Our Top 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Visit
Machu Picchu, the iconic image of Peru and one that pretty much every tourist wants to visit. It stands 2,430m above sea-level in the middle of a tropical mountain forest. It’s said to be one of the most amazing urban creations of the Incan Empire – helping to make this the world heritage site that it stands to be today. Whether you’re a die-hard trekker or a gentle hiker, there will be a great way for you to discover the Lost City of the Incas.
Sucre is one of Bolivia’s most beautiful cities and the symbolic heart of the nation. A surprise to some – Sucre is also the capital of Bolivia, alongside La Paz. It’s a laid-back city, even with its old-fashioned houses and colonial churches – they’re known for still having a youthful and energetic atmosphere. Sucre has been given many different names in the past, but our favourite has to be ‘The City of Chocolate’! With plenty of shops to spoil those of you with a sweet-tooth, chocolate lovers will be in paradise with a visit to this city.
Want to be left utterly speechless? This UNESCO site will do the job! Feel the spray of the roaring Iguazu Falls, a cluster made from hundreds of cascades set within the UNESCO World Heritage National Park. The Iguazu Falls are one of the world’s largest and most impressive waterfalls and it’s not hard to see why. A trip here has got to be on your bucket list.
A historical city centre built amongst the hills, brimming with cobbled streets and colourful houses – any guesses? Located on central Chile’s Pacific coast, the Historic city of Valparaíso represents a perfect example of industrial-age heritage, associated with sea trade in the late 19th and early 20th century. A visit here gives you plenty of time to see the sights on your own – and with a guide for a city tour with a difference.
Salvador, Brazil’s party capital – yep, you heard me right! (who doesn’t love a good party?) If you want to be surrounded by fun-loving culture, street music, mouth-watering scents and smiling locals then you’ve got to make sure this UNESCO site isn’t missed off your list. As the first capital of Brazil, Salvador witnessed the blending of European, African, and Amerindian cultures. The city has managed to preserve many epic Renaissance buildings, featuring brightly-coloured houses, often decorated with fine stucco-work. Salvador will give you a real taste of the history and spirit which fills these cobbled streets.
South East Asia
The Kinabalu National Park was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Borneo. It’s one of the earth’s last frontiers of wilderness and is a natural paradise. The park is home to an incredibly diverse range of flora and fauna including the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. It’s also home to Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia. Here, your trek will begin in the tropical rainforest and continue across twisting paths up to the mountains, reaching the peak at sunrise. Just in time for that picture-perfect moment!
Considered by many people to be the soul of Laotian culture, Luang Prabang is situated in the heart of the northern mountains. The town is notable for its rich architectural & artistic heritage and is remarkably well-preserved which reflects on the true cultural traditions of the town, with old villas and narrow lanes winding between ancient temples. You can spend your days here getting lost in the magic, watching monks file into the temples at sunrise and floating down the Mekong at sunset.
Ahh, the classic Angkor Wat – the first thing that pops into our heads when anyone talks about Cambodia! But why? Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world, yes, world! It was built back in the 12th century for the King as his own temple and since then this famous structure has become a symbol for Cambodia, and even appears on their national flag. Oh, and a little fun fact for you – Angkor Wats was rated number 1 in the best UNESCO world heritage sites! You can visit the temple highlights, wander between the endless carved reliefs and learn about the fascinating history the monument has.
The tropical rainforest heritage of Sumatra is built up of 3 different National parks, forming together to make a World Heritage Site. One of them, Gunung Leuser National Park, protects a wide range of ecosystems and is home to an orangutan sanctuary, elephants, tigers, rhinos, leopards, monkeys and over 10,000 plant species! Here you can explore the unique biosphere of the tropical rainforests, spot orangutans and take a short trek through the park.
Ayutthaya is an ancient royal city offering a peaceful place to explore temple ruins and gives you a break from the bustling streets. The entire 12th-century city is situated on an island between rivers and used to be the wealthiest kingdom in Southeast Asia. You can peddle your way through the city, embracing your ‘inner Armstrong’ before cruising down the waterways of the alluring UNESCO grounds.
Hoi An is a city that no-one wants to miss. Its buildings and street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site. Once a major trading post in the 16th/17th century, nowadays Hoi-An is basically a living museum that houses old-town architecture. Some heritage buildings include; Chinese temples, Japanese-designed bridge, pagodas, wooden shop-houses, French-colonial houses and old canals. A journey here allows you to delve into the real Hoi An, watch lanterns twinkle along the river and even try your hand at local crafts!
Hiroshima will always be known for the events of 1945, but this once war-shattered city is now a place of love and prosperity. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was the only structure left standing in the area where the first atomic bomb exploded, and to this present day – it’s been preserved in the same fix as directly after the bombing. This represents a powerful symbol for the Japanese, from one of the most destructive forces ever created by human-kind. You can visit the memorial park and take time to reflect on the past of this city.
Located up in the hills with sweeping countryside views, you’ll come across Dambulla, and further in, the famous temples and caves. The temple has been a sacred pilgrimage site for many centuries. Here you’ll find caves crammed full of statues and paintings of the kings of Anuradhapura. You’ll wander through each cave and discover fascinating statues of the Grand Buddha.
2,000 years. Yep, that’s how long it took to complete building the Great Wall of China which stretches over 13,170 miles. It was built by a labour force which included soldiers, common people and criminals to help defend the invasions from the North. Today, if you wanted to walk the whole of the great wall, it would take you around 18 months! But don’t worry, you won’t have to walk for that long, you’ll follow the path for about 8km, soaking up the scenery as you go along.
In the foothills of the Himalayas, the Kathmandu Valley world heritage property is inscribed as seven monument zones. The seven monuments are all man-made wonders, some of them being as old as 2500 years. The seven sites inside Kathmandu Valley include; 3 Durbar squares – Royal Palaces where the cities’ kings were once crowned, Swayambhunath – A Buddhist stupa which has been standing for over 2000 years, Boudha Nath Stupa – one of the oldest and biggest Buddhist monuments ever built in the Himalayan Kingdom, Pashupati Nath temple – one of the holiest shrines of all the Hindu temples and Changu Narayan temple – which is considered to be the oldest temple in Nepal.
Once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, and now a UNESCO site, Hampi is a town brimming with river banks, temples, banana plantations, rice paddies and archaeological ruins. The ruins are spread over 4,100 hectares with more than 1600 surviving remains that include: forts, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, mandapas and memorial structures. We think a visit here is definitely worth it, especially when it includes a guided tour of the tumbledown temples, sipping on a lassi and a scramble up to rocky viewpoints for sunset.
India actually boasts 35 world heritage sites, so we couldn’t leave it there without including the iconic Taj Mahal – it’s pretty much the face of India and was rated as the 2nd best UNESCO heritage site in the world. The Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. It dates back to the 1600s as a tomb for the favourite wife of the Emperor. The Taj is a highlight of any India trip and any visit to North India should include a stop off here!
Trinidad in central Cuba is known for its cobbled street and old colonial town. The town is perfectly preserved and is said that it’s like the clocks were frozen in 1850, and other than the invasion of tourists, are yet to restart. It was declared as a World Heritage site in 1988 and is Cuba’s oldest and most interesting outdoor museum. If you explore the town well, you’ll even come across a nature reserve, hidden in the mountains.
But we can’t stop there – Cuba’s rustic cigar region, Vinales, is a world heritage scenic town with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants around the main square. The Vinales valley is encircled by mountains with dramatic landscapes. The traditional methods of agriculture (notably tobacco growing) have survived no change for several centuries and the region also preserves a rich tradition in its architecture, crafts and music. You can explore the valley on horse and on foot, learning about the art of cigar-rolling and meet the local guajiros.
Leon is a vibrant cultural city, home to the largest cathedral in Latin America, packed with artists, students and philosophers. León Viejo is said to be one of the earliest cities of Spanish America and was of great importance to Nicaragua, being its first colonial capital. You can’t help but notice the history of this place as you catch a glimpse of the cultural heritage of this enigmatic city.