In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (better known as UNESCO) began designating World Heritage Sites — monuments, cities, buildings, mountains, islands, lakes and other manmade and natural features — that UNESCO works to preserve and protect. There are now over 1,000 of these sites all around the world, and while all worth seeing, some are absolute can’t-miss destinations. Here are 12 unbelievably gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
12 Amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites
1. Petra, Jordan
One of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is a Nabataean city famous for the building facades carved into its beautiful rose-hued rock. Petra’s location, between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, mean it has both Hellenistic and Asian influences. Spend a couple days exploring the miles long rock canyons, passages, and gorges in the mountains. Be warned, though, when there many locals aggressively hawk everything for jewelry to camel rides.
2. Grand Canyon, United States
Undoubtedly one of the most famous canyons in the world, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, lives up to its reputation. At almost 300 miles long and more than a mile deep in some places, the Canyon is a sight to behold. For those who want to do more than just look, rafting, hiking, and running tours are all available in the area.
3. Easter Island, Chile
Humans love a good mystery, and the moai statues on Easter Island, giant stone heads carved by the people of Rapa Nui, are just that. Little history exists on the island, leading visitors to try to guess exactly what purpose such statues served.
4. The Alhambra, Spain
Many often forget that Spain wasn’t always Spanish. Just a few hundred years ago, the Iberian Peninsula was also home to the Moors, who put their capital in Granada. Even after King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain undertook the Reconquista, they kept the Alhambra as a palace for themselves.
5. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza have been treasured since they were named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, more than 2,000 years ago. Even this many years later, the behemoth structures are still a sight to behold.
6. Chichen Itza, Mexico
Though most of the Maya empire was spread over Central America, one great Mayan ruin remains today on the eastern coast of Mexico, not far from Cancun. Chichen Itza, which was inhabited by the Maya people from 750-1250 A.D. is a sight to behold, with temples, pyramids, and other structures fully intact.
7. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu is notable for both its manmade structure and the beautiful tropical mountain forest that surrounds it. A creation of the Inca Empire, it was cut into a mountain with walls and terraces, straddling both the Andes mountains and the Amazon basin.
8. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, is a feast for the eyes for the snorkelers and divers able to explore the spot. It’s also home to threatened and endangered species — some of which might not be around for much longer.
9. Iguazu National Park, Argentina
This subtropical rainforest that straddles the border between Argentina and Brazil is famous for its roaring waterfall. That’s not it’s only attraction though, with thousands of species of plants and colorful wildlife that call the forest home.
10. Giant’s Causeway Ireland
Ireland is called the Emerald Isle for a reason — almost the entire country is verdant green. Giant’s Causeway, however, is a little different. Its thousands of black basalt columns that were said to be steps for giants crossing over to Scotland. Geologists, however, have discovered the columns were created by nearby volcanic activity.
11. Amsterdam Canals
Amsterdam was originally founded on the banks of the river, but today that body of water has been replaced by a system of canals. The canals have made the city extremely picturesque, with many houseboats, bridges, and, of course, bicycles.
12. Socotra Archipelago, Yemen
The Socotra Archipelago, just off the Horn of Africa and sometimes called the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean,” is home to unique and diverse species of both flora and fauna. In fact, many of the species do not occur anywhere else in the world, and must be seen here.
This article was written by Isabella Sayyah.