5 Endangered Travel Experiences
See These Places Before They're Gone
As savvy travelers know, you can never put your foot in the same river twice. That lovely little hotel you found the last time you were in the Caribbean might be bulldozed and reinvented as a Las Vegas-style resort on your next trip. That charming Eastern European village you backpacked through last summer may be completely modernized and strip-malled 5 years from now.
The world is going global fast, and the cultural differences that make travel so rewarding, rich and photogenic are shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.
Here are 5 destinations to put on your list of endangered spots that you should visit now. All of them will be vastly different in 5 to 10 years, so don't wait until retirement to make these travel dreams come true.
The Three Gorges Dam has already ensured that the villages and landscapes of the Yangtze River Valley, which have inspired Chinese poets and writers for thousands of years, have been changed utterly and forever. Many ancient landmarks are already underwater. And unlike a similarly huge dam undertaking in Aswan, Egypt, little effort was made to preserve the culture that is being subsumed by the river of progress.
One of the matrices of traditional Chinese culture is still the Yunnan province, where life continues on at a time-honored pace. In progress-obsessed China, Yunnan is an anomaly — a relic that is allowed to exist partly for its sentimental value as the backbone of rural China (the fact that it's Mao's birthplace may be part of the reason). But it may not be that way for long. In Yunnan, you may still encounter an ancient village, a water buffalo, a small shop that sells cricket cages and an intact temple or 2.
San Rafael Glacier, Chile
As we all know by now, the world is warming. Polar ice caps in both the Arctic and Antarctic are melting. A visit to Chile's Northern Patagonian Ice Field is in order before the famed San Rafael Glacier melts, changing the landscape forever. Rapid melting is underway at the site because of historically high air temperatures. Neil Glasser of Aberystwyth University in Wales was quoted by the BBC as saying, "If the glacier retreats farther up valley, it will cease to calve icebergs into the Laguna San Rafael, and one of the reasons why this area attracts so many tourists will be largely gone." Take a multiday cruise to see it for yourself, getting so close to the ice that you can put chunks of it in the glasses of whiskey traditionally handed around on first contact. The sound of ice melting and cracking is something that, once you hear it, will never be forgotten.
Among the large resorts and uber-expensive boutique hotels that are taking over the Caribbean remain pockets of traditional Carib culture fused with the less invasive aspect of the hospitality industry. Although "progress" continues apace on Grenada and Martinique, both islands offer travelers traditional accommodations and experiences on the smaller-is-beautiful model. Laluna Resort in Grenada is a gem of a beachside hotel with a limited number of guest rooms and an emphasis on traditional Caribbean culture. The look and feel of the historic city of Fort-de-France in Martinique will take travelers back to the port days of the Pirates of the Caribbean; its streets are as full of its fabled beautiful women as they were in Jack Sparrow's time. (Napoleon's first wife, Josephine, was born not far from here in the town of Trois-Ilets.)
The Red Sand Dunes of Namibia
Namibia is the site of the amazing, endangered red sand dunes of the Skeleton Coast. These red dunes (used by directors in films such as The Cell for their otherworldly beauty) are endangered because of normal erosion, as well as erosion by quad bikes and the quickly burgeoning and unrestrained tourism industry around them. To stay in an eco-friendly resort that blends into the environment, rather than clashing with it, book a room at the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. The luxurious accommodations meld so seamlessly into the landscape that you can barely see the indigenous stone lodge from a distance. You'll feel as though you're camping out, even though you're living in the lap of luxury. Guided nature walks help you understand the delicate balance of the environment.
Relaxing RiadsFor some local flavor, stay at a riad. This traditional Moroccan house house has an interior courtyard or garden, and is often decorated with intricate tile work. Many riads also have rooftop patios where you can relax. 960 1280
MedinaMarrakech’s old medina is the ancient walled section of town with narrow streets that are often reserved for pedestrians, donkeys, horses, and the occasional motorcycle or taxi whizzing by. Within the medina, you’ll find historic buildings with antique doors and windows alongside more modern buildings. 960 1280
Djemaa el-FnaDuring the day Marrakech’s iconic square, Djemaa el-Fna, is a mix of vendors, performers with monkeys, henna tattoo artists, fruit sellers and locals going about their daily lives. Once night falls, Djemaa el-Fna, which is also a UNESCO Heritage Site, turns into one of the largest street food markets in the world. 960 1280
Snake CharmersWhile it’s best to avoid them when you’re in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech’s snake charmers are as legendary as the city itself. They reel you in by placing a snake around your neck … whether you’re ready or not! Be careful -- avoid sneaking in photos of snake charmers or you’ll have to pay up. 960 1280
Colorful SouksNo trip to Marrakech is complete without wandering through the maze-like alleyways of stalls and shops that make up its vibrant Berber markets known as souks. With so much to choose from -- from leather bags, colorful slippers and stained glass lamps, to clothes, scarves and jewelry -- get ready to put your bargaining skills to practice. 960 1280
Dried Fruit and NutsWithin Marrakech’s souks are dozens, probably hundreds, of vendors selling dried fruit and nuts like dates, figs, apricots, almonds and peanuts, which are often used in traditional Moroccan cooking. Buy bags of dried fruit and nuts as snacks, or sample a Moroccan tajine, which is a heavy meat or chicken stew cooked in a dome-shaped clay pot of the same name. 960 1280
Berber CarpetsDozens of carpet dealers in Marrakech sell beautifully hand-woven carpets that are often popular souvenirs to bring home. If your budget can handle it, spend some time looking through rolls of brightly colored wool carpets and bring home a piece of local culture. 960 1280
Winding AlleywaysIf you visit one of Marrakech’s souks for the first time, you will get lost -- guaranteed. Networks of winding narrow lanes with vendors all selling similar items can easily confuse even the most intrepid travelers. Relax and have fun exploring these narrow alleyways; you never know what gems you’ll find along the way. 960 1280
Ben Youssef MadrasaBen Youssef Madrasa was once an Islamic college (madrasa); today this historic site is the largest madrasa in the entire country. Open for tours, the site has gorgeous earth-toned tiled clay and stucco walls around a large central courtyard with a small pool. Its walls also have geometric patterns and inscriptions, and it has about 130 small rooms that used to be classrooms. 960 1280
DiversityWhile Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, it’s also contemporary in many ways; you’ll find women in hijabs (headscarves) and abayas (long flowing cloaks) alongside women in jeans. In Morocco, there’s freedom to practice one’s own religion, whatever it may be. 960 1280
Ancient WallsMore than 800 years old, Marrakech’s medina is surrounded by a 12-mile-long protective wall and ramparts. In addition, 22 impressive gates provide various entry and exit points in and out of the medina. The clay wall’s signature orange-red hue gives Marrakech its nickname “The Red City.” 960 1280
Marrakech’s Vibrant Flair 14 Photos
Tsimbazaza ZooLocated in southern Antananarivo, Tsimbazaza Zoo and its botanical garden are one of a kind in Madagascar. The zoo has an environmental teaching center, a collection of unique species native to the country and a museum that offers multiple collections, including indigenous tribal carvings. 960 1280
Antsiranana WindsurfingLooking for an adventure in Madagascar? Antsiranana -- known as Diego Suarez prior to 1975 -- is a popular spot for windsurfing and kite surfing in Antsiranana. Thrill-seeking adventurers can go tree climbing in Vallee des Perroquets or take a low-key trip to Sainte Marie for whale watching. 960 1280
Mahamasina Municipal StadiumBecome part of the local community in Antananarivo. Experience a rowdy rugby game or exciting soccer match at the multipurpose Mahamasina Municipal Stadium (Stade Mahamasina). The stadium seats 22,000 people but is capable of accommodating 40,000 spectators. 960 1280
Avenue of the BaobabsAvenue or Alley of the Baobabs -- a group of 20 to 25 baobab trees that line the dirt road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina -- is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Madagascar. These trees are considered one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders and can live up to 800 years. Despite its popularity, the area has no visitor center or gate fees, and local residents receive little income from tourism. 960 1280
MoraingyMoraingy is a popular barefisted martial art that originated during Madagascar’s Maroseranana dynasty from 1675 to 1896. Young men and women between the ages of 10 and 35 who participate in these hand-to-hand combat matches are respected and sometimes feared by fellow villagers. As part of the experience, fighters and participants typically engage in dances during and between the matches to provoke the supporters of the opposing fighter. 960 1280
Rova of AntananarivoSee where the royals lived from the 17th century through the 19th century when you visit the Lost Palace and Royal Rova in Antananarivo. Take a stroll along the maze of alleys and stairs linking the lower section of the city to the hillside area and see the summer palace of the queen, the eerie tomb complex and a museum with a salvaged collection of antiques, historical documents and royal artifacts. 960 1280
Zebu Cattle WrestlingSavika or zebu cattle wrestling is a popular spectator sport in Madagascar. It’s usually a rite of passage for young men who want to prove their manhood, and anyone who takes the daring dance with an angry zebu is considered a hero among locals and more attractive to women. 960 1280
Ring-Tailed LemurWildlife explorers visiting southern and southwestern Madagascar may bump into this furry creature. Usually seen living in groups, ring-tailed lemurs are vocal -- as a means to socialize or call for help when they are in imminent danger. Andohahela National Park, Andringitra National Park, Isalo National Park, Tsimanampetsotse Amboasary Sud, Berenty Private Reserve and Anja Community Reserve are a few places to catch the ring-tailed lemur in action. 960 1280
AntananarivoExplore and go sightseeing in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar and the country’s largest city. Stay at the luxurious Hotel Colbert or Hotel Carlton, both equipped with top-notch amenities, including gourmet restaurants and boutiques. Outside of the hotels, tourists can try authentic Malagasy food at La Table de Mariette or sample French-influenced Malagasy food at Ku de Ta restaurant. 960 1280
Madagascar Adventure 13 Photos
giant crayfish in Mozambique AfricaThere is an abundance of seafood along the coast (pictured here: giant crayfish). Unfortunately, not everyone has the money to transport the seafood to the interior. The cost of refrigeration and transportation is so high that much of the colorful and delicious seafood is mainly available in restaurants along the coast. 960 1280
Peri Peri grilled chicken in Mozambique AfricaThe famous Peri Peri grilled chicken is smothered in the popular Peri Peri sauce. On a recent trip to Mozambique, Tony Bourdain found himself savoring each bite.
"Why is the food so good here?" -- Tony Bourdain 960 1280
Mozambique's Food and Culture 11 Photos
Village Culture in Romania
Romania's mountain villages — especially those in the Apuseni Mountains, now endangered by strip-mining concerns — are home to an amazingly colorful traditional culture. It has been likened to a Pennsylvanian Dutch Country in the Alps. Spend a week in the old villages of the Carpathian and Apuseni mountains, and you'll feel as if you've gone back in time to an age of kings, knights and ladies fair (men here still kiss women's hands in traditional greeting). Horse lovers will find special delights in exploring a culture where people still use the family horse the way we use SUVs.