Frommer’s 500 Places to See before they Disappear by Holly Hughes is a compendium of the world’s natural and cultural wonders that sit on the edge of being compromised by various forms of encroachment. Whether it is the endangered species whose habitat is being destroyed, glaciers melting and disappearing, or architectural gems being withered away by pollution or overuse, many of the places should be seen now if you want to experience them.
The book details 500 places, but some seem much more fragile than others, so you may want to plan a trip around certain ones such as Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Montana’s Glacier National Park, Alaska’s Glacier Bay, and sinking Venice, Italy. Others mentioned seem more like a call for action for reversing poor planning decisions of the past like France’s Mont-St-Michel causeway, which the French government has made plans to change already.
Hughes outlines that clear-cutting forests worldwide threatens multiple species from Monarch butterflies to Lemurs. Similarly, invasive species in places such as Everglades National Park kill native and endangered species and thrive without natural predators.
Some species mentioned are so rare that you can’t actually see them. One example is the 200 million year old Wollemi Pines (or ‘dinosaur tree’) in Australia’s Wollemi National Park, whose exact location in only one canyon of the park is kept secret – though there are many other rare plants and animals that you can see when visiting. At Spain's Altamira Center, you can see a replica of the remarkable Altamira cave paintings, which were closed after severe damage was done by harmful bacteria brought in by visitors.
Acid rain and air pollution are wreaking havoc on a number of cultural icons such as Chichen Itza in Mexico and Egypt’s Pyramids. Still others such as the Taj Mahal are being ‘loved to death’ by huge numbers of tourists (as well as pollution and flooding) and there has been talk for years of shutting down access in order to better preserve it, but then you’d only have a faraway view which couldn’t instill the same sense of awe as actually walking through it.
One irony of the book is that it makes you want to go to many of these places right away. Some you may not have known existed or were threatened – and if many more tourists arrived at once at some of these fragile places they could actually close or disappear more quickly as a result. So perhaps look through the book and see which must-see places on your list are there and try to find the most low-impact way of seeing them.
Frommer’s 500 Places to See before they Disappear, Holly Hughes, Wiley Publishing, 2009.
©Christina Kay Bolton