10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Add to Your Travel Bucket List
Travel the World for These Must-See Sites
by Brian Major
If you’re seeking a vacation that combines cultural immersion with a bit of adventure, you should consider visiting one of the global destinations recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Sites.
Globetrotters will be fascinated by these unique hotspots, routinely found on several travelers’ bucket-list experiences. World Heritage cities have been judged by U.N. officials as important to “the collective interests of humanity” due to their “cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance.”
...take a tour of an ancient Egyptian temple, hike a dormant volcano in the Caribbean, or explore an 18th century sacred city in Vietnam...
These landmarks of “special cultural or physical significance” include historic cities, legendary monuments, man-made structures and natural wonders: picturesque mountain peaks, lush forests, idyllic islands and pristine wilderness areas.
With a travel-agent customized itinerary, you can take a tour of an ancient Egyptian temple, hike a dormant volcano in the Caribbean, or explore an 18th century sacred city in Vietnam. Check out our list of amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites you should consider adding to your travel bucket list.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Part of Tanzania’s Serengeti ecosystem in the Mara and Simiyu regions, Serengeti National Park is a 5,700 square mile reserve. This sweeping natural landscape offers adventure-seeking vacationers safari excursions where they can view the national park’s stunning wildlife, including wildebeest, zebras, Nile crocodiles, gazelles and impalas.
An experienced travel agent can arrange a regional safari excursion for you to explore the oldest park in Tanzania.
Abu Simbel Temples, Egypt
The massive Abu Simbel rock temples in southern Egypt were carved into the mountainside in the 13th century B.C., under the rule of Pharaoh Ramesses II.
Visiting the towering, iconic temples is a once-in-a lifetime experience for history and culture buffs. Work with a travel advisor to create an Egypt itinerary that includes a visit to see these Nubian Monuments.
The World Heritage capital city of Quito offers travelers an intriguing mix of outdoor adventure and cultural exploration. Located atop a plateau 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito’s is flanked by five towering volcanoes (the “Avenue of Volcanoes”).
Located outside of the city, the Cotopaxi volcano region includes a national park where mountain bike trails offer stunning views of mountain peaks. Visitors can take a horseback excursion across sweeping plains in sight of working ranchers.
Quito also features one of the world’s best-preserved colonial districts. An experienced travel agent can arrange a stay at Casa Gangotena, a boutique luxury hotel just a short walk from cobblestone streets lined with ancient churches, mansions, trendy restaurants and shops.
Piton Mountains, St. Lucia
Another destination for active travelers is the Pitons, a World Heritage site on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Gros Piton measures 2,530 feet high and Petit Piton 2,438 feet; both feature lush foliage, including more than 100 plant species, plus rare trees and exotic birds.
Feeling adventurous? Go hiking along Gros Islet’s trail for Instagram-worthy views of the majestic mountains and the Caribbean coast. A travel agent can help you plan your stay at a luxury resort or hotel like Jade Mountain and Ladera – both located on the mountainside with suites that open up to a draw-dropping view of the Caribbean Sea. Still not convinced about traveling to St. Lucia? Find out why this island paradise topped our list of Top 6 Honeymoon Destinations.
Forbidden City, China
The former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty, widely known as the Forbidden City, is a must-visit attraction for curious travelers interested in Eastern culture and traditional Chinese architecture.
Today the central Beijing complex houses China’s Palace Museum, where you can view an extensive collection of artwork and artifacts from the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. An expert travel agent can package a customized tour of the remarkable 180 acre-site with a stay at a luxury hotel in Beijing.
Imperial City, Hue, Vietnam
Vietnam’s Imperial City offers culturally curious travelers an opportunity to delve into a World Heritage site revered in ancient as well as modern times. The 18th century Emperor Nguyen Anh designated Hue the seat of Vietnam’s contemporary and ancestral power by constructing a walled city facing the Huong (Perfume) River.
The complex once featured an imperial palace, gated courtyards, gardens and pavilions, but it was heavily damaged by the tide-turning Tet Offensive battle in 1968. Of 160 original buildings, 10 remain for visitors to explore, including the Thai Hoa and Can Thanh temples.
Palace of Versailles, France
Travelers who dream of indulging in the luxury of classic European royalty should visit France’s Palace of Versailles, the world-famous Heritage Site located about 12 miles outside of Paris.
Visitors to Vesailles can explore Louis XIV’s former royal residence, including the ceremonial Hall of Mirrors and Royal Opera. This is one of Europe’s most-visited attractions, so plan ahead with a travel agent who can help arrange an exclusive tour of the site.
Fans of the classic film The Maltese Falcon will recognize the Knights of Templar, the crusaders who built this distinct Mediterranean city. Valletta’s white stone fortifications, walls, and buildings seem to sprout out of the blue Mediterranean itself. And grand palaces, lush gardens and imposing churches are just behind the bleached stone walls.
Travelers can wander Valletta, Malta, whose streets are laid out in a rectangular grid plan, along paths that wind along 150-feet tall walls that overlook the sea. With help from a travel agent, plan your stay when the city plays host to one of its many music festivals or carnivals.
Taputapuatea Marae, French Polynesia
Some World Heritage sites offer a spiritual experience. That’s certainly true for visitors to Marae Taputapuatea, a large marae (a Polynesian communal or sacred site for religious and social gatherings) complex in Taputapuatea on the southeastern coast of Raiatea.
Visit the imposing stone structures that once formed Eastern Polynesia’s central temple and religious center. And stroll through the places where Pacific priests and navigators gathered to offer sacrifices to their gods and share knowledge for an immersive experience you won’t soon forget.
Rapa Nui National Park, Isla de Pascua, Chile
Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name of Easter Island, whose national park in Chile is a UNESCO World Heritage Site revered by travelers for generations. The park’s fame and World Heritage status are based on the 887 (existing) "moai" (stone statues) attributed to the Rapa Nui civilization that inhabited the island around 300 AD.
Adventure-seeking travelers can explore this historic site with help from a travel agent, who can arrange your stay in an upscale hotel in Santiago or Valparaiso in addition to a multi-day excursion to Rapa Nui National Park.
Inspired by this article and want to speak with an expert travel agent about how you can plan a vacation to a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent, who can customize an itinerary you’re going love.