10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites To See in Your Lifetime, According to T+L's Travel Advisors
T+L’s travel advisors share the special UNESCO places that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
From the pyramids of Egypt to the Great Barrier Reef, there are 1,121 places around the world that have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gold standard for places of global historical and aesthetic significance. To be included on the list, the site must be of "outstanding universal value" and meet at least one of ten criteria, such as: representing a "masterpiece of human creative genius" or containing "superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty."
It would be impossible to see all of the UNESCO sites in a lifetime, so to help guide your choices, we asked T+L's top travel advisors to share their favorite, under-the-radar sites.
Tokaj Wine Region, Hungary
For a little-known UNESCO site, I'd pick the Tokaj Wine Region in Hungary. It's not all about the super sweet dessert wines any longer, even though this is what it's known for. It's more about visiting authentic little villages, meeting vintners and exploring their wines and meeting local craftspeople who are keeping the traditional arts alive. It's an area that doesn't get enough press in the US and now it has the hotels and infrastructure to make it work for a variety of travelers. — Gwen Kozlowski, Exeter International
Mount Kōya, Japan
Japan has an immense collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in well-known areas such as Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Nikko, all of which I would encourage one to see and experience. Little known to Western travelers is Mount Kōya, Japan's Buddhist mountain retreat. It's is a very spiritual and beautiful area, quite remote, and is the heart of Shingon Buddhism. It is also the resting place of the sect's founder, perhaps Japan's best-known Buddhist monk, known as both Kukai and Kobo Daishi. The eight-forested peaks of Mount Kōya reaches eight hundred meters into the clouds, surrounding the high plateau with a sense of serenity and boasting over one hundred temple complexes. — Scott Gilman, Japanquest Journeys
Lake Turkana National Parks, Kenya
We recently launched our Roar Explorer's Heli Safari program – a once-in-a-lifetime, adrenalin-fueled, highly specialized travel experience. Traveling in super high-end H130 helicopters (audited by the British Army), our clients are taken to those inaccessible and remote miracles of nature that very few people on the planet know about, let alone experience. On one of these helicopter trips I took last year, we visited Lake Turkana, the world's largest inland desert lake and the most saline of Africa's large lakes. Our journey of Lake Turkana National Parks continued by soaring over ancient cycad forests on Kenya's Northern Frontier District and touched down on the lip of the Silale Crater in Kenya's Pokot Land. A memory I recall almost every single day, is flying over thousands of pink flamingos on the shores of Lake Logipi and marveling at the exquisite patterns they make as they wade through the dense spirulina that covers the lake. —Deborah Calmeyer, Roar Africa
Ennedi Massif, Chad
This site is unique and otherworldly, and very few get to visit it. The sandstone canyons and valleys are known for incredible rock art that dates to 5000 B.C. Elsewhere in Africa, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda (which is home to the endangered mountain gorilla) is a place that everyone should see in their lifetime. — Michael Lorentz, Passage to Africa
Champagne Hillsides, France
We plan many trips that are food and wine focused and a visit to Reims, France is often included in the itineraries we plan for clients traveling to France. Reims is the unofficial capital of the champagne wine-growing region, and Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars are all listed as world heritage sites (as is the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame in the city center.) What makes this area so special are the incredible underground chalk quarries that were converted into champagne wine cellars. You sip champagne while visiting the cellars of Taittinger and Dom Perignon, and it's the magnitude of the tunnels and cellars beneath the city that distinguishes this wine-producing area from anywhere else in the world. Don't miss a visit to Domaine Pommery, located at the top of the famed Hill of Saint-Nicaise, where they display magnificent contemporary art exhibits throughout their seemingly endless underground tunnels.— Judy Stein, Ovation Travel
Southwestern Indigenous Sites, United States
Mesa Verde in Colorado and Taos Pueblo, Carlsbad Caverns and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico are some of my favorite UNESCO world heritage sites and can be combined together in a fabulous southwest road trip. Understanding and experiencing Native American culture is so vital to our history in the U.S., although we typically have more inquiries from foreign clients than we do from Americans. We get behind the scenes with local guides, to see a side to these areas that few are offered a glimpse into.-—Sandy Cunningham, Outside Go
The Historic Area of Willemstad, Curaçao is one of the most interesting areas you'll come across in the Caribbean. When you see the brightly colored building from the across the Queen Emma floating bridge it's an odd juxtaposition because the weather and colors scream Caribbean while the architecture feels like you've just landed in a quaint Dutch town. A UNESCO World Heritage since 1997, the colorful buildings date back to 1817 and were painted the bright colors when white lime finish was prohibited to protect from the glare of the sun. Curaçao is perfect for history and architecture enthusiasts like, you can spend hours wandering the narrow streets, enjoying a cocktail on the harbor, or admiring street art in Otrobanda.— Amina Dearmon, Perspectives Travel
San Antonio Missions, Texas
As a native Texan, I'm partial to the history San Antonio Missions. Most just know of The Alamo, but the site encompasses a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas, as well as an adjacent ranch. You'll see beautiful architectural and archaeological structures, farmlands, residencies, churches and granaries, as well as water distribution systems. The complexes were built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century and illustrate the Spanish Crown's efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. The San Antonio Missions are also an example of the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures, illustrated by a variety of features, including the decorative elements of churches, which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous designs inspired by nature.— Keith Waldon, Departure Lounge
Fossil Hominid Sites, South Africa
These incredible sites—which contain many of the world's oldest humanoid fossil remains dating back 3 million years—are known as the "Cradle of Mankind. " This is a full or half day excursion from from Johannesburg. — Mary Ann Ramsey, Betty Maclean Travel
Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland
One of the true advantages of using a travel advisor is the knowledge and access to sites they would otherwise not be able to see. For me, one of the top lesser-known places is the Wieliczka Salt Mines in Krakow, Poland, one of the oldest mines in the world. You can see the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th century, plus statues and chapels carved from rock salt. — Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Valerie Wilson Travel