What do the Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia have in common? All have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, meaning they’re among the most important places on planet Earth.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) status is given only to cultural and natural sites that are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. The designation protects them from ever being altered. Today there are 1,092 UNESCO sites around the world.
To be included on the list, sites must meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria. Some of the criteria include examples of human creative genius, testimony to cultural tradition, natural phenomena or beauty, and major stages of Earth’s history. Every site is considered to be universal, belonging to all the people of the world, irrespective of where they live.
Ready to see which incredible locales made the cut for 2018? The 20 newest UNESCO members are...
Aasivissuit - Nipisat, Denmark
The Arctic Circle might not have been on your travel bucket list before, but it certainly should be now.
In the central part of West Greenland you’ll find the secrets to more than 4,000 years of human history. This sprawling piece of land is not only visually stunning, with rocky mountains that tumble down to green pastures and glacially blue rivers, but archaeologically significant.
Paleo-Inuit and Inuit peoples used this as their hunting ground for sea and land animals, as well as a spot for seasonal migrations of animals.
Today, the site is still a hunting ground for modern-day Inuit tribes who hunt caribou. It is also one of the best spots in the world for catching the Northern Lights.
Central Sikhote-Alin - Russian Federation
This mountain range in Russia is a unique blend of taiga and subtropic landscapes, meaning the flora and fauna is particularly spectacular.
In this forest you can find brown bear and lynx, common in cold climates, as well as tigers and Himalayan bears, which live more in the south. The land was expanded this year to include another 60 miles of territory to the north, which has additional species from southern Manchuria like the Amur tiger, Siberian musk deer, wolverine and sable.
Al-Ahsa Oasis - Saudi Arabia
The term “oasis” is used to describe a respite from harsh conditions — but do oases actually exist? Very much so.
Oases are fertile spots in deserts where water is found, and the AL-Ahsa Oasis in Saudi Arabia is the largest one in the world. On the Arabian Peninsula, this historic and striking spot has archaeological sites that prove continued human settlement from as far back as the Neolithic Age (about 12,000 years ago). It also has 2.5 million date palms, historic fortresses, mosques and canals.
Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley - Mexico
Whoever said there's no life in the desert has never been to this corner of the world. This valley within the central state of Puebla is designated as arid and semi-arid, yet is teeming with some of the richest biodiversity on the continent. Imagine cacti for days; this is one of the main centers of diversification for cacti. Columnar cacti, agaves, yuccas and oaks stretch out as far as the eye can see.
The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley is part of a Biosphere Reserve that is believed to be the original habitat of Mesoamerica.
Qalhat - Oman
A walled ancient city, Qalhat was originally developed as a port on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where it thrived as a city between the 11th and 15th centuries CE. Today, visitors can find remnants of the walls, and the hauntingly beautiful Bibi Maryam Mausoleum, as well as necropolises beyond the city limits.
The architectural styles also show evidence of the trade routes between Arabia, East Africa, India, China and Southeast Asia. Fun fact: Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta both had visits to Qalhat in the 13th and 14th centuries, respectively.
Pimachiowin Aki - Canada
Located in the Boreal Forest between Manitoba and Ontario is a lush, blanketed forest landscape, zigzagged by rivers and pocketed with lakes and wetlands.
The area is also home to the indigenous communities of the Anishinaabeg people, who respect all forms of life and honor the gifts of the land (the translation of Pimachiowin Aki is “land that gives life”), meaning nothing is wasted and pacifism is the ruling ethos.
The Anishinaabe First Nations, of which there are four, have been working in tandem with the Ontario and Manitoba governments for more than 15 years to get the area designated as a UNESCO site.
Hedeby and the Dannevirke - Germany
With an archaeological history that dates back to the 1st and 2nd millennia CE, Hedeby holds the remains of an ancient trading town with a unique position between the Frankish Empire in the south and the Danish Kingdom in the north.
It was once the hub between Europe and Scandinavia. Today, it is a thoughtfully preserved site that has helped researchers better understand Europe during the age of the Vikings.
Chiribiquete National Park - Colombia
Shrouded by Colombia's section of the Amazon is one of the country's largest protected areas, with striking natural features like table-top mountains, sandstone plateaus, and deep, enigmatic and inaccessible forest.
These tabletop mountains have more than 60 rock shelters at their bases, featuring more than 75,000 paintings that date back from 20,000 BCE.
The paintings are linked to the worshipping of the jaguar, and depict hunting scenes, battles, dances and ceremonies.
Caliphate City of Medina Azahara - Spain
Constructed in the mid 10th century by the Umayyad dynasty, the city of Medina Azahara was once the seat of the Caliphate of Cordoba. A civil war put an end to the Caliphate in 1010, after which the city's ruins were left forgotten for nearly 1,000 years.
In the 20th century they were rediscovered, revealing a surprisingly advanced infrastructure of roads, bridges, buildings and architectural styles.
Fanjingshan - China
China's Guizhou Province is one of the most visually stunning in the entire nation, and one that remains still largely undiscovered for Western tourists. But within the province's Wuling mountain range is this impressive peak.
Fanjingshan measures between 1,600 and 8,431 feet above sea level and is blanketed with diverse vegetation. This monolith is comprised of metamorphic rock surrounded by karst formations, and is home to many plant and animal species that originated between 65 million and 2 million years ago.
Göbekli Tepe - Turkey
Southeastern Anatolia holds a historic secret. Göbekli Tepe is a collection of structures erected by hunter-gatherers between 9,600 and 8,200 BCE. Scholars believe the monuments were connected with funeral rituals; whatever their purpose, they are nothing short of impressive.
T-shaped pillars are intricately carved with animal motifs, which stand out like an oasis in an arid sea of fields.
Chaîne des Puys - Limagne, France
Thirty-five million year sago, approximately when the Alps formed, they left a little something behind: the Limagne fault, which was formed from continental movement as the Alps began to take shape. These create the West European Rift, a geological feature that shows experts how the crust of the earth cracks and sinks, which allows magma to rise and push up the surface of the earth.
This piece of land is integral in explaining how the continents broke up to begin with, and how they continue to do so.
Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region - Japan
During the 17th and 19th centuries, the Christian faith was prohibited in Japan. After the ban was lifted in 1873, people were still prohibited from rebuilding Christian communities. Still, the religion persisted in secret.
On Kyushu island in the Nagasaki region are 10 villages, Hara's Castle and a cathedral, all of which were inhabited by Christians in secret during the time of prohibition.
Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains - South Africa
The Barberton Greenstone Belt is one of the world's oldest geological structures, and the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains make up about 40 percent of the area.
These mountains hold the best-preserved succession of volcanic and sedimentary rock in the world, dating back more than 3 billion years.
The mountains feature meteor-impact fallback breccia (rocks that are made up of mixture of different rock fragments), which resulted from the impact of meteorites that formed more than 4 billion years ago.
Ivrea - Italy
Ivrea, an industrial city of the 21st century, sits in the Piedmont region of Italy and was developed as the testing ground for Olivetti, which produced typewriters, calculators and office computers.
The city consists of a large factor and administrative buildings, as well as industrial nits. The city was in operation between the 1930s and the 1960s and shows the ideas of the Community Movement.
Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai - India
During the second half of the 19th century, Mumbai installed an urban planning project which led to the development of public buildings along the Oval Maidan space. The buildings were initially designed in the Victorian Neo-Gothic style, and then in the Art Deco style in the 20th century. Elements like balconies and verandas were installed to adapt to the Indian climate.
The Art Deco buildings blend Indian design with Art Deco imagery, which now has been dubbed Indo-Deco.
Naumburg Cathedral - Germany
Built in 1028, this cathedral is one of the best examples of medieval art and architecture. It is characterized by a Romanesque structure, with two Gothic choirs, which shows the design spillover from the late Romanesque into the early Gothic period.
The choir and life-size sculptures of the founders of the Cathedral are part of the style known as the Naumburg Master.
Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Site - Kenya
The Lake Victoria region is home to this dry-stone walled settlement that was likely built in the 1500s.
Researchers believe that the community served as a fort for locals and livestock, but that it also defined relationships linked to lineage.
It is the largest and best-preserved of these traditional enclosures, which lasted from the 16th to 20th centuries.
Sansa, Buddhist Mountain Monasteries - Republic of Korea
Peppered throughout the southern provinces of Korea are the Sansa, Buddhist mountain monasteries. Seven temples comprise the property, which were built from the 7th to 9th centuries.
There is also an open courtyard surrounded by four buildings, which contain documents, shrines and special objects. The monasteries are still used today for daily religious practices.
Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars Region - Iran
This region of Iran holds eight archaeological sites in three distinct areas. These structures, palaces and city plans date back to the time of the Sassanian Empire, which lasted from 224 to 658 CE.
The archaeology shows the influence of Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions. There is also evidence of a significant amount of Roman art, all of which had impact on the architecture and style of the Islamic empire.