When it comes to choosing some brilliant destinations to add to your travel bucket list, UNESCO has done the hard work for you. The World Heritage Committee has a standard list of factors to help them ascertain the Outstanding Universal Value of each property and select the very best natural and cultural sites around the world. There are UNESCO lists for intangible culture. On the UNESCO list of natural world heritage sites, there are some truly stunning places around the world that is bound to take anyone’s breath away with their unique landscapes, wildlife and natural phenomena. Here’s some of the most amazing natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, truly inspirational places fighting for a place on your travel bucket list.
Belize Barrier Reef
The longest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere, the Belize Barrier Reef is an outstanding UNESCO-listed destination which can be combined with rainforest adventures and Mayan ruins at Caracol.
Fly to Ambergris Caye (SPR) from Belize City and stay in one of the hotels in San Pedro where most dive trips originate. Belize Barrier Reef includes the Great Blue Hole which should certainly be on every self-respecting diver’s travel bucket list. Visit in the dry winter months and dive with whale sharks, swim with sea turtles and snorkel with beautiful fish and marine life.
Contact Belize Tourism at 1-800-624-0686 or send an email enquiry
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Located on the Argentina/Brazil border and visible from either country, Iguazu Falls is the world’s greatest aqua show. Iguazu means ‘big water’ in Guarani, and that’s a massive understatement.
This monster is made up of 275 waterfalls and cataracts along its 2.7-kilometre rim. It is almost twice as high as Niagara Falls, pouring 1500 cubic metres of water per second into the misty abyss below. The overwhelming size, awesome roar and mighty power of these immense falls make that first glimpse an emotional experience.
Fly to Iguazu (IGR) and stay at the luxury Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, within walking distance of the falls. Avoid the rainy season from December through February. The site is open daily from 8am to 6pm.
Call (+54) 3757-491-469 or email email@example.com
Greater Blue Mountains, Australia
Easy to reach and just 75 kilometres inland from Sydney hotels, the scenic Blue Mountains National Park has over a million hectares of Aboriginal culture, panoramic vistas, quaint towns and a wealth of native flora and wildlife. CC 2.0 / Anne Dirkse
Stunning geological features include gorges, escarpments, the famous Three Sisters peaks (best seen from Lady Game Lookout) and Hanging Rock (Burramoko Ridge). The mountains get their name from the blue haze of oil given off by millions of eucalyptus trees covering the slopes.
Join a hiking, cycling or minibus tour from Sydney or hire a car and tour at your own pace along the scenic Bells Line of Road.
The park is open year-round with admission of AU$8 per vehicle per day to the lookouts in the Glenbrook area.
Call Infoline (+61) 02-4720-6200
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, China
The Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries – 16 nature reserves and parks in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains of central China – is home to more than 30 per cent of the world’s highly endangered giant pandas. CC 2.0 / Matt Spurr
This unspoiled Eden has over 5000 species of plants and bamboos, which provide sanctuary to the few remaining red pandas, clouded leopards and snow leopards. Best time to visit is in August/September when newborn panda cubs arrive.
Fly direct to Chengdu (CTU) and make a hotel in Chengdu your base for this unique wildlife bucket-list experience. From there, take the bus to the Wolong National Natural Reserve which is one of the main UNESCO-listed sanctuaries.
Contact Administration at the Wolong Sanctuary for details Tel. 0837 624-6773
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands are home to many endemic species of giant tortoise, iguanas, blue-footed boobies, finches, penguins and flightless cormorants, none of which fear humans. CC 2.0 / NOAA Photo Library
Charles Darwin visited this remote archipelago in 1835 and the unique wildlife inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection. The Galápagos Islands was the first place to receive UNESCO listing. Peak season for visitors is December to May when the seas are calm, although divers may prefer July to November when whale sharks abound.
The only way to reach the islands is by air, taking a flight from Quito to San Cristóbal Island where hotels and lodges are plentiful. Guided wildlife tours include hikes, dinghy trips, kayaking, snorkelling and diving in this unique ecosystem.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere, Mexico
Every year a unique phenomenon takes place in the forested mountains of the UNESCO-listed Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve near Mexico City. In spring, millions of monarch butterflies make an eight-month migration to eastern Canada and back.
During that period four generations of butterflies will live and die, yet the final generation finds its way back to the reserve and hibernates for four months before the cycle begins again. It’s an irresistible mystery to nature lovers who visit the sanctuary by car or bus from Mexico City or stay in nearby Zitacuaro hotels.
The best time to explore this unique area is in February during mating season.
Open November–March from 6am to 6pm, admission to the Mariposa Monarca is US$3.
Central Highlands, Sri Lanka
Encompassing 56,844 hectares of global rainforest and montane forest, Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands are a thrilling place for eco-travellers to encounter Sri Lankan leopards, oryx, sambar deer, macaques and the Horton Plains slender loris, currently the world’s most endangered primate. CC 2.0 / Amila Tennakoon
The twin attractions of Baker’s Falls and World’s End (a 1200-metre sheer drop) in Horton Plains National Park make this a popular bucket-list attraction within easy reach of the tea plantations and Cultural Triangle of this beautiful country.
After flying into Colombo (CMB), take the train through the highlands to Nanu Oya, one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, or explore the area on a bespoke private tour with your own car and driver/guide.
Best time to visit is December through to April.
The Everglades National Park is a 1.5 million-acre slow-moving river of sawgrass in southwest Florida. It is inhabited by alligators, Florida panthers, bears and over 350 bird species including egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills and bald eagles. CC 2.0 / Joel Sowers
The best way to see this bucket-list gem is on an airboat eco-tour with a native Miccosukee Indian. Visitors staying at hotels in Miami can drive 68 kilometres to the Ernest Coe Visitor Center on State Road 9336 near Homestead.
Pick up information and join ranger-led tours on foot, boat or tram. Best time to visit is December to March when the weather is dry and the Everglades are teeming with migratory birds.
Call 305-242-7700 for general Everglades National Park information.