You’ve heard of the Vatican, Athens, and Iguazú — heck, you’ve probably been there. These sites draw the big crowds, thanks in part to the UNESCO statuses they gained for their cultural significance, natural beauty, or both. What you may not know is that there are 1,092 UNESCO World Heritage sites across the globe, each chosen for the same reasons. For reasons stemming from difficulty to access to a lack of hype in guidebooks, many of these sites see far thinner crowds than others. If you’re willing to travel a bit deeper, you can check out these eight amazing and underrated UNESCO sites around the world — and have the place nearly to yourself.
1. Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, Africa
Date of Inscription: 1982
Madagascar gets all the attention for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife — DreamWorks even made a movie about it. But just north sit four islands making up the Aldabra Atoll, one of the largest coral atolls in the world. Aldabra boasts a range of habitats that easily rival the more famous island’s level of biodiversity. Due to its isolated location in the Indian Ocean, mankind has yet to disturb these habitats teeming with wildlife. Strict tourism regulations further protect the coral atoll and its population of over 150,000 Aldabra Giant tortoises — the world’s largest population of this reptile. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the white-throated rail, the last remaining flightless bird of the Western Indian Ocean.
2. Antequera Dolmens Site, Spain
Date of Inscription: 2016
Move aside, Stonehenge. Three megalithic tombs — the Menga and Viera dolmens and the Tholos of El Romeral — collectively represent one of the most remarkable examples of European prehistory and European Megalithism. Built in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, they’re hidden beneath the natural landscape, but you can find them by their location near natural landmarks La Peña de los Enamorados and El Torcal. The recent inscription of Antequera Dolmens in the southern region of Andalusia means it’s still largely unknown as a UNESCO site to the many visitors who flock to la Alhambra of Granada or the Alcazar of Sevilla.
3. Historic Centre of Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Date of Inscription: 1993
Maybe travelers miss this ancient hub of Islamic culture because of Uzbekistan’s proximity to Middle Eastern nations shown in the news for ongoing conflicts — or maybe they just can’t find it on a map. But you’ve definitely heard of the city’s most famous visitor: Marco Polo. The Italian merchant and his family set up shop here for three years due to its location along the Silk Road. While individual highlights like the beautiful brick Poi-Kalyan minaret, the Magoki Attori mosque, and the famous Ismail Samani tomb are highlights of 10th- and 11th-century Muslim architecture, it’s the entire urban center as a whole, the world’s most complete example of a Central Asian town, that stands out.
4. Huascarán National Park, Peru
Date of Inscription: 1985
Once you’ve done your obligatory visit to Machu Picchu, head northwest to the striking landscape of the Cordillera Blanca — the world’s highest tropical mountain range. Here you’ll find over 100 glacial lakes, pockets of varying vegetation, and tropical glaciers set amongst the towering, snow-covered peaks. The spectacled bear and Andean condor call this breathtaking UNESCO site home. With natural beauty like this, you’ll wish you could, too.
5. Kakadu National Park, Jabiru, Australia
Date of Inscription: 1981 (Extended 1987,1992)
The Great Barrier Reef might overshadow Australia’s Kakadu National park in popularity — but not in size. Kakadu is the continent’s largest national park and hosts a range of unique ecosystems, including mangroves, floodplains, and monsoon forests. Preserved within the park are cave paintings and rock carvings from the region’s Aboriginal population. They’ve inhabited the region consistently for over 50,000 years and continue the hunting-and-gathering tradition that began in the Pleistocene Era. A visit to Kakadu makes for a cultural and natural experience that shocks the senses.
6. Kluane/Wrangell-St Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek, Canada/USA
Date of Inscription: 1979 (Extended 1992, 1994)
If you want to see the world’s largest non-polar icefield backed by towering, snow-capped mountain ranges, you won’t be heading to Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Banff. Get off the beaten path and trek out to this underrated UNESCO site comprised of four impressive national parks along the US/Canada border at Alaska. This is one of the last remaining places on Earth where natural evolutionary and environmental changes control ecological processes. Populations of animals endangered elsewhere, like grizzly bears and Dall sheep, self-regulate and thrive in this untainted environment.
7. Historic Centre of Morelia, Mexico
Date of Inscription: 1991
At the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental range sits Morelia, a 16th-century center that showcases the combination of the Spanish Renaissance and Mesoamerican experiences. It was also one of the major centers where forces clashed during the nation’s battle for independence in the 19th century. Morelia boasts over 200 historical monuments and buildings in one place, all constructed from the region’s characteristic pink stone. The architectural mastery demonstrated in the construction of this UNESCO heritage site makes it an underrated must-see for travelers visiting Mexico.
8. Wuyishan, Fujian, China
Date of Inscription: 1999
Mount Wuyi gives visitors a look at both the biodiversity and history of China in one package. Temples and monasteries where neo-Confucianism blossomed line the epic gorges of the Nine Bend River, and Han dynasty rulers established a prominent administrative capital in the 1st century BC where an archeological site now stands. Located in the southeast province of Fujian, the area surrounding Wuyishan serves as a refuge for ancient wildlife species, many of which are native to China. While many travelers only see the Great Wall, the cultural and ecological significance of the Wuyishan make it worth the visit.
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