5 Endangered Travel Experiences

From traditional cultures to melting glaciers, here are 5 trips you should add to your must-do list, and soon.
By: Gretchen Kelly

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.

1. Quirky Caribbean

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.)

2. Traditional China

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.

3. 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.

red dunes during sunrise in namibia desert in africa

red dunes during sunrise in namibia desert in africa

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

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