Countries spend a lot of years in developing some of their sites to be able to get into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage List. They need to convince the United Nations that they are committed to protecting their sites. Since 1978, UNESCO has been adding 25 global sites to the World Heritage List every year and there are now over 1,000 sites. If you’re curious about them, here are 20 of the world’s most beautiful world heritage sites included in the list.
1. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is located in Cambodia. It is a famous temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally built as a Hindu temple for the god Vishnu, and for the Khmer Empire. Towards the end of the 12 century, it gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple.
It is the best-preserved temple at the site and the only one to have remained a significant religious center since it was founded. It became the country’s prime attraction for visitors and the symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag.
If you want to visit Angkor Wat, it is just a 20-minute tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap City. There are usually a lot of tourists when the weather is dry and the temperatures are cool especially between November and February.
The Acropolis is located on the rocky outcrop on top of the city of Athens in Greece. It has the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance such as the Propylaea, Temple of Athena, Erechtheum, Theatre of Dionysus, and the most famous among them, the Parthenon.
The name Acropolis came for the Greek words akron, meaning, highest point, and polis meaning, city. Before, it was known as Cecropia, which was taken from the legendary serpent-man Cecrops, the first Athenian king. If you travel to Greece, it’s possible to tour the Acropolis of Athens on foot.
Bagan is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. It was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, from the 9th to 13th centuries, which was the kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the height of the kingdom, there were more than ten thousand Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries that were constructed in the Bagan plains.
The main attraction of the country’s tourism is the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Many people see it as equal in attraction to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The place is serviced by flights, buses, and trains from Yangon. There are also available accommodations in the surrounding villages of New Bagan and Nyaung Oo.
4. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands which are part of the Republic of Ecuador. These islands are distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. They surround the center of the Western Hemisphere which is 906 km west of continental Ecuador.
These islands are popular because there are a number of endemic species here which were studied by Charles Darwin during the second voyage of HMS Beagle. His collections and contributions have contributed to his theory of evolution by means of natural selection.
The national language on the islands is Spanish and it has a population of over 25 thousand. These islands are serviced by flights from Quito and Guayaquil. If you want to explore the islands, it’s best to go on multi-day boat cruises.
5. Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia
Goreme is located among the “fairy chimney” rock formations in the town of Cappadocia, which is a historical region in Turkey. The rock formations in Cappadocia could date back to the Hittite era between 1800 and 1200 BC. They are situated between rivaling empires such as the Greeks and Persians. When the Roman era came, the place became home to Christians who were retreating from Rome.
The UNESCO added the Goreme National Park to the World Heritage List in 1985. The site is kind of remote and if you want to visit it, you can choose to fly in from Istanbul.
6. Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is known as the world’s largest coral reef system. It is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It is composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands which stretch for more than 2,300 kilometers on an area of about 344,400 square kilometers.
It is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms which are known as coral polyps. In fact, it can be seen from outer space. It is known to support a wide diversity of life. It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and was labeled by CNN as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It was also named as a state icon of Queensland by the Queensland National Trust.
If you want to visit the reef, you can do it via day trips from Northern Queensland ports like Cairns and Port Douglas. But if you plan to visit larger islands, you can take flights from mainland Australia.
Hampi is located in east-central Karnataka in India. In the 14th century, it became the center of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire capital. Hampi was said to be a prosperous, wealthy, and grand city near the Tungabhadra River with a lot of temples, farms, and trading markets based on the chronicles from Persian and European travelers, most particularly the Portuguese.
It was referred to as the world’s second largest medieval-era city after Beijing by the 1500 CE. It was also probably India’s richest during that time which attracted the traders from Persia and Portugal. However, in 1565, the Vijayanagara Empire was defeated by Muslim sultanates and the capital was pillaged and destroyed. After that, Hampi remained in ruins.
The ruins of Hampi are spread over 4,100 hectares in Karnataka near the modern-era city of Hosapete. According to UNESCO, it is an “austere grandiose site” that holds over 1,600 surviving remains of the last great Hindu kingdom in South India.
If you want to visit Hampi, it is serviced by overnight bus from Goa. There are also low to mid-range lodgings around Hampi village for tourists.
8. Iguazu National Park
The Iguazu National Park is located in the province of Misiones Argentine Mesopotamia. It is the national park of Argentina. It was created in 1934 with the mission of protecting one of the greatest natural beauties of Argentina which is the Iguazu Falls. It is also surrounded by a subtropical jungle.
Ten thousand years ago, the area of the park was inhabited by the hunter-gatherers of the Eldoradense culture. But around 1,000 CE, they were exiled by the Guarani who bought new agricultural technologies. In the 16th century, the Spanish and Portuguese displaced the Guarani even though their legacy was still alive in the area.
The Iguazu National Park was included in the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1984. If you want to see the Iguazu Falls, you can take a bus ride from the city of Foz do Iguacu which only takes half an hour.
9. Los Glaciares National Park
Los Glaciares National Park is located in Santa Cruz Province in Argentina. It is a federally protected area which is the largest national park in the country. The park was established on May 11, 1937. It hosts an illustrative sample of the Magellanic subpolar forest and west Patagonian steppe biodiversity. It was declared as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
The name Los Glaciares refers to the giant ice cap in the Andes. It is the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica, Greenland, and Iceland, feeding 47 large glaciers and 13 of which flow towards the Atlantic Ocean.
If you want to tour around Los Glaciares National Park, you can take a flight or a bus from Buenos Aires. Many visitors of the park base themselves in El Calafate which is the closest town to the park’s entrance.
10. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu or Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca citadel that is located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machupicchu District in Peru. It is situated on a mountain ridge that is 2,430 meters above sea level. It is above the Sacred Valley, 80 kilometers northwest of Cuzco where the Urubamba River flows.
Machu Picchu was believed to be created for Pachacuti, the Inca emperor from 1438 to 1472. It was constructed in the classical Inca style with polished dry-stone walls. There are three primary structures here which are the Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana, and the Room of the Three Windows.
Many of the outlying buildings here were reconstructed to show tourists a better idea of how it originally looked like. About thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored in 1976 and the reconstruction continues. In 1981, it was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary and in 1983 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you want to visit Machu Picchu, there are several multi-day treks there. You can also take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes then climb a steep flight of stairs or take a bus up to the site.
Mont-Saint-Michel, or Saint Michael’s Mount in English, is an island and mainland community that is located in Normandy, France. Since the ancient times, the island has held strategic fortifications and it has been the seat of the monastery since the 8th century AD from which it draws its name.
It was originally founded by an Irish hermit who gathered a following from the local community. The site was used as an Armorican stronghold of the Gallo-Roman culture and power in the 6th and 7th centuries. Before the first monastic establishment was built in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe.
It is one of France’s most recognizable landmarks and over 3 million people visit it every year. There are more than 60 buildings within the Mont-Saint-Michel community that is protected in France as monuments historiques. Mont-Saint-Michel was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979.
You can visit Mont-Saint-Michel by riding a bus from Rennes and St. Malo. You can also stay in one of their small hotels.
Petra is a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan. It is originally known as Raqmu to its inhabitants. It is located on the slope of Jabal Al-Madbah, in the middle of the mountains that form the eastern flank of Arabah valley, running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.
The site is believed to have been settled in 9,000 BC and established as the capital city of the Nabatean Kingdom in the 4th century BC. The earliest recorded historical reference to Petra was in 312 BC when it was raided by the Greek Antigonids.
Petra is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. In fact, it is also referred to as the Rose City because of the color of the stone out of which it is carved. It was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and was described as the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.
It is a symbol of Jordan and its most visited attraction. If you want to visit the site, you can take a bus from Amman. Tours can also be organized in Egypt.
13. Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza or the Giza pyramid complex is located on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt. It is an archaeological site on the Giza Plateau which comprises the three Great Pyramids namely, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Aside from that, it also contains the Great Sphinx, some cemeteries, a worker’s village, and an industrial complex. It is in the Western Desert which is 9km west of the Nile river.
These pyramids became prevalent in the Hellenistic period when the Great Pyramid was included by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Based on theories, the pyramids of Giza, as well as the other structures, were constructed to house the remains of the deceased Pharaoh who ruled over Ancient Egypt.
14. Rapa Nui
Rapa Nui is popularly known as Easter Island. It is a Chilean island in the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. It became famous because of its extant monumental statues called Moai. There are about 1,000 statues in the site and they were created by the early Rapa Nui people. Easter Island was named as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1995.
Based on some theories, it is believed that Rapa Nui’s Polynesian inhabitants arrived on the site sometime in the 12th century AD and created a thriving and industrious culture. The enormous stone moai and other artifacts stood as evidence of their culture.
In 1888, Chile made Easter Island its annex and in 1966, the Rapa Nui people were granted Chilean citizenship. Rapa Nui is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and it is considered as part of Insular Chile.
If you want to visit Easter Island, you can access it by air from Tahiti or you can opt for a five-and-a-half-hour flight from Santiago, Chile.
15. Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti National Park is located in northwestern Tanzania in Africa. It is a Tanzanian national park in the Serengeti ecosystem in the Mara and Simiyu regions. This park became famous because of the annual migration of more than 1.5 million white-bearded wildebeest. There are also 250,000 zebra and numerous Nile crocodile and honey badger in the site.
It covers 14,750 square kilometers of grasslands, plans, savanna, riverine forest and woodlands. It is divided into three regions which are the Serengeti plains, the Western corridor, and the Northern Serengeti. Humans are not allowed to live in the park except for the staff of the National Park, researchers, and staff of different lodges, campsites, and hotels.
The most popular animals that tourists will see in the Serengeti National Park are the East African lion, African leopard, African bush elephant, Eastern black rhinoceros, and African buffalo. It was listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because of its biodiversity and ecological significance.
If you want to visit Serengeti National Park, you can access it via Kilimanjaro or Nairobi airports.
Sigiriya, or also known as Sinhagiri, is an ancient rock fortress situated in the northern Matale District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It was built by King Kasyapa (477 to 495 CE) as his new capital. He decorated its sides with colorful frescoes. He also built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion on a small plateau about halfway up the side. It also consists if an ancient citadel which was built by King Kashyapa in the 5th century.
Today, Sigiriya is listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It is an example of ancient urban planning that is best preserved. If you want to visit the site, you can take a local bus from the city of Kandy which takes about two to three hours.
Tulum is a pre-Columbian Mayan walled city which served as a major port for Coba. It is located on tall cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya.
Tulum was very successful between the 13th and 15th centuries and it managed to survive for 70 years after Mexico was occupied by the Spanish. It is one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites and a popular site for tourists in the present time.
You can easily visit Tulum because it is located just a few minutes’ drives from the Yucatan Peninsula. The ruins lie 60 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen, and 60 kilometers from Cancun.
Valletta is the capital city of Malta. It is located in the southeast of the island between Marsamxett Harbor and Grand Harbor. It is also the southernmost capital of Europe. It features 16th-century buildings that were built by the Knights Hospitaller. It is Baroque in character with the elements of Neo-classical, Mannerist, and Modern architecture. However, the Second World War has left major scars on the city of Valletta and the Royal Opera House was destroyed.
Today, the site consists of bastions, curtains, and cavaliers together with the beautiful Baroque palaces, gardens, and churches. In 1980, Valletta was recognized by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites.
Valletta is just south of Sicily and if you want to visit the place, it is connected by flights from across Europe.
19. Venice and Its Lagoon
Venice is the capital of the Veneto region and is a city in northeastern Italy. It is found across a group of small islands which are separated by canals and connected by bridges. These islands are within the shallow Venetian Lagoon. It is an enclosed bay lying between the mouths of the Po and Piave rivers. It is around 500 square kilometers and 8 percent of it is land.
Some parts of Venice are popular because of the beautiful settings, architecture, and artwork. Part of the city and the lagoon are listed by the UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites.
If you want to visit Venice, it is served by nearby Marco Polo and Treviso airports. In the western part of the city, there are trains that arrive at the Venezia Santa Lucia train station.
20. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It is an American National Park that was established by the US Congress. On March 1, 1872, it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. It was the first national park in the US and also widely held as the first national park in the world.
The park is famous for its wildlife and geothermal features like the Old Faithful geyser which is its most popular feature. It also includes different types of ecosystems but the richest among them is the subalpine forest. You can find grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk in this park.
It also includes the Yellowstone Lake which is one of the largest lakes in North America that is high-elevated. It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera which is the largest active super volcano in the continent. Yellowstone was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It is the most famous megafauna location in the contiguous United States.
Most of the tourists who visit Yellowstone National Park choose to drive throughout the park, camping en route.
These are 20 of the world’s most beautiful world heritage sites. All of these places are indeed wonderful and deserving to be included in the list. So, which of these heritage sites would you like to visit soon?