With rising sea levels and an ever-warming planet, there are some places on your bucket list that may not be around forever. Tabby Wilson checks out the destinations that are most at risk.
The world around us is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and consequently, ‘last chance tourism’ is on the rise. With the all-too-real possibility that these destinations will disappear or change irrevocably in our lifetime, now’s the time to see these places as they were meant to be while we still can.
Completely isolated, this remote Pacific island has been a long-time favourite with anthropologists and historians due to the famous moai that guard the island. Harking back centuries and part of the trail of breadcrumbs that many have tried to follow in order to figure out the stories behind the original settlers, there are over 800 of these enormous statues. Standing at four metres on average and weighing around 14 tons, one of the world’s greatest mysteries is how their creators managed to transport them to their current homes on Easter Island.
As a small land mass, Rapa Nui (as the locals refer to it) is incredibly vulnerable to rising sea levels, but it’s the lack of trees that are the main contributor to the island’s demise. The exposed soil is subject to serious erosion and the wind is slowly weathering the rough-hewn faces of the moai, returning them to their original form.
The luxe touch: The best way to explore the eeriness of Easter Island is to book a guided tour with the team at Kensington. The 14-day ‘Easter Island and Atacama Desert Exclusive’ takes guests to the remarkable landscapes of Chile’s Atacama Desert before flying to Easter Island for three jam-packed days of hiking, biking and snorkelling, and luxury accommodation along the way.
Unlike the rest of the world, Antarctica has survived for centuries relatively untouched by humankind. With no indigenous population to speak of, the seventh continent of the globe has one of the harshest climates on the planet, home only to a small collection of scientists and researchers. However, what it doesn’t have in people it makes up for in wildlife: penguins, seals, walruses and whales all abound in this untamed landscape. Those travellers brave enough to adventure into Antarctica’s freezing waters tend to revel in the unexplored, taking unforgettable photographs and seeing that which is impossible anywhere else on Earth.
As expected, Antarctica has experienced some of the most obvious impacts of climate change. Glaciers are melting at record rates and rising ocean temperatures mean that this otherworldly environment might not be around for much longer, at least in all of its current glory, not to mention the effects on the wildlife populations that call it home.
The luxe touch: Weathered professionals when it comes to Antarctic expeditions, Hurtigruten offer a plethora of high-end cruise alternatives to explore the polar region. ‘The Ultimate Expedition’ covers all the basics, with hikes, wildlife encounters and small-boat discoveries all included in the 23-day trip.
Belize Barrier Reef
Stretching along 900 kilometres of coastline bordering Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, the UNESCO-listed Belize Barrier Reef boasts an impressive ecosystem that attracts divers from all four corners of the globe. Harbouring three atolls, hundreds of cayes and 500 species of fish (including the mighty whale shark), spending significant time beneath the surface is the attraction for most visitors to the area. Although there are a plethora of PADI-recognised dive sites on the reef, the Blue Hole is a holy grail for many divers, both due to its striking cobalt colour and an impressive depth of 105 metres.
Home to a large population of endangered marine life, protecting the ecosystem that is the Belize Barrier Reef is incredibly important. Threatened by warming oceans and human activity, the reef has previously found itself on UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites. Though huge strides have been taken since then, including banning offshore oil drilling, the effects of climate change could see Belize’s national treasure disappearing bit by bit.
The luxe touch: To spend as much time in this natural wonder as possible, check in to Cayo Espanto, a private island less than five kilometres off the coast of San Pedro. World-class snorkelling, scuba diving, catered meals, attentive staff, and massages are all part of the magic on this island paradise.
Aptly referred to as the ‘floating city’, the city of Venice is made up of 118 islands connected by thousands of ancient waterways. With no roads, the only way to travel is by boat – a novelty that has attracted millions of tourists over the years. As a historic centre of trade through the centuries, Venice pulled enumerate architects, artists and literary figures into its maze of canals, effectuating in a cultural capital that is rich with priceless work. Once lost in the labyrinth, it is entirely possible to stumble upon the work of some famous Renaissance painter hiding in a stilted church, walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway or happen upon the best seafood you’ve ever tasted.
A combination of watery foundations and crumbling architecture put Venice at the top of the risk list when it comes to disappearing destinations. Now dubbed the ‘sinking city’ by many, every year residents are plagued by flooding and, with projected sea levels only getting higher, it seems like a problem that will only get worse with time.
The luxe touch: For the ultimate in Venetian luxury, stay at the Aman Venice, situated inside the 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli near the Rialto Bridge. On the banks of the Grand Canal, patrons can expect world-class art, divine cuisine and Aman’s incredible concierge service.
The jewel of South America, the Amazon holds the title for largest tropical rainforest in the world and sprawls across Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. The rich ecosystem houses everything from pink river dolphins and infamous piranhas to colourful macaws and huge anacondas, and over 400 native tribes live among the dense canopy. Snaking through the north part of the jungle, the Amazon River is the way most visitors explore this almost impenetrable environment, whether by kayak in tiny tributaries or cruising to the famous ‘meeting of the waters’, where the darkness of the River Negro meets the sandy waters of the Amazon.
Despite producing more than 20% of our global oxygen supply, the Amazon is still disappearing at a rate of 0.6 hectares a day. The tropical paradise’s deforestation problem was spotlighted by the media in 2019, when a hundreds of thousands of hectares were burned by devastating forest fires. In conjunction with rising temperatures, deforestation is upsetting the delicate water cycles of jungle, with scientists predicting that it could only be few years before the damage is irreversible.
The luxe touch: A river cruise is often touted as the only way to truly see the Amazon jungle, and Aqua Expeditions offers a first class way to spend time on the iconic waterway. The Aria Amazon has 16 lavish suites on offer, with intimate small-group excursions led by naturalists to get up close and personal with native wildlife.
The fourth highest peak and tallest free-standing mountain in the world, over 50,000 people a year attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. This spectacular behemoth sits right on the equator and although it might seem intimidating, it is considered a relatively easy climb in the world of experienced hikers. Depending on the route, making it to the summit can take as little as six days, but seven is generally recommended as a minimum in order to properly acclimatise to the altitude.
The classic photo shared by hikers of Mount Kilimanjaro shows them standing atop the mountain surrounded by snow. However, with the rate that the ice is melting researchers predict that the world-renowned glaciers could be gone in the next decade, making the window to tick off this bucket list item very tight.
The luxe touch: Abercrombie & Kent offer a nine-day tour via the Machame Route, successfully getting climbers to the summit at a success rate of 97% – well above the industry standard. Accompanied by chefs, porters and guides, the team ensures all their walkers are as comfortable as possible while making the mighty ascent.