodgeright near the shore of Hudson Bay, where the animals congregate to hunt seals.
For more information:Polar Bear International
Tundra Buggy® Lodge
Tel: 800 663 9832 (toll-free)
Tel: 204 949 2050
Two-night trips, including lunches and transportation from Winnipeg, from $3,350
8. Great Barrier Reef
Where: Queensland, Australia
What's at stake:
What's at stake:The top tourism attraction in Australia and the only living thing visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is slowly dying because of acidity and the global rise in water temperatures. Periods of warm water have caused the coral to die out (or "bleach") in the past, but it has recovered as the temperatures dropped again. But now the warming trends don't seem to be abating, causing some scientists to worry that the reefs that comprise this living treasure may die in as little as 20 years.
Get yourself to: Eco-friendly Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge, situated on 152 acres of national park, where guests can use free canoes, fishing gear, and snorkel equipment. The property generates its own power and water, and takes all garbage off-island.
For more information:World Wildlife Fund
Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge
Tel: 61 7 4066 8270
Cabins from $256
9. Louisiana's coastal salt marshes
Where: Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana
What's at stake: Just what is a coastal salt marsh, you might ask yourself, and why should I care? Well, the marshes fringe the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi, and they act as a buffer, protecting New Orleans and other coastal towns from hurricanes and storm surges. And you know what else? They're beautiful, hosting your fantasy image of the bayou—cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss, elegant water birds, wide horizons. Thanks to clear-cutting of cypress forests to manufacture mulch, ill-advised flood control projects by the Army Corps of Engineers, and other human activity, Louisiana is estimated to lose over 25 square miles of delta wetlands to the sea each year.
Get yourself to: The town of Lafayette, an ideal jumping-off point for visiting the Atchafalaya Basin, in south central Louisiana. You'll find cypress swamps, gators, some of the best fishing in America, and fantastically spicy Cajun food. After your trip, visit nearby New Orleans, the very prize that these shrinking wetlands are struggling to protect.
For more information:
The Sierra Club's Louisiana Chapter
Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission
Tel: 800 346 1958 (toll-free)
10. The snows of Kilimanjaro
What's at stake: Other than being the defining image of one of Hemingway's best short stories, Kilimanjaro is the only one of the "seven summits" (the highest peak on each continent) that can be climbed by everyday Joes. The snows of Kilimanjaro are disappearing rapidly, however, and while scientists can't agree on exactly why, global warming is considered one of the culprits. Ironically, the very fact that its snowfield are endangered means people are rushing to climb Kilimanjaro now, before the glaciers melt entirely—meaning even more pressure on the fragile mountain and the nearby Serengeti Plain.
Get yourself to: The Marangu Hotel, in the nearby town of Moshi, which has beautiful views of the mountain and will organize your Kilimanjaro trek either "fully equipped" or "the hard way." Don't expect the Western idea of luxury near Kilimanjaro, but the Marangu does have a pool and well-kept grounds.
Tel: 255 27 275 6594
Doubles, including breakfast and dinner, from $120