Last chance to see: Why you should go to Cuba, St Helena, Nicaragua, the Serengeti, and Madagascar now

Tourist surges, new airports and huge engineering projects are among the changes that could affect some of the world’s most alluring nations. Go now, says Emma Thomson

Many travellers have a wishlist about a mile long. But how to prioritise? Pick the destinations being redefined by the likes of politic shifts, deforestation, and expansion of infrastructure – upheavals that will alter the way you experience a place forever. The following locations will perhaps undergo the most significant changes next year: from new flight routes to remote islands and roads on the verge of ruining landscapes, to a mega-project that could reshape an entire country. Here’s the lowdown on places to visit as soon as you can, in order to see them at their finest.

Cuba

The American Embassy reopened after a half-century hiatus in Havana this August, a sign of rapidly thawing relations betweenCuba and the US. Will the island of mojitos, vintage cars and cigars that Ernest Hemingway called home for 20 years now change irrevocably? Not immediately. Currently, there are no commercial flights from the US and trade embargoes still stand.However, the classic 1950s cars are disappearing after a 2013 ruling relaxing import of new vehicles. A handful of events will thrust Cuba into the spotlight next year: Papa, a new film about Hemingway’s time in Havana in the 1950s starring Giovanni Ribisi, is set for UK release, and there are rumours that the Rolling Stones will play Havana at the end of March to conclude their Latin America tour. Just before Christmas, Virgin Atlantic announced that it is stepping up its flights from Gatwick to Havana by 50 per cent from next winter. There have been reports that demand is soaring and accommodation is booked out for months.

Journey Latin America (020 86001881; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) advises booking six to eight months in advance for its 12-day Value Cuba private trip, taking in Havana, Trinidad, Viñales and and Cayo Levisa, from £975pp, excluding flights.

St Helena

Life moves slowly on St Helena. This British outpost in the south Atlantic is marooned 1,210 miles from the nearest landmass, Angola. The last event of note was back in 1815 when Napoleon, fresh from his defeat at Waterloo, arrived to serve out his exile. At present, supplies and visitors can reach the island only aboard the RMS St Helena, but that is set to change next year when the airport finally opens. Flights were originally set to start in February, but all the Government now says is that it “expects St Helena airport to be accepting commercial flights before the planned official opening of the airport in May 2016”.

Atlantic Star Airlines plans a series of fortnightly charters from Gatwick via Banjul in Gambia, using TUIfly planes. The journey is expected to take around 12 hours. There will also be flights to and from Johannesburg on Comair, branded as British Airways. Tickets will not go on sale until an inspection is completed next month. A new four-star hotel is also opening in the capital, Jamestown, in mid-2016. The excellent tourist website sthelenatourism.com will keep you informed, and the new Bradt guide to St Helena is useful.

Ahead of the airport opening, the St Helena is getting very busy. The only spaces aboard are to and from Ascension Island, which you must reach via the twice-weekly flight from RAF Brize Norton. Contact AW Ship Management (020 7575 6480; rms-st-helena.com) to discuss options. 

Nicaragua

This adventure travellers’ idyll is home to pastel-painted colonial towns, abundant reefs, untouched rainforest and remote indigenous  communities. However, it’s also one of Latin America’s poorest countries. Accordingly, the government in Nicaragua is taken with a Chinese-backed project to bring to fruition something that has been bandied around since colonial times: a 161-mile long shipping route linking the Atlantic and Pacific for supertankers too big to squeeze through the Panama Canal.

Three times as long and twice as deep as its southern neighbour, the Canal de Nicaragua would be carved between Puerto de Brito on the Pacific coast and Punta Gorda on the Caribbean coast. It will also traverse the tranquil body of water at the heart of the country, Lake Nicaragua; see the official map at bit.ly/BigDitch.

The toll on the country’s ecosystems, wildlife and indigenous people could be high. A ground-breaking ceremony took place a year ago, but not much has happened since – amid rumours that the investor behind the five-year project has lost a fortune on China’s stock-market crash. Take advantage of the delays and visit now to enjoy the jungle-lined beaches and wetlands filled with wildlife. Explore Worldwide (01252 883 704; explore.co.uk) offers a 13-day Land of Lakes and Volcanoes group tour from £1,849pp, including flights from London.

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Nicaragua's beaches (Getty)

Serengeti, Tanzania

Every year a whopping two million wildebeest migrate through the flaxen savannah of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, but the chances of seeing the “Greatest Show on Earth” are under threat. For five years the government has been applying for permission to build a highway that passes through the northern sector of the park to link Lake Victoria to the coast. The aim is to connect isolated communities, but if the road bisects the migration route it could lead to a collapse of the ecosystem and make larger areas accessible to poachers.

The lower courts have barred a bitumen road, but not a gravel one and if Tanzanian authorities push ahead (contravening the East African Community Treaty) it might be your last chance to see the migration in all its glory. Expert Africa (020 8232 9777; expertafrica.com) can tailor trips to your needs.

Madagascar

Ecologists call the world’s fourth largest island the “eighth continent” because of its astounding biodiversity. More than 80 per cent of Madagascar’s 200,000 species – including lemurs, fossa and frogs – are found nowhere else on the planet. However, poverty also means that its people rely heavily on the land for their survival. Since the 1950s, four-fifths of its original forests have been felled. The causes are tavy – a slash-and-burn technique used to clear forest for farming, charcoal production and illegal logging for hardwoods. Plant and animal species are under extreme threat. With solutions in short supply and reforestation projects struggling to keep up, it’s best to see those long-tailed primates pronto.

A new luxury lodge, Miavana, is slated to open on the private island of Nosy Ankao in October with 14 villas and the chance to watch turtles, dolphins and whales as well as forest and lemur walks on the mainland. Trips will be offered by tour operators including Scott Dunn (020 3432 5970; scottdunn.com).

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