Attention voyagers and excursionists: There’s an increasing effort to preserve the beauty and historic value of natural attractions and ancient ruins by capping visitor numbers, while others are on the brink of disappearing altogether because they can’t be or aren’t being preserved. Our advice? Visit these four bucket-list places while you still can.
Glacier National Park, Montana
This huge park sits in the Rocky Mountains of northern Montana. As the name implies, the landscape was carved by glaciers, which left behind rugged peaks, more than 700 lakes, more than 500 streams, and a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors. Today, the park is a favorite destination for hikers (you can see the glaciers up close), fishermen, photographers, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes.
Why visit now: The glaciers are disappearing. One hundred years ago, there were 150 glaciers in the park. Today, there are 26. According to scientists at the United States Geological Survey, the park’s most-visited glacier, Grinnell, has lost almost 50% of its footprint in the last 50 years.
Learn more: Glacier National Park (U.S. Park Service)
The breathtaking experience of Machu Picchu can include fun surprises.
Machu Picchu, Peru
These majestic Incan ruins stand on an Andean mountain ridge. The steep drops and surrounding forest make it a breathtaking experience. The mystery surrounding the vast ruins adds to the experience: This city was built in the 15th century and later abandoned for no known reason. Visitors can get to the site several ways: via a four-day/three-night hike along the Inca Trail (you must travel with a sanctioned group or tour agency); via train from nearby Cusco, Ollantaytambo, or Aguas Calientes; or via bus from Aguas Calientes.
Why visit now: Access is getting more limited. Peru recently instituted new rules: Visitors need to purchase either morning or afternoon tickets and leave within the allotted time frame. All visitors must be accompanied by an official guide and stay to three defined circuits rather than wandering around the site at will.
Learn more: Peru Tourism
The scuba diving in the Maldives is unrivaled, thanks to some of the world’s most spectacular underwater reefs.
More than 1,000 islands make up the glorious Maldives, where turquoise waters and luxury resorts combine with year-round temperatures in the low 80s to make this vacation hotspot as close to paradise as you can get. Thanks to some of the world’s most spectacular underwater reefs and opportunities to swim with whale sharks, the scuba diving here is unrivaled.
Why visit now: The Maldives is the lowest-lying country in the world, and its islands are, on average, just 1.3 meters above sea level. Rising temperatures are threatening the reefs while rising seas and erosion are already displacing locals.
Learn more: visitmaldives.com
Penguins are a popular attraction at the bottom of the world.
The world’s southernmost landmass is a unique, icy, barren landscape that’s home to skuas, seals, and millions of penguins — a popular attraction. Antarctica also offers the best stargazing location in the world. Most visitors travel by cruise ship, though airplane tours are available as well.
Why visit now: Trips to Antarctica, the world’s least visited tourist destination, are already carefully controlled, but many scientists see tourism as a boon — it brings much-needed attention to the environmental difficulties caused by climate change. Visitors to Antarctica often become ambassadors for raising awareness about climate change. Go with a clear conscience.
Learn more: International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators