Discover our ultimate list of top 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites of 2019 from exotic destinations around the world.
Ancient ruins, prehistoric jungles, and indigenous cultures worthy of preservation – UNESCO has long sought to protect the cultural and natural heritage of the world. Every UNESCO World Heritage site is a little window to the genius of mankind, a witness to long lost cultures and traditions, a symbol of artistic brilliance and a reminder of the astounding natural beauty and diversity of the world we live in.
For travelers in search of the remarkable and unique, each of these sites can be your trip of a lifetime. Imagine wandering through a sprawling Inca citadel towering over the clouds some 2000 meters above sea level. Or watching the golden sun set behind the Taj Mahal – an eternal ode to love. Centuries old traditions live on at atmospheric Asian temples built thousands of years ago and still in use. In Sumatra, the jungle comes alive with the daily activity of endangered species.
Rich in history, culture and raw appeal, these are some of the most awe-inspiring destinations in the world. Here are some essential tips to help you discover these gems.
1Machu Picchu, Peru
The mist-laden summits of Machu Picchu in Peru may have been ‘forgotten’ until the early 20th century but today, it’s firmly imprinted in our collective consciousness as one of the top UNESCO-listed sites in the world. Getting to the top is no mean feat but if you’re looking for gorgeous panoramas as well, we advise making the trek up the Wayna Picchu – a mountain just across from the citadel.
The trail is steep but worthwhile with great birds-eye views of the lost city and the surrounding Andean peaks. Because of the narrow trail and popular demand, there are only two timings allowed for the climb which must be booked in advance, which we are happy to do for you!
Tip: We recommend rising early to get the best views between 0700 and 0800, before the heat and the crowds arrive!
When to visit: June to August is the best time to visit Machu Picchu, however, expect large crowds and long queues. This is also a great time to go hiking on the Inca trail. The shoulder season between April – May, and September – October, offers great weather and fewer crowds. Read more about the best time to visit Peru
2Rapa Nui / Easter Island, Chile
Firmly off the radar for mass tourism, Chile’s Easter Island is a dream destination for history and nature enthusiasts alike. One of the remotest corners of the world, expect lush green meadows, volcanic craters, soft white sandy beaches and some of the world’s best (and least known) diving, snorkeling and surfing opportunities at Rapa Nui, as the locals call it. The island’s largest attractions however, are the 870-odd gravity-defying, mysterious Moai statues that date back to the 1200s!
When to visit: The best time to visit the Easter Islands is during the first two weeks of February when the Tapati festival takes place. Read more about the best time to visit Chile
3Coffee Region, Colombia
If you think Colombia’s Coffee Region deserves any less mention than the rest on this list, think again. Nestled by the majestic Andes, this 348,700 acre area boasts rolling valleys, verdant plantations, numerous bird and plant species and – you guessed it – some of the best Arabica in the world! Over the last 150 years coffee growing has shaped the culture and identity of the local community, with practices passed down through generations.
Not just caffeine-induced journeys, you could have a host of other adventures in this region – trekking and hiking in the other-worldly cloud forests, riding horses through rolling valleys, taking leisurely walks through Andean mountain villages, or bathing in the hot springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal
When to visit: The warm months of December to February offer sunny skies and perfect weather for visiting this mountainous region. Read more about the best time to visit Colombia
4Medina of Fes, Morocco
At this UNESCO-listed site, 1300 years of history and heritage are yours to discover! Touted by locals as the most beautiful medina in all of Morocco, you’ll be awed at the exquisite examples of Islamic art and architecture. These narrow streets are flanked on either side by bustling souks occupied by tailors, artists, and traders, quaint cafes that lead to outdoor markets, the covered bazaar, and quiet squares where you can spot children at play. The new medina, the medersa or Islamic educational institute, and the iconic Bab Boujloud or Blue Gate, are great places to indulge in people watching.
When to visit: Travel to Fes in the months of April – May and October – November when the weather is comfortable and temperate enough for great walking tours. Read more about the best time to visit Morocco
5Zanzibar’s Stone Town, Tanzania
Delve deep into the heart of Zanzibar’s colorful history at this UNESCO site. Narrow, labyrinth like streets lead you past ancient heritage buildings, distinctive architecture and ramparts of the Old Fort, straight into a bustling spice market – Zanzibar is, after all, known as the ‘Spice Island’! Not just heritage buildings, this preserved site also tells tales of Africa’s slave trade, having been used as the base of operations. Just outside the city limits, an impossibly azure ocean and soft white sand awaits at some of the most beautiful beaches in the world!
When to visit: Visit Zanzibar between the winter months of June to October or in summer, between mid-December and March. Read more about the best time to visit Zanzibar
6Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Cambodia’s pride and joy can easily rival some of the best known UNESCO-sites of the world, including Peru’s Machu Picchu (later on our list!). Spread over 400 acres, the vast complex of ruins, in various states of preservation, will wow you with its sheer size and grandeur, not to mention architectural genius and symbolism. An epic reminder of the grand Angkor civilization, these temples built between the 9th and 13th centuries, are some of the finest examples of Asian architecture.
Not just walking tours, you can explore the Angkor complex on the back of a vespa or opt for a bird’s eye perspective from a helicopter! We also recommend an archaeology tour with renowned local anthropologist Mr. Khin Po Thai, for a whole new perspective!
When to visit: The winter months of November to January are perfect for exploring the Angkor Wat complex. Read more about the best time to visit Cambodia
7Taj Mahal, India
Not just an enduring symbol of Mughal architecture, the impossibly beautiful Taj Mahal tells an eternal tale of love. Built on the banks of the Yamuna river by Emperor Shah Jahan for his late wife, this imposing white marble structure is considered the most beautiful structure in the world by many – no wonder it draws in thousands of visitors every year, few of who leave disappointed!
The Taj is at its magnificent best during the witching hours of sunrise and sunset, with a glorious play of light and darkness forming a perfect background to its white facade.
Many say that the Borobudur temples easily rival Angkor Wat. One of the largest Buddhist temples in the world, this 9th century pyramid-esque structure rises up from the green plains around it just like one of the many neighboring volcanoes – a surreal sight at sunrise or sunset. Climbing up the six tiers to see the latticework stupas and Buddha statues can be arduous but is well worth it. After an enlightening visit, you could also take time to cycle around the tranquil countryside and mingle with the friendly locals.
9Sumatran Rainforest, Indonesia
A vast area shared by three Indonesian national parks, this land of incredible biodiversity is also home to the last remaining orangutans, Sumatran tigers and rhinos and pygmy elephants in the world! Tranquil waterfalls, hot springs and eco-conscious resorts make this the destination of choice of nature and wildlife enthusiasts in Asia. The rainforest area near the remote village of Tangkahan in Indonesia is also known for its unique group of domesticated elephants who help rangers patrol the dense forests!
When to visit: The dry months between April and October are the best time to visit the rainforest. However, given that the rainforests are located in the tropics, short bursts of rainfall can be expected even at this time so don’t forget your rain gear! Read more about the best time to visit Indonesia
Welcome to a magical wonderland set deep in the mountains of Japan. Located along the Shogawa River Valley among remote mountains stretching from Gifu to the Toyama Prefectures, picturesque Shirakawa-go needs to be seen to be believed. Visit the traditional gassho-zukuri (vernacular farmhouses), some of which are over 250 years old! In Japanese, the term “Gassho-zukuri” means, ‘constructed like hands in prayer’, as the steep thatched roofs of these farmhouses resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The roofs also allow for attic spaces where the locals cultivate silkworms.
When to visit: Spring, the season of cherry blossoms, is a beautiful time to visit this region however, expect a host of other visitors as well! The milder autumn months later in the year are also a great time to see the villages but if you wish to walk into a snow-laden winter wonderland, there’s no better time than December to January. Read more about the best time to visit Japan
Bucket-lists come in all shapes and sizes. At Enchanting Travels, we specialize in tailoring our trips to yours. Get in touch with us today for your fully customized UNESCO World Heritage sites tour in 2019.