Must-See New UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Civilization is older than we thought. And since 1978, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has sought to protect places with undeniable value to humanity. Any place added to the coveted World Heritage Sites list earns bragging rights, prestige and money for its conservation.
Between 2020 and 2021, UNESCO added a total of 34 new World Heritage Sites from around the world. But because time is limited and because being important doesn’t always mean being worthy of a visit, we’ve chosen the best of them
These are the coolest new World Heritage Sites.
15. Sudanese-Style Mosques
Location: Northern Ivory Coast
Date: 17th-19th century
The Legacy of Sudanese-Style Mosques
This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of eight mosques situated in northern Ivory Coast. The mosques are made with adobe and showcase a particular Sudanese style that is characterized by buttresses and protruding log beams that stick out from the wall.
These particular mosques are the best preserved of the style in the country. They are seen as evidence of the spread of Islam in the region. Their uniqueness and significance make them a site you definitely want to visit.
14. The Slate Landscape
Location: Northwest Wales, United Kingdom
The Legacy of the Slate Landscape
Throughout the Industrial Revolution, northwest Wales became the site of slate mining. The activity profoundly changed the landscape, as well as the region’s culture. Though mining mostly ceased at the onset of World War I, you can still see the mark that slate left on the region.
Now a UNESCO-recognized site, the slate landscape has abandoned mines, old settlements and numerous vestiges of the production process of the industry. The settlements are particularly interesting, ranging from the homes where the miners resided to the large estates of those who owned and managed the mines.
The site is worth seeing when you’re driving through northwest Wales.
13. Japan’s Southern Islands
Location: Ryukyu Islands, Japan
The Legacy of Japan’s Southern Islands
Four uninhabited islands, Amami-Oshima, Tokunoshima, Iriomote and northern Okinawa, are included in this natural heritage site.
The islands have been recognized as biodiversity hotspots, given the numerous endemic and protected species that live within their boundaries. Uninhabited by humans, they have provided a safe haven for these species that include bats, reptiles and plants.
They are also undeniably beautiful in the way only truly wild spaces can be.
12. The Porticoes of Bologna
Location: Bologna, Italy
Date: 12th century
The Legacy of the Porticoes of Bologna
One of Bologna’s most notorious architectural features are its porticoes. These arched columns provide tunnel-like walkways in various parts of the city.
Materials and dates vary, with stone, wood, brick and even concrete appearing in different structures. Some date back to the 12th century, while others were built in the 20th century, following the tradition while adding modern elements.
Though it is not the only city with porticoes, the structures are so emblematic of Bologna, that they make part of its self-image and are a source of pride for locals. If you visit Bologna, you won’t be able to miss them if you try.
11. Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex
Location: Casma Valley, Peru
Date: 250-200 B.C.
The Legacy of the Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex
As the cradle of many indigenous civilizations, it is not surprising that Peru would have a new site recognized by UNESCO. The Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex is a group of structures that served as a giant sun calendar.
What’s amazing about this site is how precise its calendrical calculations were, usually within one or two days of our modern calendars. The complex was used to observe and mark events like the solstices and equinoxes.
There are also centers believed to have had religious functions, serving as places to worship the sun as a deity. If you love archaeology, don’t skip this site.
10. Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex
Location: Phetchaburi, Thailand
The Legacy of Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex
Located on the Thai border with Myanmar, this complex was established in 1981 as a protected natural space. Its location marks a meeting point for the ecosystems of the Himalaya, Sumatra and Indochina, meaning that it is home to many diverse and endangered species.
When you visit, be on the lookout for Asian giant tortoises, Asiatic wild dogs, dusky leaf monkeys, tigers, leopards and Asian elephants — the park’s crown jewel.
Visiting the park is also a way to support its conservation efforts and make sure that its habitats aren’t lost to the overdevelopment that plagues much of the region (and let’s be honest, the world).
9. Korean Tidal Flats
Location: West Sea, South Korea
The Legacy of Korean Tidal Flats
South Korea’s West Sea (otherwise known as the Yellow Sea) has several getbol, or tidal flats. Their value is in the unique ecosystems that can be found here, as well as the species that can’t find a home anywhere else.
Though other places in the region have tide flats, South Korea has worked hard to preserve theirs, providing a habitat to mud octopuses, fiddler crabs, Yellow Sea sand snails and more.
For travelers, the allure is that these places are absolutely gorgeous, particularly during sunset.
8. The Great Spa Towns of Europe
Location: Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy and United Kingdom
Category: Cultural and natural
The Legacy of the Great Spa Towns of Europe
Spas have been a thing in Europe since the time of the Roman Empire. But as anyone who has ever read Jane Austen knows, they really became important in the 1700s.
Eleven spa towns across the continent have been grouped together to form one UNESCO site, which celebrates their contribution to health as well as the region’s culture.
The towns are in seven countries and include famous destinations like Bath in England and Karlovy Vary in Czechia. They all developed spas around their natural hot springs, which are said to have numerous health benefits, making them perfect wellness destinations.
7. Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat
Location: Kermanshah and Kurdistan, Iran
Date: 3000 B.C.
The Legacy of the Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat
The Hawrami people are a Kurdish tribe that inhabits the region surrounding the Zagros Mountains. The harsh landscape has given way to tiered architecture and agriculture that stands as evidence of the adaptability and creativity of humanity.
Seeing the Hawrami’s cultural landscape is incredible, especially as you learn of their vertical migratory customs and see how they go up or down the mountains depending on the season.
Tour around the 12 villages included in this site to see the customs of people who have lived on this land for about five thousand years.
Location: West-central Jordan
Date: 300 B.C.
The Legacy of As-Salt
This Jordanian city was once one of the Ottoman Empire’s most important places of trade. Because of this, its architecture and culture reflect a blend of Eastern and Western influences rarely seen anywhere else.
The city’s position dwindled after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, but you can still see its blend of traditional architecture with Art Nouveau and neocolonial styles typical of European colonies of the era.
It is also one of the best examples in the Middle East of Christians and Muslims cohabitating peacefully.
5. Ivindo National Park
Location: Makokou, Gabon
The Legacy of Ivindo National Park
Established in 2002, Ivindo National Park consists of about 300,000 hectares of protected land. Within it, you’ll find lush rainforests, waterfalls and rivers that shelter species like the western lowland gorilla, leopards and the forest elephant.
The national park is one of Gabon’s natural jewels and one of the best places in the country to encounter the natural wonders of the region.
4. Church of Atlantida
Location: Estación Atlántida, Uruguay
The Legacy of Church of Atlantida
The second-youngest place on this list, the Church of Christ the Worker and Our Lady of Lourdes in Atlantida, Uruguay, is unlike any church you’ve ever seen. Decidedly modernist in style, its side walls undulate like waves in the sea and its front facade displays interlocking blocks of red brick.
One of the churches’ most famous features is its bell tower, which rises to the heavens in a vertigo-inducing spiral.
3. Hima Cultural Area
Location: Najran Province, Saudi Arabia
Date: 7000-1000 B.C.
The Legacy of Hima Cultural Area
The Hima Cultural Area is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it has a large collection of rock art dating back to 7000 B.C. These depictions are remarkably well-preserved.
The site is also an ancient caravan route and one of the oldest toll stations in the region. As such, it carries the history of places where trade was constant — an exchange of ideas, languages and customs that inevitably enriched it.
2. Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple
Location: Palampet, India
The Legacy of Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple
There are countless temples in India, but some stand out in terms of beauty and importance. The Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple, known locally as the Ramappa Temple, is a large temple dedicated to Shiva.
The temple is nicknamed the "thousand pillar temple" because of its particular architecture. Its "floating" bricks are another of its noteworthy features, as their lightweight nature made it possible to construct more intricate roofs.
With detailed decorations and statues carved with mastered perfection, this temple will blow your mind.
1. Chinchorro Mummies
Location: Northern Chile
Date: 5050 B.C.
The Legacy of the Chinchorro Mummies
Many people make the mistake of thinking that Egypt’s mummies are the oldest in the world. The Chinchorro mummies of northern Chile predate those of ancient Egypt by about 2000 years. To put that into perspective, 2000 years ago, lions still existed in Europe, the wheelbarrow had just been invented, and Greek astronomer Ptolemy had not yet been born.
Some naturally mummified corpses in the area are actually 4000 years older than Egyptian mummies. Perhaps because of this natural occurrence, the preservation of the deceased was an incredibly important part of Chinchorro culture. One that you can still see today when you visit the region.
Seeing the oldest mummies in the history of humanity is simply too cool to pass up.