The Top Places To See Before It’s Too Late

Technically we are all in places that are about to change drastically. There are many remote idyllic, places being threatened by climate change that face melting glaciers or catastrophic flooding. But then so does Miami. Whether it’s rising sea levels, desertification, torrential monsoons, melting glaciers or ocean acidification, climate change is rapidly altering the landscape of our planet and perhaps about to destroy some of the world’s legendary vacation spots. Then there is the traditional destruction inflicted by human error and downright imbecility. More hotel rooms, spas and golf courses are part of the inherent contradictions of tourism increasing accessibility means increasing degradation. There seems to be no solution to that equation. We will be one of the last generations to see some of the Earth’s most cherished places. Here’s our list of 20 places to see before they vanish to climate change, over development and encroachment. It’s a survey of various sources from CNN to MNN (as in Mother Nature Network), at the same time being quite conscious of the other contradiction that advising more people to visit already vulnerable sites is farther contributing to the degradation. Perhaps you can solve that moral quandary by designing am environmentally sensitive visit. Or contribute to conservancy groups that are fighting to save them.

20. Gozo, Malta

CNN has this theory that once a foreign city is featured in a blockbuster movie, it takes a hit from an influx of curious tourists. Gozo, population 37,000 is a short ferry ride from Malta. Its website proudly proclaims its natural beauty, its “tortoise-like pace” and amazing history. Gozo means ‘joy’ in Castilian, so named at its founding in 1282. Last year Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt shot their latest film “By the Sea” there. Directed by Jolie, it appears to be a drama about an artistic couple’s fading marriage with Gozo subbing for France. CNN warns that “There are few better advertisements for a destination than a good movie,” and expects hordes of Brangelina fans to disturb the tranquility in search of the places the couple tried to rekindle their romance.

Gozo Malta

19. St. Kitts

With its neighbor and sidekick Nevis known as the decadent playground of the idle rich, St. Kitts is passing under the spell of the Evil Trinity of tourism; Big name hotel chains, golf course designers and marina builders. It is being done in the name of sustainability which may be easier to do environmentally that in preserving the spirit of a place heading to over development. When they open the world’s first edible golf course, you know the gimmicks have just begun.

St. Kitts

18. The Seychelles

National Geographic rates the beach at Anse Source d’Argent as the best in the world. One of nature’s most convincing versions of paradise. The beauty of the pink sand, the coral reef sheltered by massive granite boulders brings many beach lovers to this archipelago of more than a hundred islands in the Indian Ocean but the water rises relentlessly, the perfect beaches are eroding and its coral reef, like others around the world is being degraded. Barring some miraculous engineering innovation or divine intervention, many of the islands could be lost in the next 50 years.

Seychelles

17. The Athabasca Glacier, Canada

With its relatively convenient location in mid-Alberta between Banff and Jasper National Parks, The Athabasca Glacier attracts more tourists than any other on the continent. It is also the largest ice field between the poles. It’s a kind of frozen tributary of the massive Columbia Ice Fields. But with ice fields north of 90, as old hands call the Arctic, the Athabasca at 52 degrees north latitude is in for The Big Melt. Parks Canada estimates it’s receding up to ten feet a year. At this rate maybe too far gone for the next generation to experience.

Athabasca Glacier Canada

16. St. Helena

In its own way, St. Helena is an exotic destination. A volcanic speck of 50 square miles in the middle of the south Atlantic, it is the definition of remote, 4,000 miles east of Rio de Janeiro. Let’s face it, after Waterloo, the British were not about to exile Napoleon in Paradise. Part of its cache is that getting there is a challenge, by the Royal Mail ship St. Helena from Cape Town, Walvis Bay or Ascension Island. It’s somewhat for bird watching and its rugged terrain protects well preserved Georgian buildings. After Longwood, Napoleon’s home after 1815 (now a museum), the island’s biggest celebrity draw is Jonathon the tortoise, age 180 and going strong. The British have sunk the better part of half a billion dollars into an airport for the tiny island to open early in 2016. For that chunk of change, expect more than the usual 3,000 or so visitors soon.

St. Helena Island

15. Taj Mahal, India

Even the great frescoes of the Sistine Chapel dulled with age and the emission from centuries of candle smoke and neglect. But they were inside the walls of a building in the First World, whereas the Taj Mahal is neither. The whole point of the spectacular tribute to an Emperor’s late wife, is its pristine whiteness indicative of the purity of their love. But the air quality in India’s major cities is worse than the horrific pollution levels of Beijing. Fading to yellow or rust is not just a cosmetic downgrade it degrades its very meaning. An ornate mausoleum of white marble, The Taj Mahal is the sparkling jewel of Muslim art in India. Built in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his favorite wife, The Taj currently has more than 3 million visitors a year and the heat, foot traffic and toxic air are beginning to undermine the building’s structural integrity. It’s not hard to see a lengthy shutdown for restoration in the near future, not to mention banning people from going inside.

Taj Mahal

14. Dead Sea

There is the old joke that someone says he’s so old he remembers when the Dead Sea was only sick. Sadly that’s no longer just a joke. It is being sucked dry by the water-desperate countries around it who are helping themselves to the water in the River Jordan, the sea’s main source. It has shrunk by a third in size and scientists fear if the rate of attrition continues, the intensely salted water some claim has medicinal qualities, has maybe 50 years of life left.

Dead Sea

13. The Galapagos Islands

Truth be told Europeans have been abusing the Galapagos since the late 19th century when pirates used it as a base to launch their raids. Darwin didn’t arrive until 1835 to begin on what would become The Origin of the Species 25 years later. Now there are pages of tours echoing the name of his ship The Beagle. The islands are threatened by too many people. Too many insensitive people acting reprehensibly to degrade this natural treasure to take the greatest selfies and poach plants and animals (not necessarily at the same time.) The prognosis is much better than many other sites however because the ecosystem, while delicate, can still be saved by limiting if not stopping altogether, the onslaught of tourists. So if it’s on your bucket list…tread lightly.

Galapagos Islands

12. Glacier National Park Montana

In fact, anything with the word “Glacier’ in its name or title may be at risk, barring some miraculous reversal in climate change, the effects are well documented. They are living on borrowed time, the more temperate the climate the more critical the patient. The number of glaciers in the stunningly beautiful Glacier National Park on the Montana-Canada border has shrunk by 75% in the last century. Pessimistic estimates say the glaciers and the ecosystem that depends on them could be gone by 2030. The good news if you’re into dark humor; the surfing in Montana is about to improve dramatically.

Glacier Bay National Park Montana

11. South Australia

One of those areas facing the climate change double whammy, coastal flooding and interior desertification the Australian government has studied and published many daunting studies on the effects. Rising sea levels will threaten hundreds of miles of beaches and the lovely city of Adelaide will be put at risk. The soaring temperatures and absence of rain in the interior will challenge some of the most renowned wine growing regions in the world, including the Barossa and Clare Valleys. While the region accounts for only 7% of Australia’s population, it is also responsible for half of the $1.3 billion in wine exports. Unless you are entertained somehow by catastrophic flooding and drought, best to go soon.

McLaren Vale, South Australia

10. Greek Islands

There are 6,000 islands from Aegina to Zaforas in the Ionian and Aegean seas off the Greek coast. Only 227 are inhabited and only 50 have airports. Traveling between them has always been a question of taking leisurely ferries with shall we say occasionally regular schedules. Until now after a Greek airline has announced to connect another 100 by seaplane. As always accessibility is a mixed blessing. The islands of Crete, Skyros and Pelion are first on the list with more to come as early as year’s end. Book accordingly. Unless you like crowded beaches, then this is your lucky year.

Aigiali village in Amorgos island in Greece

9. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia

The famous falls are twice the height of Niagara with a fraction of the tourists. At least until the new Victoria Falls International Airport, on the Zimbabwe/Zambia, border opens in the fall of 2015. It’s being built to handle what pilots call “Heavy Metal”, wide body A340’s and Boeing 777’s and their human cargo. It will be a huge boost for the tourism sector in the long-suffering country. The five regional airlines that used the old airport will be joined by British British Airways, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and Kenya Airways, just to start.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

8. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean

An idyllic place. Everything you wish for in a Caribbean destination. And less, without the crowds, partiers and such. Beaches rank among the best in the world, coral reefs provide diving that’s to die for, it’s care free relaxation in a setting almost too beautiful to be true. But it’s always been a bit of a schlep to get there by connecting flight. The new $250,000,000 Argyle International Airport , will come with direct flights to North American and European cities increasing capacity by at least 400%. Plus it is upgrading its port infrastructure to bring in more cruise ships whose environmental record has been somewhere between bad and wretched. The good news for would-be visitors is that the airport is behind schedule for those who would like to have the island experience before it gets paved and up go the condos.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

7. Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua is a scenic, unspoiled place with coastal towns lost to time and lots of fishing spots locals love. It has been fast-tracked to the environmental critical list by a crazy ambitious $50 billion Chinese-backed project to build a canal three times the length of the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea and hence the Atlantic, in the process trampling through prized lakes, wetlands, coral reefs and any number of delicate ecosystems in Central America and the Caribbean. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences warns “this canal would create an environmental disaster in Nicaragua and beyond. Tourist visits have soared since the construction started.

Lake Nicaragua

6. Papua New Guinea

There is an automatic exoticism to the south Pacific and in the case of Papua New Guinea, it’s enhanced by its status as one of the last truly unexplored places on earth. The government has expressed a “wish” to maintain the rarely seen villages as the basis for its society. It’s a nice gesture, but at the same time they’re expanding the almost non-existent tourism infrastructure starting with cruise ships and with them a fading chance to experience a land not far removed from first contact.

Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock.com
Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock.com

5. The Alps, Europe

The mighty Alps are facing an uphill battle they can’t win. The evidence is incremental but unmistakable. The temperature, even on peaks over 10,000 feet has been steadily rising. The elevation at which snow falls and accumulates is falling. Towns and cities dependent on skiing for their livelihoods are taking strong measures to lower local CO2 emissions, but climate change scientists say the effects of climate change could hit hard by 2040. So maybe the problem will be solved by then, it still leaves you at least 25 years to book, but after that forget the skies and take hiking boots and sunblock.

French Alps

4. Venice, Italy

Like the famous writer Mark Twain, reports of the death of Venice have been greatly exaggerated. The magical kingdom of canals and Renaissance masterpieces has been written off many times before. But the severe flooding it has long suffered has become deeper and more chronic. When you can stop on your way to St. Mark’s and, bend down and catch fish with your bare hands, the fat lady may not be singing but is definitely warming up. The prognosis: the only people to see Venice past the 22nd century are likely scuba divers and snorkelers. However, the city has miraculously hung tough before. It may not be clear just how just yet, but surely no expense will be spared to save one of the greatest treasures on the planet.

Venice Italy Lagoons

3. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Another long running natural disaster that could have been easily mitigated by sustainable practices. The fabulous reef has been assaulted not only by climate change but by human stupidity. Higher water temperatures and its older foes of pollution and acidification from ever rising carbon dioxide emissions are killing off the corals at an alarming rate. More recent threats are damage caused by the development of Australian ports to export coal to China, thereby contributing to more CO2, hence more damage to the reef and its $4 billion in tourist income. A whole new enemy has emerged as well in industrial overfishing which doesn’t directly damage reefs around the world, but destroys the fish stocks that are part of its ecosystem. The wonderful reef in Belize is facing the same threat of death by coral bleaching.

Great Barrier Reef Fish

2. Cuba

Oh the irony. According to CNN, the son of Che Guevara, the iconic Marxist guerrilla leader, has turned out to be quite the entrepreneur, launching a motorcycle tour company for the biking crowd to see the island from behind their choppers. With the easing of American travel restrictions, the fabric of the island is in for rapid change for the less impoverished though not necessarily better. Not to revel in other’s poverty but the anachronism of the island frozen in a time warp by antiquated Communist central planning was part of the charm, like the famous 1950’s vintage vehicles constantly repaired and rebuilt out of economic necessity. The wonderful beaches are already popular and if there are bikers, the massive cruise ships won’t be far behind. Hemingway’s Havana is already on borrowed time.

Kamira / Shutterstock.com
Kamira / Shutterstock.com

1. Antarctica

Expect to see more headlines like this one from the BBC: “Should tourists be banned from Antarctica?” It’s feared that Antarctica is shedding up to 160 billion tons of ice annually and rising. The biggest threat to the ice cap is warming temperatures, not humans. Less than 40,000 people visit every year and only a quarter of them actually go ashore. Tour companies abide by strict international guidelines to limit human impact but those guidelines are voluntary. That human impact may be minimal, but any additional pressure on an increasingly vulnerable ecosystem is critical. There will be many more calls for restrictions to follow the BBC’s warnings. It won’t disappear in a century but trips to see it may be extinct long before.

Antarctica

THE Top 20 Places to Be in 2015

Early in 2015, the venerable New York Times published its list of ’52  Places To Go To This Year’. Its reasoning rested on the observation that “Untrammeled oases beckon, once-avoided destinations become must-sees and familiar cities offer new reasons to visit.” Its philosophy seems to be that it’s time to stop fighting our way into the overcrowded, stratospherically expensive established sites. Most of the list that follows features three qualities: great food, novelty and at least one United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site defined as “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity”. There are 1007 UNESCO sites in all as of this writing and the places below contain almost 200 of them. Provence and Tuscany? How about Georgia with terrific wine, breathtaking scenery and enough history for a bus full of PhDs. Tired of the prices and lineups in Greece? There’s this little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera. It’s a great idea. Let’s change it up a bit here people. Do something original.  How about a feast of muskox on a sub-Arctic speck of rock in the North Atlantic? Beyond that there are some tourism plain Janes who have suddenly let down their hair and are proving to be quite fetching. And there’s a promising crop of the shunned or unavailable who are opening up their unseen treasures. The war in Sri Lanka, with its seven World Heritage Sites is over. The pariah state of Zimbabwe with its incredible wildlife, savannahs, is behaving. So, in the spirit of the Times, here are the best of the best. Twenty totally fresh ways to seriously renovate your travel itinerary:

20. Kas, Turkey

Less expensive than Greece, far less overrun than other places in the region, Kas is a happening place. This little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera, the Turquoise Coast is one of those ever-dwindling number of getaways where you can still get away. It has all the active seaside things you’d want: kayaking, trekking and serious diving (with wrecks and underwater sculpture). One Times reader called it “a must for nature lovers”. To firm up both the mind and the thighs, there are hikes along the Lycian Way to see tombs from the pre-Roman Empire. The elaborate ones carved into the mountainsides are extremely impressive and the best ones are a 45 minute drive away in Xanthos. Pronounced “Cash”, it won’t take a lot of yours to enjoy quality down time without the partying hordes.

Kas, Turkey

19. Baku, Azerbaijan

Begin with the walled city dating from the 12th century. UNESCO calls the 15th century Shuirvinshaj’s palace “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture which reflects evidence of Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence”. Looming over the ancient streets is the gaudy modernity of the Flames Towers, a pair of 600 foot buildings, flame shaped, with thousands of LED lights whose ‘flames’ can be seen for miles. It works as an elegant combination of very old and very new as oil money brings the Mercedes, caviar crowd onto the medieval streets.

Ramil Aliyev / Shutterstock.com
Ramil Aliyev / Shutterstock.com

18. Cáceres, Spain

A phenomenal place that has everything but a beach. History, art, architecture, excellent wine and renowned kitchens. In fact, it is designated as Spain’s Gastronomic Capital for 2015 so there’s a huge buzz about this city of 100,000 near the Portuguese border. The buzz began with the opening of Atrio a striking futuristic hotel-restaurant in the prestigious Relais and Chateau chain with a pair of coveted Michelin Stars. It’s located in the ancient walled city, on UNESCO’s list.  The city was captured by the Moors in the 8th century and not retaken by Christians until 1229. Its towers reflect its Roman, Muslim, Visigoth and Christian rulers. Gothic and Renaissance building abound. Much of the city’s once prominent Jewish quarter survives. The UNESCO citation calls it “Outstanding universal value”. A fairy tale place occupied through history by military powers, though the occupying force today consists of brilliant, creative chefs.

Cáceres, Spain

17. Chengdu, China

Chengdu eminently qualifies for the off the beaten track status, being near Tibet, 1200 miles inland from the coastal colossus of Shanghai. But there are direct international flights sprouting and it’s the panda capital of the world. The Giant Panda Research Base houses about 200 of the much loved bears. It is also the capital of Sichuan cuisine, luring foodies with spicy palates just to eat the tongue tingling cuisine. There is a Chinese saying “the best cuisine is from China, while the richest flavor is from Chengdu”. There are over 60,000 restaurants and another 62,000 caterers. The city isn’t much to look at but it is one of only eight cities in the world with a UNESCO City of Gastronomy Designation.

Chengdu, China

16. Danang, Vietnam

Danang has long been known as a good place to stop over on the way to somewhere else, most notably, the UNESCO heritage sites nearby. The old Imperial city of Hue and the ancient town of Hoi An are short trips away. But a modern skyline is taking shape and the city between the Marble Mountains and the gorgeous beaches on the South China Sea is becoming worthy of a stay on its own. China Beach was a favorite place of GI’s for R&R during the Vietnam War. Beachside luxury resorts are going up, and keep in mind, the exchange rate for the Vietnamese Dong is well over 20,000 to the US$ and Euro making those hotels and signature banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches pretty affordable.

Lauren Ava / Shutterstock.com
Lauren Ava / Shutterstock.com

15. Alentejo, Portugal

It’s something that makes North Americans shake their heads. The beaches of Alantejo (the best in Europe says The Guardian) are relatively unknown because they are remote, a whole two hours from Lisbon. Two hours?  That’s a daily commute in the New World. But all the better for non-Europeans who have no qualms about spending chunks of their lives in cars. Beaches aside there are Roman ruins to be found. Visigoth ruins in fact. Evora is another UNESCO site, an impeccably preserved medieval town. The winemakers produce delicious rich, fruity reds yet Alantejo remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. The crash of the ocean waves, the melodies of the Fado singer in the square, the sense of looking back through time at a disappearing way of life make it a most compelling destination. But hurry, because Michelin stars and oenophile hotels are sprouting already.

Alentejo, Portugal

14. Shikoku, Japan

It’s called the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Eighty eight temples along a 750-mile trail begun in 815 A.D. to honor the much revered monk Kobo Daishi. It is considered a path to spiritual enlightenment. Modern pilgrims can forego the quest for perfection and choose from the many places on Japan’s smallest island that demand a visit. Pick and choose which of the many sites that demand a visit. Matsuyama is the largest city with an imposing castle, ancient hot springs and seven sacred temples. Up in the inland mountains is the Iya Valley; lush, isolated with heart-stopping gorges and vine bridges for the brave. The many hot springs will soothe your mortal coil after a day of incredible hiking or white water rafting.

Matsuyama Japan

13. Papua New Guinea

It’s a good news, bad news kind of story. One of the most remote, exotic places in the world is opening up to tourism. The not so good part is monster cruise ships are just beginning their intrusion on a pristine island country. The beaten track is barely visible from PNG. There won’t be much chilling by the hotel pool here. Because there aren’t a lot of hotel pools, as tourism is still a fledgling industry. There’s a whole new rich ecosystem here wit tribal cultures to experience and timeless beauty in jungles almost lost to time. The 60 mile long Kokoda Track takes hardy trekkers through native villages. Madang in the north is getting famous for diving and PNG as a whole is a birders paradise. Do keep in mind that the capital, Port Moresby has often been rated among the Least Livable Cities in the world. Nobody’s perfect.

Papua New Guinea

12. Greenland

There are still the breathtaking fjords to be cruised, whales to be watched and sunning at midnight to be done. Chalk one up for climate change, Greenland is getting greener (we joke). The amazing UNESCO Heritage Site the enormous Ilulissat Icefjord is at its noisiest and most active during summer sunshine when icebergs the size of mountains heave and crack. It’s a memorable day trip from Ilulissat, the third largest city and there are boat trips out into Disko Bay to get up close and icicle with the massive bergs. As with other northern countries, there’s a movement to modernize traditional cooking, focusing on local ingredients and freshness. Seafood to die for and game, especially muskox are favorites. The Greenland website reassures diners about the taste of muskox “The taste of muskox surpasses that of domestic livestock and, it melts in your mouth bursting with flavor”. Get more acquainted with native culture at the Qasigiannguit Museum with exhibits from the Stone Age to today.

Greenland Hot Springs

11. Georgia

The Georgian word for wine is ‘ghvino’, claimed to be the origin to the English ‘wine’, Italian ‘vino’. They have been making wine here for 7000 years and they are pulling the cork on what the Times calls the next great wine destination. The pleasant capital Tbilisi has a wine bar on just about every corner and there are wine tours of Kakheti, the main producing region. Surprisingly rich in natural beauty, situated between Russia and Turkey, many empires have left their mark on it. There are fabulous old churches, Black Sea resorts and alpine beauty. But it’s the vino attracting the attention now. The Georgian description of a good wine is one that could make a pheasant cry. So an American who came to visit, stayed, and started a vineyard whose wines bear the name “Pheasant’s Tears.”

Kakheti Georgia

10. Sri Lanka

A long deadly civil war made this an island that people only wanted desperately to get out of. Now, a tourism industry is being built where there were battlefields not long ago. The peace has allowed the small island nation to show off its considerable assets. Beaches that go on forever. Eight World Heritage sights. Cuisine to please the pickiest foodie. Sri Lanka is a world tea superpower. Plantations and tea museums are popular. There are safari camps here too, especially in the lush Sinharaja rain forest. Find a treetop yoga studio or luxury spa. At Dam bulla, temples have been carved out of sheer rock and filled with stunning centuries-old Buddhist artworks and artifacts. And last but certainly by no means least, the perfection of the Maldives, a thousand or so islands off the southern coast in the Indian Ocean. It is on the short list for best beach in the world. And if it’s not it, it sure is close.

Sinharaja (Sri Lanka)

9. Oman

­Thoughts of rugged fjords bring forth images of icy Scandinavian inlets with bone chilling cold and sheer granite cliffs. Well, welcome to the Norway of Arabia where the heat can melt your bridgework. Here in the isolated Musandam Peninsula the fjords are called khors. The scene is so other-worldly the BBC compared it to “the shores of a Martian Sea.” Adding to the spice is its location on the Strait of Hormuz, one of the top three places where WW3 is likely to start. Nearby are little-known but spectacular coral reefs making for great diving. Oman is the last part of the Arab world that hasn’t been paved and skyscraperred with oil money. The capital Muscat is a lovely low-key feast of Muslim architecture, old Portuguese forts and bazaars. Its geography ranges from incredible mountainscapes to ancient desert to pristine beaches, but the cranes are becoming more common on the skyline and names like Radisson, Kempinski, Four Seasons and Fairmont are now setting up shop.

Muscat, Oman

8. The North Coast of Peru

A number of places on the list are familiar destinations opening up­ new alternative tourist attractions. The medieval Incan capital of Cusco and the mysterious, celestial Macchu Picchu need no promotion and may even have too many visitors for their own good. The North Coast is remote, as in 22 hours from Cusco. Its Macchu Picchu rival is the fort at Kuélap, a stone city at 10,000 feet. Built by the Chachapoyas, or ‘People of the Clouds’ around the first Millennium, its sophisticated design required more stone to build than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Eco-friendly hotels and sites abound. The Andean spectacled bear is nearly extinct, but can be found in numbers at the Chipparri Reserve. Surfers will like the waves and vibes in the village of Mancora. For whale watchers and serious fishing types, there is Cabo Blanco, once a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. It’s like a whole new world in Peru’s North Coast, still unspoiled relatively undeveloped and still inexpensive.

Kuélap Peru

7. Tanzania

Home of the timeless, magical Serengeti with its breathtaking scenes and staggering annual migration of more than two million mammals, wildebeests, gazelles and zebras. The Times says “the real new treasure here is unprecedented access to sparsely trafficked regions.” The Selous Game Reserve in the south is home to large populations of elephants and leopards. The landscape in the relatively unknown Arangire National Park unique in the region and is home to climbing lions and giraffe. Trek as far up Africa’s highest mountain in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park, and when you done following the herds and conquering mountain tops, Zanzibar awaits with its rich history, wonderful beaches and newly upgraded creature comforts.

Moshi, Tanzania Serengeti National Park

6. Zimbabwe

Long run by one of the world’s most despicable despots, Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from pariah status with political stability unseen in years. With the currency next to worthless, a window of tremendous opportunity has opened on a country whose natural beauty cannot be overstated. Infrastructure and travel companies are making visiting easier than ever. There are five UNESCO Sites including the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba. There is the legendary Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Falls the largest curtain waterfall on earth. Stability looks good on the capital Harare, one of the nicest on the sub content, but it’s still the big game safaris that are the biggest draw on open savannahs or in numerous National Parks. It’s truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

5. Medellin, Colombia

Urban renewal with innovative architecture and design. Not long ago the name Medellin was synonymous with drug lords and corruption. It is now becoming known for one of the most ambitious urban transformations in the world. The renewal is epitomized by the futuristic Metrocables, cable cars that unlocked the impoverished people in the surrounding hills from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods integrating them with the urban renewal below. Similarly, another slum was transformed by the stunning Avant Garde architecture of the Biblioteca Espana. Revel in the night life with the beautiful people at the Parque Llera and enjoy the gentle climate in the place known as City of Eternal Spring.

dubes sonego / Shutterstock.com
dubes sonego / Shutterstock.com

4. Macedonia

According to the Times, this is THE next Balkan destination. The first good sign: there are no McDonalds. All closed. God bless them. The capital Skopje was recently rated one of the 10 least expensive cities in the world. Once one of the great crossroads of history, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and much later Communist empires held sway and left their cultural, architectural and culinary influences. Skopje is a vibrant melting pot of all of them. A surprising treasure trove of natural beauty, there is much to sight-see or for the more active to climb, hike or ride. It is landlocked but the beaches of Lake Ohrid are renowned as are the vineyards are a mere three hour drive across the Greek border.

Macedonia

3. The Faroe Islands

The Faroes are a scattering of rocky islands 150 miles due north of Scotland in the north Atlantic. It has a famously ornery climate and a brooding sub-Arctic other-worldly beauty that traditionally drew bird-watchers, naturalists and trekkers. It is one of the world capitals for those adorable puffins, which also show up on local menus. Its current celebrity is based on a unique new cuisine as set out in The New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto that is traditional Scandinavian food meets The Iron Chef. Not much grows in that climate so they forage for herbs, harvest seaweed and pair them with locally grown mutton and the superb deep-sea Faroe Bank cod and mussels and serve them with wild angelica on driftwood plates, all washed down with schnapps followed by local beer and cheese. An unforgettable feast after an unforgettable day trekking up the highest mountain at Slættaratindur. It is tucked away off the beaten track but as part of Denmark, it’s a short flight from Copenhagen.

Faroe Islands

2. Bolivia

A definite hint  that things are happening here: the culinary genius behind the world’s # 1 rated restaurant for three consecutive years in Copenhagen has opened a place in La Paz. Another South American bad boy turning it around drawing investors and interest in its unsurpassed scenery and cities. It has become a destination for foodies, trekkers wine snobs and adventure seekers. Who knew Bolivia made wine, let alone having an acclaimed wine route?  From the exuberance of La Paz to an array of sublime World Heritage sites to spectacular settings to hike, ski, mountain bike and exhaust yourself to your heart’s content. You can follow Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid south to Tupiza, but lay off the train robbing and your visit will end much happier than theirs.

Potosi, Bolivia

1. Durban, South Africa

Long overshadowed by its two bigger, siblings, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa’s third largest city is stepping into the limelight. ‘Durbs’ as it’s known is undergoing a serious reno and upgrade, thanks in part to facilities from the 2010 Worlds Cup. The beachside Rivertown neighborhood of warehouses and Art Deco buildings is being transformed into a happening ‘hood of galleries, restaurants and skateboard installations to jumpstart its rather tranquil night life. Durban is also home to a large ethnic Indian community and the influence is unmistakable. It was here that a young lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi settled in 1883 and began his legendary life as activist and leader.

lcswart / Shutterstock.com
lcswart / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Toughest/Most Dangerous Treks in the World

Adventure seekers, experienced hikers, climbers and anyone else that has ever poured over a picture of someone standing at the precarious ledge of a cliff, wonders how they got there. From the deathly trail that kills one hundred people a year to a frozen river deep in the Himalayas; these treks are not for the inexperienced. Requiring special equipment, bravery and a lot of preparation –these are the keys to making these treks a success. Dangers such as wildlife, falling rocks and roaring oceans, to worn-out wooden planks and no trail markers have determined the top ten toughest treks in the world. From South Africa to Spain to the United States to everywhere in between; discover these unbelievable adventures treks that are not only tough but ultimately rewarding.

10. Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea

This last trek is rich in history and is a World War II site where Japanese and Australian fighters battled it out on the front lines. Besides the ghosts you might spot along the way, this is one tough trek that takes anywhere from four to ten days to complete. Hostile and remote are the two words most often used to describe this trail and if something goes wrong out here; it could be a very long time before someone finds you.

The trail leads you into the heart of the Owen Stanley Range of Mountains where deep dark gorges block out sunlight, lush green vegetation grows and narrow crests offer passage. Hot humid days coupled with frigid nights make this trek suitable for only the fittest of hikers. Health threats including malaria and other tropical diseases are very real here. Foreign insects, wildlife and poisonous plants also make up the landscape.  Despite the numerous dangers, rushing streams with single log crossings and spectacular views of the valleys and rivers make this one unforgettable experience.

Photo by: Travel Daily
Photo by: Travel Daily

9. Devil’s Path -New York State

Located just a short two to three hour drive outside of Manhattan lies one of the country’s most challenging hiking trails. Devil’s Path is located in the Catskills Mountains and runs only 25 miles but due to its extreme characteristics it can take you days to complete. Completing it will lead you to a total of six peaks and we suggest you prepare for a tough trek.

The trail is full of extreme rocky terrain, vertical slopes, extreme downhills and very slippery sections. Waterfalls are found throughout as well as a number of bears, so it’s highly suggested you carry pepper spray and hang your food above ground. Winding your way through rocky chutes, down steep gaps that require you to use your hands and feet and up sheer rock cliffs will challenge even the experienced trekker. Upon completion, the trails gifts you with spectacular views of the Catskill Range making it a most worthwhile challenge.

Catskills NY

8. Kalalau Trail -Kauai, Hawaii

This 11-mile trail sits high above the crashing waves on cliffs that tower 4,000 feet above the ocean. This trail is graded but almost never level as it winds the hiker through five lush valleys to the tops of towering cliffs. It is the only land access to this part of the breathtaking Na Pali Coast and will lead you through jungles, hairpin switchbacks and past thundering waterfalls.

Common occurrences in this area include flash floods, falling rocks, thick mud and lots of rain. The slippery trail must be walked with caution as one misstep is enough to send you plunging into the ocean thousands of feet below. Extreme inclines and declines, crumbling rocks beneath your feet and narrow passageways combined with strong riptides and currents make this trek only for the adrenaline lover. Plenty of water is needed as the sun is strong and there are no facilities along the way.

Kalalau Trail Hawaii

7. West Coast Trail -Vancouver Island

This popular 48-mile trek is hiked by hundreds every year and although there isn’t the toughness of snowstorms, lava or other “extreme” factors; this trail requires experience and determination. Steep slopes, wooden bridges and long ladders are all a part of this trail and with the wet weather Vancouver Island often experiences; things can get slippery and out of control very fast.

Often joked that every hiker twists their ankle while hiking along the West Coast Trail, it is too often a very real experience and hikers are lucky to only have that one injury. Predators cause another danger on this trek. Black bears, cougars and wolves live in the same forests you are walking through, breathe the same air you breathe and have been known to attack hikers on occasion. There are waterways to be slogged through, beaches impassable at high tide and limited services to buy food and water. Although this trek is completed by many hikers, do yourself a favor and do not take it lightly; this one must be prepared for.

WCT

6. Chadar Trek -Himalayas

One of the toughest treks in India, the Chadar Trek lasts approximately six to ten days and reaches altitudes up to 10,900 feet. This trek is also one of the most famous treks in India as pictures of Buddhist Monks barefoot walking along the river have surfaced in magazines all over the world. Don’t let the barefoot Monks fool you though, this trek is not for the weak or faint of heart.

This trek requires crossing over the frozen river of Zanskar, which can be a solid sheet of ice or can be heard gurgling bubbles as the water escapes the ice. The river can shift and ice can break and the only way to continue on is by way of slippery rocks along the riverside. The breaking river isn’t the only dangerous aspect of this trek; the cold weather plays a big part of why this trek is tough. Temperatures average below freezing and can reach minus 30° Fahrenheit at night. Sleeping in caves with these temperatures are enough to test any experienced hikers willpower.  With experience, warm clothes and the right attitude this tough trek is doable and absolutely a spectacular unforgettable adventure of a lifetime.

Chadar Trek

5. Skyline/Muir Snowfield Trail -Mount Rainier, Washington

You may be surprised to see this on the list as this fairly short 9-mile trek appears to be just that; a short 9-mile trek. Hikers start off by sauntering through a beautiful mountain meadow full of scenic wildflowers. The views get even nicer as you pass through lush forests, shimmering lakes and breathtaking views. But this trail quickly becomes intimidating even for the experienced climbers.

The real challenge begins when you come upon the 2,800 foot vertical Muir Snowfield climb. Cold, snowy and vertical; this challenging part of the hike is also met with unpredictable weather. In fact the most dangerous part of this trek may in fact be the vicious storms that blow in off the Pacific Ocean without warning. Around 100 climbers have slipped, fallen or become frozen while trying to climb this hike. The close up views of Mount Rainer are spectacular though and the scenery along the way is breathtaking. Did we happen to mention that Mount Rainier is also an active volcano?

Skyline Trail Washington

4. The Snowmen Trek -Bhutan

High altitudes and steep assents make The Snowmen Trek Bhutan’s toughest trek. Starting in Paro and ending 24 days later in Nikka Chhu; this trek is not for the weak. Altitudes will continuously stay above 4000 meters (over 13,000 feet) and can reach upwards of 5332 meters (nearly 17,500 feet) at the highest pass. Consistent high level passes, the remoteness of the trip and difficult weather conditions contribute to the many challenges of this trek.

It’s a trek only passable during the summer months as the path is often closed due to snow, so there’s a short window of opportunity for hikers wanting to embark on this adventure. Prepare for unparalleled views of the Himalayas, lush valley landscapes, dense forests and snow capped mountain peaks. Experience the once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the separate mountain kingdom of Lunana. This unforgettable landscape will challenge and exciting experienced hikers and make for a trek you will never forget. This tough trek is recommended for experienced hikers only and because of the remoteness and constantly changing weather conditions, flexibility is a must.

Photo by: EL ANDINO OUTDOOR
Photo by: EL ANDINO OUTDOOR

3. El Caminito del Rey -Spain

Known as one of the world’s scariest hikes in the world; it is no surprise to see El Caminito del Ray or “Little King’s Path” as it’s known on this list. Although technically illegal to walk on as of 2014; daredevils still take to the steep path that heads up the cliff. Set to re-open in 2015, this path was closed due to crumbling pathways and the amount of deaths. Since the closure it has only sparked more adventurous hikers to explore it.

The decrepit pathways run alongside the Guadalhorce river gorge, hanging 100 feet up on sheer cliffs. These pathways were made by hydro-electric workers over 100 years ago and tattered safety ropes remain to help guide hikers. Vertigo is the main source of fear with this trek. If you don’t like heights you might want to sit this one out. For now, bring your rope along if you want to challenge the spots where the concrete has fallen. Once the restoration is complete this trek will still remain tough enough to stay on our list.

El Caminito del Rey -Spain

2. Drakensberg Traverse -South Africa

Our next tough trek comes to us from South Africa and is a combination of tough and long. This trek ranges between 220-240 km (about 150 miles) and is lacking a prescribed route or marked trail. The first day of the trek is spent clamoring up rickety chain ladders that take you to the ridge. Animal tracks, footprints and rocks at the top will get you going the right way.

Intense hills, windy conditions, snow and mud all await you on this trek. Along with the danger of thieves that also set out to steal from unsuspecting campers you have to be completely self-sufficient on this hike. No check points, no facilities and no markers ensure that you are on your own and you must be fully prepared. Altitude sickness, cold weather and uneven terrain are just a slice of what awaits. But the views of the towering waterfalls, the sun rising over the breathtaking landscape below and the stop at the enormous rock formation “The Amphitheater” makes this hike hard to pass up.

Photo by: Redbull
Photo by: Redbull

1. The Death Trail -Mount Huashan, China

Home to what is known as the “world’s most dangerous hiking trail in the world”, Mount Huashan stands 2,154 meters (7066 feet) tall and is the most precipitous mountain under heaven. All trails up the Mountain tend to be treacherous and dangerous with narrow vertical staircases and few handholds but none as deadly as the plank trail to the South Mountain.

Appropriately called “Death Trail” it is comprised of narrow passages made of wooden platforms that are nailed to the mountainside. Getting to the trail is hard enough making visitors climb up a vertical rebar staircase. Rusty chain handles, worn wooden planks and altogether the absence of planks make this one treacherous trek. Couple that with the overflowing amount of people that come to climb here -especially in the summer when they come to climb to the historical Taoist monasteries, and the danger increases. With no official death statistics it is hard to judge how many people have perished from this trek but rumor has it over 100 people a year perish on this pilgrimage. Whether you are a beginner or expert, “death trail” on Mount Huashan is one of the scariest treks around.

Photo by: I Put My Life On a Shelf
Photo by: I Put My Life On a Shelf