UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and its purpose is to "contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms." One of the objectives pursued by UNESCO is the preservation of historically, culturally, scientifically, and naturally significant sites all over the world. Every year, the organization adds new locations to their World Heritage List and, as of July 2018, there are 1,092 sites protected by UNESCO all over the world.
It's logical that among such a huge number of places, some receive too much attention, while others remain hidden gems known only to a few. Besides, certain UNESCO Sites get so many visitors every year that they even become endangered and additional measures need to be taken to protect them from destruction.
Since a lot of travelers build their itineraries, considering whether they can see UNESCO World Heritage Sites, they need to know which places are worth visiting and which ones should better be skipped. After all, most travelers have only a limited amount of time they can spend in every particular place, so they should be wise about their choices. This article was written exactly for these travelers, to help them figure out where to go on their next trip.
No one can deny that Halong Bay is a beautiful place. However, it has several disadvantages that make it not so attractive. First of all, it's overcrowded and filled with boats, on which tourists take their overpriced trips. Secondly, this place is known for its unpredictable weather. Even a seemingly nice and sunny day can suddenly get a lot of fog, rain, and even thunderstorm, thus marring your impressions from the site or forcing you to cancel the trip altogether. And thirdly, to get to Halong Bay, you have to come to Hanoi, which isn't known as a nice place.
Would you like to realize how tiny you are compared to our Mother Nature? One of the best ways to do it is visiting Redwood National and State Parks in northern California. This site is covered with the tallest and one of the most massive trees on the planet. They're called coast redwood trees. Standing under one of them and looking up, not even being able to see the treetop makes you think a lot about how insignificant you are in the universal scale and lessens your ego.
Besides, the park also features splendid biodiversity, so having a picnic there or just hiking along its trails will certainly give you much pleasure.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it's the place, where the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. For history enthusiasts and patriots of the United States, this place might be rather interesting. However, if you're not really into history, don't bother visiting it. Independence Hall doesn't feature unique architecture and looks just like any other building.
And if you want to see the history of the American Revolution, better visit Boston’s Freedom Trail. It has more interesting historic landmarks and monuments to offer.
Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is an amazing place, which you should visit with a professional guide because otherwise, you won't even understand what you see, unless you're knowledgeable in astronomy.
Built back in the mid-18th century, Jantar Mantar (translated as "calculation instrument") features a series of architectural and astronomical instruments that were used to measure the time of day and declination of the Sun and other heavenly bodies. These instruments allow observing astronomical positions with the naked eye and blow your mind away, when you think that they were constructed with such precision, so long ago.
Ruins of León Viejo in Nicaragua are the oldest Spanish Colonial ruins in Central America. The city of León was established in 1524, but already in 1594 and 1610, it suffered from volcanic activity and resulting earthquake. Although it wasn't destroyed completely, its infrastructure suffered a serious damage and residents decided to leave the city.
In 2000, UNESCO included León into the list of World Heritage Sites. Nevertheless, don't expect to see much there. The ruins are mostly barren and there are no important artifacts to look at, so you're free to skip this location and head to another Heritage Site in Central America.
Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city. For a period of time, it was the largest and most populated center in the pre-Columbian Americas. Being one of the most architecturally significant sites, Teotihuacan was added to the list of UNESCO Sites in 1987.
The territory of Teotihuacan includes the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon that is considered the most significant structures there. Visitors can climb on both of them and take a look at the city ruins from them. Believe me, you're going to see a marvelous view from up there!
The Historic Center of Macau in China features the unique assimilation of Chinese and Portuguese architecture and attracts a lot of tourists. According to UNESCO, this site "bears witness to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West, based on the vibrancy of international trade."
However, the site isn't as spectacular as tourists think. For example, a reviewer on Trip Advisor, wrote about Ruins of St. Paul's from the photo above, "Not much to say. We spent maybe 5 minutes here and continued onwards to other, more interesting places. Waste of time in my opinion and I'm a huge fan of historical buildings in general."
The old part of the town of Nessebar in Bulgaria used to be an island, but then an artificial isthmus was constructed and connected it to the mainland. So now it's a peninsula that can be easily reached by the visitors of the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.
Walking along the streets of Old Nessebar (especially if you go there early in the morning, before souvenir shops and restaurants open for visitors), you're going to witness the unique culture of the Bulgarian people. There are old churches, some of which are still working and houses where people still live. And it all is located just near the sea. Magnificent!
Even though the International Council on Monuments and Sites considered that Omori, a sleepy village in western Japan, had "no outstanding universal value", it still was added to the UNESCO List due to the intense lobbying by Japanese authorities. It was inscribed in 2007 and a year later tourists started coming here, regardless of the fact that there was no tourist infrastructure and nothing to see, except for an old silver mine.
Needless to say, residents of the quiet village weren't ready for such an influx of visitors and didn't really like their peace being disturbed.
Even though Nahanni National Park was inscribed by UNESCO back in 1978, it still flies under the radar (only about 500 people come there annually). It has a lot to do with the park's remoteness as to get there you'll require a floatplane. However, it's totally worth all the effort, because this park is exceptionally beautiful! Besides, just think about how amazing you'll feel, staying one-on-one with nature in Nahanni.
According to Joel Hibbard, a guide for Nahanni Wilderness Adventures, "The Nahanni has more geological diversity than just about any place on the planet." So when are you coming?
Lijiang is an 800-year-old town located in the province of Yunnan. It was declared a UNESCO site in 1997 and since then it has been one of the major domestic tourist destinations in China.
Since residents of the city weren't able to deal with the influx of tourists, outsiders with more skills and money came to Lijiang. As a result, the residents felt like they lost their own town because already in the early 2000s, 90 percent of the town was in the hands of newcomers and local culture was adulterated by a tourist-oriented make-over.
Galle is a coastal town in Sri Lanka that attracts visitors mostly due to its fort. Galle used to be a port and its fort was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The peak of its development was reached in the 18th century, during the Dutch colonial period.
According to UNESCO, Galle "is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions." If you go there, you won't believe that you're still in Sri Lanka, because the streets inside the fort look like a small European town, with several nice churches, museums, and the lighthouse that's considered to be the main attraction of the fort.
In 1984, the Statue of Liberty became a UNESCO Site, because it's considered a "masterpiece of the human spirit" that serves as a powerful symbol and inspiration.
However, even though the Statue of Liberty is one of the main attractions in New York and it annually receives a huge number of tourists, Lady Liberty doesn't really have a lot to offer. Before climbing the statue, you're going to have to endure a huge line of other visitors, who also came to New York for the first time, and when you reach the top, you won't see anything worthy of all this time you wasted. So better look at Lady Liberty from afar.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex was built by Buddhist Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century BC, in Bodh Gaya. The large territory of the complex surrounds the Bodhi Tree, which is the descendant of the very tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. Some of the temples of the complex were built later, in the 5th and 6th centuries AD.
Mahabodhi has a great cultural and religious significance and it'll interest you, even if you're not a Buddhist. All of its temples and other structures are surrounded by a blissful, meditative atmosphere, where you may turn off your thinking process for some time and just contemplate the beauty around you.
Machu Picchu is a beautiful, amazing historical site that I'd certainly advise to visit, but only if it wasn't overridden with tourists. By walking on the ruins, the crowds of visitors create an effect similar to a small-scale earthquake that can eventually result in the destruction of temples and other structures. And, as if overtourism wasn't enough, the lost city of the Incas is also threatened by poor waste management, logging, and agricultural incursion.
So listen to Peruvian experts, who ring alarm bells and claim that Machu Picchu is in serious danger, and give this site a rest.
If you were going to spend a vacation in Peru and visit Machu Picchu, but feel disappointed after reading the previous entry, know that there's at least one more (in fact, there're many more) UNESCO site that's certainly worth visiting in this country. It's Huascarán National Park.
This park is located in the Cordillera Blanca — the world’s highest tropical mountain range. This is the place, where you can enjoy nature and see its various flora and fauna. The landscape of Huascarán ranges from glacial lakes to tropical glaciers, to towering snow-covered peaks. Breathtaking!
Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama were listed as a UNESCO Site because they're considered as exceptional examples of Spanish military architecture. These fortifications were built in the 17th and 18th centuries in order to protect the area that was important to European colonial trade.
However important and magnificent the forts are, it's sad to see them these days. The site is currently in serious danger, because it's understaffed, surrounded by unregulated urban sprawl, and threatened by deforestation.
So it's better to skip this site and let UNESCO do something to recover its beauty.
Mount Wuyi in the southern Chinese province of Fujian is another UNESCO World Heritage Site that's certainly worth visiting. By going there, you can get a glimpse of Chinese history and see its beautiful nature, all in one package. It has monasteries and temples that allowed neo-Confucianism to blossom. It's the archaeological site of the prominent administrative capital established by the Han dynasty. And, of course, it's a place of an incredible diversity of wildlife species.
So don't limit yourself with only seeing the Great Wall and come to Wuyishan.
As described on UNESCO's site, the city of Brasilia is a great example of modernist architecture and unique urban planning. The city was designed by popular architect Oscar Niemeyer "out of nothing" to move the capital of Brazil from Rio de Janeiro to a more central location.
However, the city design isn't as beautiful as it could be. Its dry and arid landscape makes Brasilia look bleak, its "futuristic" buildings are so small that the more recently built skyscrapers already overshadow them, and its large population certainly wasn't taken into account while designing the city. Unfortunately, it all makes Brasilia a fascinating experiment gone awry.
Everyone knows about the Great Barrier Reef, but few people are aware that Australia has another significant coastal formation. Ningaloo Coast has an amazing marine biodiversity that includes more than 700 fish species, 300 coral species, and 600 crustacean species. It's also part of yearly migration routes of dolphins, humpback whales, dugongs, and manta rays. Besides, up to 500 whale sharks visit the coast every year, and it's considered the world's largest gathering of the species.
And, like any other coast not spoiled by too much tourism, Ningaloo Coast also features beautiful, pristine beaches.
In 2012, UNESCO included Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin into the World Heritage List, because it's considered as a testament to centuries of heavy industry and mining. For mining history enthusiasts, this place might look exciting, because they'll get to see a museum, as well as abandoned mining facilities, and two gigantic slag heaps. But for everyone else, this mining basin probably won't be interesting at all.
Besides, since France has dozens of other UNESCO sites, better opt for any of them, instead of the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin.
Maloti-Drakensberg Park consists of two smaller parks: uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho. This site was inscribed by UNESCO for a reason - it has a combination of natural and cultural significance. Walking in Maloti-Drakensberg, visitors can explore more than 30,000 painted rock art images and, according to UNESCO, see its "exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars, and rock pools."
Do you need to know anything else, or are you already buying a ticket to South Africa?
Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's also considered as one of the Seven Medieval Wonders of the World. Besides, it's surrounded with mystery, because to this day we still don't know for sure how and with what purpose these huge stones were erected in this exact order. It's no wonder that it all makes Stonehenge an attractive place for tourists.
But let me disappoint you - in reality, this site is rather underwhelming, partly because there are crowds of tourists, who can only look at them from afar and then leave since there's nothing else to do there.
Chiribiquete National Park is an exceptional place. It's the largest national park in Colombia and the largest tropical rainforest national park in the world. This year, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and it certainly deserved this title. Chiribiquete is a home for thousands of species, including the Chiribiquete emerald hummingbird (an endemic species), blue and yellow macaws, while giant anteaters, jaguars, lowland tapirs, and pumas. Besides, the park's terrain is extremely varied, from tropical forests and rivers to caves and labyrinths.
If you want to come to Colombia and visit Chiribiquete, please keep in mind that it's about the size of Denmark and take your time!
Monticello was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself and built in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the end of the 18th century. The university's academic village (which was also designed by the Founding Father) looks pretty, as well as the university itself, and features well-kept neoclassical buildings. There's also a museum that acquaints the visitors with some parts of American history.
However, there's not much interesting to see in Monticello, as it's known mostly for who built it, not for what it is, and even history enthusiasts should better opt for Boston or Washington DC.