Unesco World Heritage Sites

We get a lot of questions from folks about UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as they tend to feature prominently in our itineraries and on this blog. Lori and I are both avid fans of, not only the places that tend to receive the UNESCO designation and status, but also the UNESCO institution, itself. Much of the information here was adapted from whc.unesco.org.

But what is UNESCO?

Well, firstly, it’s a UN agency, which may tell you a bit about the structure, history, and membership of the organization, if you’re familiar with the United Nations.

More specifically, UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

UNESCO came into being in 1946 with the aim of contributing “to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.”

In response to the peril in which many of the world’s great cultural and natural heritage sights found themselves in the mid-20th century, largely due to rapid industrialization and population growth, the Johnson administration called for a World Heritage Trust conference to examine how to preserve and conserve such areas for future generations.

Such efforts largely contributed to the formation of the World Heritage Program which was founded by UNESCO’s adoption of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage on November 16, 1972.

As of 2017, the convention has been ratified by 193 nations, with 1,007 UNESCO World Heritage-inscribed sites across the globe (check out the full list here).

Of the sites, 832 are cultural, 206 are natural, and 35 are mixed.

By country, Italy boasts the most World Heritage Sites (53), followed by China (52), Spain (46), France (43), Germany (41), India (35) and Mexico (34).

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of many UNESCO Sites, such as India’s Taj Mahal, Greece’s Acropolis, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Peru’s Machu Picchu, Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, Italy’s Venice, and the U.S.’s Yellowstone National Park, to name a few.

To be considered for UNESCO status, the site must meet at least one of ten criteria. UNESCO-designated sites receive special protections under international law such as the Geneva Convention in times of war. Additionally, such sites receive funding for conservation from the World Heritage Fund.

Lori and I find that UNESCO World Heritage Sites are among the most fascinating and worthwhile places to visit and, as such, we try to make a special effort to visit such sites, whether they be natural or manmade, standalone sites or entire cities.

Below is our ongoing list of the World Heritage Sites we’ve visited during our travels over the years, with links to relevant posts we’ve written about each site.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited

2023MexicoIslands & Protected Areas of the Gulf of CaliforniaD/L/N/R
2022MexicoHospicio Cabañas, GuadalajaraD/L/N/R
2021, 2006MexicoSan Miguel & Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno de AtotonilcoLori (+D/N/R 2021)
2020, 2012CambodiaAngkorDavid/Lori (+N/R 2020)
2018, 2017, 2016, 2012LaosTown of Luang PrabangDavid/Lori (+Noe 2016-18)
2017ThailandHistoric City of AyutthayaDavid/Lori/Noe
2016LaosPlain of Jars (desig. 2019)David/Lori/Noe
2016BelgiumHistoric Centre of BruggeDavid/Lori/Noe
2014KenyaKenya Lake System in the Great Rift ValleyDavid/Lori
2014TanzaniaStone Town ZanzibarDavid/Lori
2014MozambiqueIsland of Mozambique (Ilha de Mocambique)David/Lori
2014, 2005Lesotho/S.AfricaMaloti-Drakensberg ParkDavid (+Lori 2014)
2014South AfricaCape Floral Region Protected AreaDavid/Lori
2014TurkeyHistoric Areas of IstanbulDavid/Lori
2014MexicoPre-Hispanic City of Chichen-ItzaDavid/Lori
2014, 2013BelizeBelize Barrier Reef Reserve SystemDavid/Lori
2013NetherlandsSingelgracht Canal System, AmsterdamDavid
2012VietnamHa Long BayDavid/Lori
2012VietnamHoi An Ancient TownDavid/Lori
2012IndiaMountain Railways of IndiaDavid/Lori
2012IndiaTaj MahalDavid/Lori
2012IndiaAgra FortDavid/Lori
2012IndiaFatehpur SikriDavid/Lori
2012IndiaRed Fort ComplexDavid/Lori
2012IndiaQutb Minar and its Monuments, DelhiDavid/Lori
2012IndiaHill Forts of RajasthanDavid/Lori
2012IndiaChhatrapati Shivaji (Victoria) TerminusDavid/Lori
2012IndiaGroup of Monuments at MahabalipuramDavid/Lori
2012ChinaClassical Gardens of SuzhouDavid/Lori
2012ChinaThe Great WallDavid/Lori
2012ChinaImperial Palaces of the Ming & Qing Dynasties, BeijingDavid/Lori
2012ChinaMount TaishanDavid/Lori
2012ChinaAncient City of Ping YaoDavid/Lori
2012ChinaMausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Terracotta Warriors)David/Lori
2012ChinaOld Town of LijiangDavid/Lori
2012ChinaThree Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected AreasDavid/Lori
2012South AfricaFossil Hominid SitesDavid
2011KenyaLamu Old TownDavid
2011USALa Fortaleza San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto RicoDavid/Lori
2010, 2004USAIndependence Hall, PhiladelphiaDavid/Lori
2010Dominican Rep.Colonial City of Santo DomingoDavid/Lori
2010USAMonticello and the U. of Virginia, CharlottesvilleDavid/Lori
2010EcuadorHistoric Center of Santa Ana de los Rios de CuencaDavid/Lori
2010EcuadorCity of QuitoDavid/Lori
2010Ecuador/PeruAndean Road SystemDavid/Lori
2010PeruCity of CuzcoDavid/Lori
2010PeruHistoric Sanctuary of Machu PicchuDavid/Lori
2010PeruHistoric Center of the City of ArequipaDavid/Lori
2010PeruHistoric Center of LimaDavid/Lori
2009HondurasMaya Site of CopanLori
2009MexicoPre-Hispanic City of TeotihuacanLori
2009MexicoHistoric Center of Mexico CityLori
2009MexicoHistoric Center of Oaxaca & Monte Alban Archaeological SiteLori
2009MexicoPre-Hispanic City and National Park of PalenqueLori
2009MexicoCentral University City Campus of UNAMLori
2008USAMesa Verde National ParkLori
2008USAEverglades National ParkLori
2008USAGreat Smoky Mountains National ParkLori
2006MexicoHistoric Town Guanajuato (and mines)Lori
2006MexicoHistoric Center of ZacatecasLori
2006MexicoHospicio Cabanas, GuadalajaraLori
2003USAHawaii Volcanoes National ParkLori
2002PortugalCultural Landscape of SintraLori
2002SpainAlhambra, Generalife and Albayzin, GranadaLori
2002SpainHistoric Center of CordobaLori
2002SpainMonastery & Site of the Escurial, MadridLori
2002SpainWorks of Antoni GaudiLori
2002SpainOld Town of Segovia and its AqueductLori
2002SpainHistoric City of ToledoLori
2002SpainCathedral, Alcazar and Archivo de Indias in SevilleLori
2002SpainArchaeological Ensemble of MeridaLori
2000USAStatue of LibertyDavid
2000United KingdomFrontiers of the Roman EmpireDavid
2000United KingdomOld and New Towns of EdinburghDavid
2000United KingdomLiverpool Maritime Mercantile CityDavid
2000AustriaHistoric Center of the City of SalzburgDavid
2000ItalyVenice and its LagoonDavid
2000ItalyHistoric Center of FlorenceDavid
2000Holy See/ItalyHistoric Center of RomeDavid
2000Holy SeeVatican CityDavid
2000ItalyHistoric Center of NaplesDavid
2000GreeceAcropolis, AthensDavid
1996USAWaterton Glacier International Peace ParkLori
VariousSouth AfricaRobben IslandDavid / Lori
VariousGuatemalaAntigua GuatemalaDavid & Lori
VariousGuatemalaTikal National ParkDavid & Lori
VariousUnited KingdomWestminister AbbeyDavid / Lori
VariousUnited KingdomTower of LondonDavid / Lori
VariousUSAYosemite National ParkLori
VariousUSAOlympic National ParkDavid / Lori
VariousUSARedwood National and State ParksDavid / Lori
VariousUSAGrand Canyon National ParkDavid / Lori
VariousUSAYellowstone National ParkLori / David

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