Bad news first: some of the most incredible destinations on this green and blue marble won’t be visitable for much longer if we don’t take action. For various reasons—like overtourism, rising sea levels, reckless farming and mining practices, and pollution—certain destinations on the brink will cease to be visitable in the near future. But the good news is that that day is not yet here, and travel (if done sustainably and consciously) might help slow down some ravages of time. More good news: efforts are underway to help in these destinations, and travel often inspires forward-thinking solutions and thoughtful generosity. Read on for five of the most at-risk destinations, and what you can do to help.
Erosion, overtourism and heavy rainfall have combined to put this ancient Incan citadel at risk, and the Peruvian government has started to limit the number of visitors allowed each day. While there are rumors of a new nearby airport coming soon (which would add to the site’s decline with increased pollution levels brought by jet airplanes), a petition against it has already received nearly 100,000 signatures.
- How to Visit Responsibly: Travel with a qualified guide or operator who follow sustainable, responsible practices (topics to ask about: their policies on preserving the ecology and treatment of employees including porters); and absolutely don’t touch, sit on or climb the ruins.
The world’s most famous monument to love is, heartbreakingly, suffering from the region’s heavy pollution, mass influx of visitors, shoddy restoration work and sinking foundation into the nearby Yamuna River. New sanctions, including timed-entry tickets, will hopefully help with some of this, but more big-picture laws need to be passed to save this Wonder of the World. Word is that the Indian government might close the palace so visitors can only gaze upon it from afar.
- How to Visit Responsibly: use the Carbon Footprint Calculator to understand the global implications of your travel, then donate to a eco-focused charity to offset your footprint.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, the only living thing visible from space, is one of the world’s destinations on the brink that is quite literally dying. A combination of issues, including higher water temperatures, has killed 50% of its coral, which is the reef’s lifeblood. Without the coral, which provides protection, the fish, other sea creatures and vegetation have no hope of survival.
- How to Visit Responsibly: support reef-saving programs; wear reef-safe sunscreen; and choose kayaking options over motorboats for above-the-sea excursions.
A lack of natural predators for many of the species on the Galápagos Islands is a double-edged sword when it comes to human interaction: the animals aren’t afraid of people, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with huge iguanas, tortoises, seals and birds like blue-footed boobies. This puts the creatures in harm’s way if said visitors aren’t respectful. Combined with more tourists hurting natural habitats by tromping through fields, the very reason that visitors come to the islands—the animals—are in trouble.
- How to Visit Responsibly: give the wild animals a wide berth; don’t take anything (even leaves and flowers); stay on the marked pathways; visit with a responsible tour operator who donates portions of profits to ecological projects in the area. Read more.
The floating city has long been considered the ultimate of destinations on the brink. Not only is it sinking, but the recent floods, which have been catastrophic, are adding to Venice’s woes. Locals have been leaving the city in droves and many of the magnificent palazzos sit empty, further hastening their decline.
- How to Visit Responsibly: support organizations like Save Venice; hope that civil engineering feats like the MOSE project will work one day; consider visiting in the winter or spring, when the city is less crowded.
When it comes to traveling in sustainable and responsible ways, knowledge is power. Research your destination’s issues, look into organizations that work to combat them, and once there, ask questions of the experts. While much of the above is extreme, most of these places can come back from their current states of trouble, and thoughtful visitors might be their best hope.
We’d love to hear what responsible tourism tips you might have, and what have you found to be most impactful?