There are 1031 cultural and natural heritage sites around the world being preserved by UNESCO. The agency has been working hard since the 1970s to ensure forests, architecture and other places considered unique, authentic and of world importance remain protected from the test of time.
You’ve heard of Easter Island and the Grand Canyon but they’re not the only World Heritages Sites you need to discover. We’ve compiled a list of five places only true travel geeks will know about. Get ready for your wanderlust levels to skyrocket.
1 ELLORA CAVES
If, for you, the Taj Mahal and Goa seem overrun with tourists and hippies in the midst of mid-life crises, you should schedule a trip to the 34 monasteries and temples that make up the Ellora Caves. They were built into the wall of a high basalt cliff, extend over more than 2 km and date from A.D. 600 to 1000. Fans of monumental buildings, hobby historians and those in search of spirituality should make their way here.
The rural town of Lalibela in the heart of Ethiopia was one of the first sites protected by UNESCO, back in 1978. The ‘New Jerusalem’ will bewitch you with its 11 colossal medieval churches carved into the ground. They date back to the 13th century and are thought to have been built on the instruction of King Lalibela during his reign. Today, it remains a place of pilgrimage and devotion.
3 ALDABRA ATOLL
If you’re searching for natural beauty, Aldabra Atoll has to go on your list of fantasy destinations. The archipelago in the Indian Ocean is one of the 115 Seychelles and is striking in every detail: from its stunning raised coral reef and lagoons, to its birdlife and the largest population of giant turtles in the world. Best of all, the picture-perfect paradise has remained untouched by people for the majority of its existence.
4 WUDANG MOUNTAINS
Those who dare to venture all the way to the Wudang Mountains will be rewarded with a simply breathtaking view. Here, in the mountainous region of China’s Hubei Province, they will find the old temples and monasteries of Taoism dating back to the 7th century. Much of the palaces and halls are from as far back as the Ming Dynasty, and they embody the exquisite history and quality of Chinese art and architecture. For centuries, people travelled here to learn from the luminaries of meditation, medicines and martial arts – what better location could they have chosen?
5 WADI AL-HITAN
The Whale Valley as it is also known will have any amateur paleontologist’s heart racing thanks to its fossil collection of the earliest suborder of whales. The region tells a unique and important story of evolution, but if you’re not into your remains of prehistoric animals, there’s still plenty to enjoy. Visitors are welcome to explore the reserve and enjoy the pristine views of the Egyptian desert. Just make sure you don’t step on anything you shouldn’t.