These UNESCO World Heritage Sites Are in Danger
We know beaches, theme parks or some relaxing excursion are top of mind right now. But when thinking about your next vacation, consider visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's currently endangered. Not only do each of these sites provide some rare photo-ops, but you can also help a community preserve a significant site for the whole world to continue to enjoy.
The World Heritage Committee has 53 UNESCO sites that it considers to be in danger and in desperate need of tourism dollars. We chose the top 35 that you should visit pronto before, well, you can't.
Historic Centre of Vienna - Austria
Enjoy a classic European city that's famous for its role in musical history and coffee houses by visiting the landmark Centre of Vienna. See castles, gardens, monuments, parks and St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna's cathedral and one of the tallest churches in the world.
The cultural heritage of Austria is under threat from urbanization, but tourism revenue could help Vienna create safeguards for the city.
Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park - Central African Republic
Help save some of the world's most endangered species via ecotourism and a visit to the Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park in the Central African Republic. It is the largest park in the Central African savannas. It straddles two ecological zones, which makes it home to many flora, fauna and animal species, including elephants, buffalo, red-fronted gazelles, cheetahs, leopards and black rhinoceroses.
The park became threatened when illegal grazing and poaching wiped out as much as 80 percent of the wildlife.
Everglades National Park - Florida
Everglades National Park, commonly known as "the river of grass," is home to more than 20 rare (and often threatened or endangered) species. See black panthers, manatees, countless kinds of birds, leatherback turtles, American alligators and American crocodiles when you canoe, cycle or hike through one of North America's largest designated wilderness areas.
The park is home to a diverse set of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems that aren't found in most parts of the world. The park battles a variety of threats to its survival, including urbanization, hunting, invasive species and mercury poisoning.
Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California - Mexico
The views of the red rock cliffs dipping into the turquoise water along sandy beaches is reason enough to visit the islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California in Mexico. The 244 islands, islets and coastal areas that make up the area are home to 695 vascular plant species, 891 fish species and 39 percent of the world's total number of species of marine mammals. The area is beautiful but also crucial for scientific research.
It's under threat from a variety of sources, including invasive species as well as artisanal, industrial and sport fishing. Pollution from industry, sewage and agriculture are also threatening this unique space in the world.
Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve - Honduras
Cross "see tropical rainforest" off your bucket list when you visit the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, one of the last of its kind in Central America. The gorgeous green hills, sloping mountains and extensive wildlife will ensure a scenic trip.
The protected area faces threats from humans in a variety of ways, including agricultural intrusion, extensive forest logging and illegal resource extraction.
Chan Chan Archaeological Zone - Peru
Step back in time, specifically the 15th century, when the Chimu Kingdom dominated the northern coast of Peru. The capital, Chan Chan, remains the largest mud-brick city in the world and a beautiful architectural specimen with temples, courtyards and the famous nine citadels or palaces. Experts consider Chan Chan a masterpiece in town planning.
The biggest threat to Chan Chan is climate change, as the increase in rain is causing erosion of the mud city.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park - Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has five UNESCO World Heritage sites that are in danger and worth a visit (two others of which are later on this list). Head to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park to see one of the last groups of eastern lowland gorillas. The tropical forest is also home to two incredible extinct volcanoes, the Kahuzi and the Biega.
A variety of sources threaten the life park and the gorillas, including poaching, the political instability that disrupts resources for the park, oil exploration in former extraction sites and a lack of a buffer zone, which makes conservation difficult.
Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve - Guinea
This lush green nature reserve in Guinea is home to some of the most exciting animal populations in the world, including an otter-like creature known as the micro potamogale of Mount Nimba, the viviparous toad and chimpanzees who use stones as tools. The reserve is also home to countless flora species, including more than 2,000 species of vascular plants.
Mount Nimba's main threats include very intense poaching and clearing fires that nearby populations do for agriculture and cattle breeding.
Rainforests of the Atsinanana - Madagascar
Madagascar is truly like no other place in the world. Millions of years ago, it split from other landmasses and has been evolving in isolation. Visit the six national parks that are the Atsinanana, which sits on the eastern part of the island. See incredible animals, including all five families of Malagasy primates, all endemic lemur families and several species of Rodentia and Carnivora you won't find anywhere else in the world.
Deforestation has left just 8.5 percent of the original forest. Additional threats include logging, hunting and gem mining.
Garamba National Park - Democratic Republic of the Congo
While on safari in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, add the Garamba National Park to your must-visit list. You'll see elephants, hippopotamuses, giraffes and the near-threatened white rhinoceros.
The area faces threats from poaching, especially of giraffes.
Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves - Niger
Explore the beauty of the desert at the Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves in Niger. The last bastion of Saharo-Sahelian wildlife in the region offers visitors a lot: the Aïr mountains, antelopes of the Sahara Desert, a variety of plant species, dunes, water holes, cliff valleys and a diverse group of wildlife.
The Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves face threats from poaching and illegal grazing.
Archaeological Site of Sabratha - Libya
Libya also has five locations on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list that are in danger. Sabratha is a picturesque archaeological site that was once a Phoenician trading post that specialized in products from remote parts of Africa. It was also part of the short-lived Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa.
The site is under serious threat from ongoing conflict and instability that caused UNESCO's Director General to intervene in 2017, asking for peace and protection of Sabratha.
Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra - Indonesia
The Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park make up the massive Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. Many endangered species call Sumatra home. Visit and you'll see some of the 10,000 plant species, 200 mammal species and 580 bird species — some of which can't be found anywhere else in the world.
The main threats to Sumatra are encroachment and its negative side effects.
Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi - Uganda
If you love unique architecture and history, consider visiting the Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi in Uganda. To see a significant architectural achievement in organic materials, including reed, daub, wood, thatch and wattle, visit the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, which holds four royal tombs. The site is also a profoundly religious place in the kingdom.
The greatest threat to the site that sits within the Kampala district is fire. The site also needs a new wave of trained, educated conservationists to take over the efforts to protect the space.
Liverpool, Maritime Mercantile City - United Kingdom
The center and docklands of the maritime mercantile city of Liverpool were at one time one of the world's major trading posts. The city became famous for its dock operations, including modern dock technology, transport systems and construction.
Today, the area still has many historic commercial, civic and public buildings, but it's biggest threat is development. High-rise buildings and trendy restaurants are sprouting up, and investors would like to spend more money in the area on additional buildings, ferry terminals, cruises and residential property.
Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus - Libya
Bright blue skies over red dunes only further highlight the beauty found at the rock-art sites of Tadrart Acacus in Libya. If you visit the area, which sits on the borders of Tassili N'Ajjer in Algeria, you'll see thousands of cave paintings in various styles. The work dates from 12,000 B.C. to 100 A.D. and depicts changes in the environment, population and ways of life in the Sahara.
The site is under threat from various sources, including people carving into the rock, people spray painting the significant location, and other stealing and trafficking of the archaeological materials.
Samarra Archaeological City - Iraq
Step back in time to see a powerful Islamic city that once ruled over the Abbasid Empire. The Samarra Archaeological City remains a testament to Islamic architectural and artistic innovations of that time, including the ninth-century Great Mosque and its spiral minaret.
The site's numerous architectural monuments, 80 percent of which remain to be excavated, were under threat from ongoing wars. Nowadays, Samarra Archaeological City is mostly under threat from poor management and inadequate conservation.
Old Walled City of Shibam - Yemen
The Old Walled City of Shibam in Yemen is one of the oldest, dating back to the 16th century, and best examples of urban planning. Using vertical construction, the city is made up of tower-like structures that helped the area earn its nickname "the Manhattan of the desert."
Shibam sits between two mountains on the edge of a flood plain, which continues to be a threat to the historical site. Social, economic and environmental risks make Shibam vulnerable, which is why UNESCO has worked to establish a revitalization and long-term sustainable preservation plan.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve - Democratic Republic of the Congo
Yet another stunning park to visit while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which takes up about one-fifth of the Ituri forest. Waterfalls, rivers and exotic wildlife ensure you'll have an Instagram-worthy trip while helping a threatened space.
The reserve is home to about 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 surviving okapis as well as a variety of endangered primates and bird species. Threats include agricultural encroachment, poaching and artisanal mining.
Coro and its Port - Venezuela
Coro, founded in 1527, was one of the first colonial towns, and its Port of La Vela was the first South American town to establish independence from Spain. Coro is filled with more than 600 historic buildings, most of which are the only existing examples of the mix of Spanish Mudéjar and Dutch architectural techniques.
Despite rain and damage to the area in the 2000s, the site has maintained a lot of its original layout and landscape. UNESCO continues to work with officials to support the city's architectural achievements and public spaces.
Archaeological Site of Cyrene - Libya
When you first see the Archaeological Site of Cyrene in Libya, your first thought is Greece. It was one of the principal cities in the Hellenic world and has been famous since the 18th century. The ruined city was a major tourist destination not that long ago. Tourists would flock to the 2,600-year-old site and immerse themselves in its thousand years of history.
Now, though, Cyrene faces threats from lack of tourism, neglect, vandals and locals stealing land.
East Rennell - Solomon Islands
Head to the southernmost island in the Solomon Islands group in the western Pacific to see the world's largest raised coral atoll. The stunning landscape is reminiscent of the Hawaiian and Tahitian islands — minus the crowds. East Rennell is known for its lush forest, Lake Tegano and various species of unique flora and fauna.
Commercial logging, invasive rats and over-exploitation of marine resources were the main threats to the island in 2013 when it was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. Then, in 2019, the island experienced a devastating oil spill.
Nan Madol - Micronesia
More than 100 small islands off the southeast coast of Pohnpei make up what is known as Micronesia's Nan Madol. The islets are home to remains dating back to 1200 and 1500 A.D. Visit and see the stone palaces, tombs, temples and historic homes of the Saudeleur dynasty. "The huge scale of the edifices, their technical sophistication and the concentration of megalithic structures bear testimony to complex social and religious practices of the island societies of the period," UNESCO says of Nan Madol.
The unchecked growth of mangroves is the main threat that the islets face today.
Portobelo-San Lorenzo - Panama
Military and history buffs will want to visit the fortifications on the Caribbean side of Panama: Portobelo and San Lorenzo. In an effort to protect transatlantic trade, the Spanish Crown built these impressive Panamanian forts on the Caribbean coast.
UNESCO is working to help save the site that faces threats from chronic understaffing, unregulated urban sprawl that is nearby and deforestation.
Abu Mena - Egypt
For those with an interest in history and Christian holy cities, consider a trip to Abu Mena in Egypt. The Egyptian archaeological site is home to the tomb of the martyr Menas of Alexandria. Eventually, it became a famous Christian city. Churches, basilicas and monasteries were all built over the Egyptian remains. You can even explore the historical structures of Abu Mena via Google before you book your trip, too.
Abu Mena faces the threat of collapse since the soil is exclusively clay. Urban growth and agricultural development have increased groundwater in the region as well, which is a significant threat to Abu Mena.
Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) - Iraq
Head to Iraq and explore the ancient city of Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat). You'll see the Tigris River while exploring a city that dates back to 3,000 B.C. From the 14th to ninth centuries B.C., Ashur was in its prime. It was the first capital of the Assyrian empire, the religious capital of Assyrians and where their society crowned and buried its kings. Visit the excavated buildings to learn about the Sumerian and Akkadian period.
The main threat Ashur has faced is a planned dam that would have flooded the historically significant ruins. Before you book a trip, research the current state of political affairs in the region.
Hatra - Iraq
Another historical gem worth visiting in Iraq is the fortress city of Hatra. It dates back to the third or second century B.C. and the Parthian empire. You'll see the influence of the Roman and Persian empires. The city is famous for its large thick walls, which protected Hatra from invasions by the Romans in 116 and 198 A.D. See the walls, tour the city's towers and explore the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture come together with Eastern features.
The biggest threat to Hatra is destruction to its historical sites, buildings and landmarks by Isis. The group destroyed carvings and statues in the past, which is one of the reasons UNESCO started protecting it.
The Old City of Jerusalem and Its Walls - Jerusalem
A visit to the Old City of Jerusalem is one of the essential trips many people will make in their lifetime because of its holiness. The city is an important holy region for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
You can't overstate the city's symbolic significance. There are more than 200 historic establishments for you to see on your visit. Some of the top-visited include the Wailing Wall and the Resurrection rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses Christ's tomb. The Dome of the Rock is also a must-see, as the seventh-century building has stunning geometric and floral motifs. Judaism, Christianity and Islam also recognize it as the site of Abraham's sacrifice.
Threats to the Old City of Jerusalem include the destruction of religious properties, urban development, lack of proper maintenance and attention to important monuments, and lack of appropriate tourism management.
Lake Turkana National Parks - Kenya
Three national parks come together to form the Lake Turkana National Parks in Kenya. The massive area includes Lake Turkana, which is the most saline lake in East Africa. You'll want to see the lake, as it is the largest desert lake in the world and is often called the Jade Sea because of its beautiful color. The surrounding barren landscape is described as seemingly extraterrestrial. You'll also see 100 identified archaeological and paleontological sites. Plus, volcanic overflows with petrified forests are within the parks.
Lake Turkana faces many threats including severe droughts, human-wildlife conflicts, livestock encroachment, climate change, receding water level, poor infrastructure and poaching.
Timbuktu - Mali
When in West Africa, head to Timbuktu in Mali. The city is at the gateway to the Sahara desert and within the fertile zone of the Sudan. Though it was founded in the fifth century, things really kicked off in Timbuktu in the 15th and 16th centuries. The city helped usher Islam through the rest of Africa and became a spiritual and intellectual capital. Timbuktu was also a crucial city for the trading of goods, including salt, gold, grain and cattle.
The city's three magnificent mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, are a must-see when you visit. They are continuously restored as they are under near-constant threat of desertification.
Battir - Palestine
After visiting Jerusalem, consider heading to the land of olives and vines, the Palestinian village of Battir. It is also known as the cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem. You'll find the village in the Central Highlands between Nablus and Hebron. The gorgeous scenes of nature include farmed valleys with stone terraces, grapevines and olive trees. While the landscape is serene, the interesting aspect is the network of irrigation channels.
"The water distribution system used by the families of Battir is a testament to an ancient egalitarian distribution system that delivers water to the terraced agricultural land based on a simple mathematical calculation and a clear time-managed rotation scheme," UNESCO says of the vital system.
Construction of an annexation wall on the land is the main threat to Battir.
Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz - Uzbekistan
On the Silk Roads in southern Uzbekistan, you'll find the Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz, which is more than 2,000 years old. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Shakhrisyabz was the political and cultural hub for the Kesh region. Stroll the medieval walls, and see monuments, ancient quarters and various architectural styles. Don't miss the notable Ak-Sarai Palace and the Tomb of Temur.
The main threats to the Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz are a lack of conservation and long-term management in addition to rising groundwater levels.
Selous Game Reserve - United Republic of Tanzania
The Selous Game Reserve in the United Republic of Tanzania is one of the largest protected areas in Africa that remains relatively undisturbed by humans. A unique feature of Selous is the vast variety of habitats found in the region, including grasslands, riverine forests, swamps and Miombo woodlands. Experts call it a "valuable laboratory for ongoing ecological and biological processes."
Perhaps even more interesting, though, is the massive range of wildlife found in Selous, including crucial predator/prey relationships. You'll see cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, black rhinoceros, hippopotamus and crocodile, in addition to many more species.
The Selous Game Reserve faces many severe threats, including the exploration and extraction of minerals, oil and gas.
The Ancient City of Damascus - Syrian Arab Republic
The Ancient City of Damascus in the Syrian Arab Republic became and remains significant because of its geographical position between Africa and Asia. Damascus was founded in 3,000 B.C. and remains one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. If you visit, you'll get to see up close all of the civilizations that helped create Damascus at different times in history, including Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic. Since its founding, the city has been seen as a crucial center for cultural and commercial achievements. It also remains a great example of urban planning, specifically of the Greek city, with streets going north-south or east-west.
The ancient city is struggling with a lack of conservation and maintenance in addition to surviving war, but the city is on the mend and hoping to attract visitors.
Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town - Palestine
While in Palestine, consider adding a visit to Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town to your list. Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town was famous for trade, as it was at the crossroads for people traveling between southern Palestine, Sinai, Eastern Jordan and the north of the Arabian Peninsula.
The main historical point of interest was the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, also known as the tomb of the Patriarchs. Al-Ibrahimi Mosque was built in the first century A.D. to protect Abraham/Ibrahim and his family. It is an important religious site within Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It appears the biggest threat to Hebron is the conflict with Israel.