Alberta’s spectacular Dinosaur Provincial Park was an early-designated World Heritage Site in 1979. Travel Alberta
By Alison Gardner, Travel with a Challenge Editor
You need go no further than our very own Travel with a Challenge web magazine to find nearly two dozen richly-illustrated feature articles on UNESCO World Heritage Site destinations. They are listed and hotlinked at the end of this story. Check them out!
When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established the World Heritage Convention in 1972, there was cause for celebration. This document set in place the most universal international legal instrument ever to exist for the protection of cultural and natural heritage. It created a framework for preservation and conservation of the greatest treasures of nature and humanity scattered across the face of the earth.
Today there are over 1,000 World Heritage Sites (WHSs) which attest to the wisdom of that collective decision, and the list continues to grow. As a result, national governments, international organizations and communities of individuals who live and work around designated sites have made a protective covenant to work together in rarely-witnessed harmony, so that future generations will be able to share this precious legacy.
Spain’s medieval town of Santiago de Compostela gained WHS status in 1985, followed by designation of the entire 560 mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain in 1993. Alison Gardner
As citizens of the world, we must surely celebrate the existence of these unique testimonies to the outstanding universal values of both nature and humanity; as global explorers we may reward our good intentions and our imaginations by personally sampling and savoring at least a selection of them ourselves. With such a commitment, you will eloquently support past and future efforts to protect the exceptional, the threatened, and the monumental.
What more appropriate rite of passage could herald a new millennium of travel than to dedicate some holiday time to exploring and learning about WHSs in some of the most extraordinary settings on earth? To know that world-renowned authorities acknowledge these sites to be cultural and natural jewels definitely adds to the excitement of being there. This coveted designation also ensures that international funding will be available to support their preservation and protection.
The Great Wall of China was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Alison Gardner
Two stunning natural World Heritage Sites in Alberta, Canada
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995) straddling the US/Canada border.
The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks corridor (1984, 1990) offer many accessible wilderness vacations. Travel Alberta
For the traveler who takes up the challenge of visiting World Heritage Sites, the United Nations has already done a lot of homework to kickstart your research.
There are two websites to explore via the Internet:
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/ for a current listing of sites by country; http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=86 for the most endangered sites (that means, unless there is a war currently going on in the neighborhood, you should go and visit quickly!). Many endangered sites selected come as no surprise because they are in very unsettled areas or in very poor countries with little infrastructure.
However, I was dismayed to see both Germany’s Cologne Cathedral and the United States’ Everglades National Park among the most endangered World Heritage Sites. With a little financial commitment and political will, surely these countries could take active steps of their own to ensure the care of such treasures for future generations.
The ancient hidden Nabatean city of Petra (1985) is Jordan’s best known tourism treasure. Jordan Tourism North America
Israel’s World Heritage List
Seven new Israeli archaeological sites have been added to UNESCO’s list, bringing the total number to 10 in that country. Israel’s three earlier World Heritage Sites are Masada (2001) (see aerial photo below), the Old City of Acre (2001), and the more contemporary architecturally-significant “White City” of Tel Aviv (2003).
Three of the newly-designated sites are archaeological tells, prehistoric mounds that conceal layers of ancient settlement dating back to biblical times or earlier. The sites have yielded many treasures and shed light on the history of the different nations that inhabited the Land of Israel, particularly the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Megiddo and Hazor were protected by enormous fortress walls with impressive gates, castles, temples, storage rooms, stables and water cisterns.
Four historic desert cities, active in the time of the Nabatean spice trade, were also added to the UNESCO list. The cities of Ovdat, Shivta, Halutza and Mamsheet are all in the Negev desert. From roughly the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE, the spice route extended some 2,400 km from Yemen via Saudi Arabia and Jordan through the Negev to the Mediterranean Sea and from there to Europe. Public baths, guard towers, ritual altars and sophisticated irrigation systems have been uncovered in these ancient cities.
You may also subscribe to a four-color, 80-page bimonthly magazine, World Heritage Review, aimed at a wide range of readers interested in environmental, cultural and conservation issues. It is crammed with outstanding photography, printed in comfortable non-academic language and available in English, French or Spanish-an excellent and unusual present for an alternative traveler! For a full description and subscription forms, visit http://whc.unesco.org/en/review/.
Alaska’s spectacular Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve hosts a number of tidewater glaciers that make this region a ‘must-see’ on the WHS vacation agenda. Cruise West
Just as passionate birders go around the world spotting and checking off names on their birdwatching list, I’m up for starting a personal mission to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as I can in the next decade. How many have you visited already on your travels? Check out the current list by country and you might be surprised that your WHS list is quite impressive already! I have visited only 92 sites myself, so now I’m on the lookout for new ones in every country I plan to visit.
Many WHSs can be easily accessed by independent travelers, but many others require specialized knowledge, logistical planning and even permission to explore in a safe and rewarding way. For those less accessible, select a reputable, educational tour operator, such as ElderTreks that features an impressive 125 UNESCO sites in its tour lineup!
Mexico’s famed archaeological site, Chichen Itza, is just one on the current list of 1007 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Alison Gardner
Our Magazine proudly profiles UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the following richly-illustrated feature articles:
Ecuador: Galapagos Islands, favorite five creatures voted by guests visiting these islands.
Canada: Jasper National Park, Alberta is one of four joined parks in the Canadian Rockies.
Oman: Salala, Land of Frankincense, has been a treasured trading route for millenia.
Austria: what to see and do on a tight budget around the historic center of Vienna.
India: the narrow gauge Himalaya mountain railways in northern India.
Slovenia and Croatia: a visit to several unique cultural and natural heritage sites.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: Volunteer Coral Monitoring Vacations and Heron Island.
China: Hiking and Exploring Villages along the Great Wall of China (3 articles).
Greece: The Monasteries of Meteora, Greece’s Spiritual Pinnacles.
Northern Ireland: Giant’s Causeway Coast, a walking vacation.
Jordan: Ancient Nabatean city of Petra, and hiking encounters with the local people.
Spain: Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Route and the charming medieval city of Santiago de Compostela that marks the end of the route (5 articles).
Turkey: 4 articles showcasing many of the country’s World Heritage Sites, including historic areas of Istanbul, Troy, and the well-preserved Ottoman town of Safranbolu. Spectacular Cappadocia is showcased in two articles.
California: Yosemite National Park, from valley bottoms to mountain tops.
Mexico: Chichen Itza, also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Israel: Old City of Jerusalem, a dramatic photo essay
Canada: Ontario’s historic Rideau Canal, dating from 1832, is the best-preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America.
Italy: Cinque Terre National Park along the northwest coast, where walking between five historic villages is a popular active vacation.
Ecuador: the exquisite high altitude capital, Quito, preserves the finest example of Spanish colonial heritage. It was selected by UNESCO as one of its earliest cultural sites in 1978.
Scotland: the Heart of the Neolithic Orkney Islands presenting sophisticated communities and archaeological excavations from 5,200 years ago.
Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.