UNESCO World Heritage Sites—cultural and natural sites of “outstanding universal value”—serve to protect and preserve our human legacy and the heritage we pass on to future generations. Of the more than 1,000 sites designated since 1972, over 200 have been chosen for their natural beauty or ecological significance. Among these, there are a few precious places and earthly havens that have inched their way to the top of our list. Take a look at some of our favorites.
Glacier Bay, Alaska | View Itinerary
Glacier Bay contains the largest non-polar ice field in the world. You can also find some of the world’s longest glaciers here, as well as lofty mountains, coastal forests, grizzly bears, caribou, whales, and Dall sheep. This national park is one of America’s crown jewels, and, let’s face it—the spectacle of tidewater glaciers sweeping like rivers of ice down massive mountain valleys into sparkling blue waters is simply a heart-pumping, eye-popping delight.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador | View Itineraries
These 19 unique islands located at the confluence of three ocean currents are a melting pot of marine life, a living museum, and a stunning spectacle of unusual animals. Land and marine iguanas, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies (and red-footed boobies!), flightless cormorants, the finch that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and underwater splendors like the red-lipped batfish and golden rays make this a truly spectacular sanctuary that spans both sides of the equator.
Okavango Delta, Botswana | View Itineraries
Not only is the Okavango Delta home to one-sixth of the world’s elephant population and another nearly 200 species of mammals, but it is also one of the largest interior delta systems—it flows onto the savanna, not to the ocean! Another unique characteristic: the annual flooding occurs during the dry season! It’s an unusual, ever-changing landscape that native plants and animals have synchronized with for thousands of years. The connectivity between the land, animals, and water here is a magnificent marvel to behold.
Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil | View Itinerary
Stretching a full mile across the Rio Parana, 275 separate cascades make up the magnificent Iguazú Falls. These plunging waters, laced with rainbows in a mist-shrouded subtropical landscape, spread across both Argentina and Brazil and make up part of the Iguazú National Park where toucans, great dusky swifts, and another 400 species of birds soar above the spray. In a place so transfixing, it’s no surprise that this wonderland is awash with a myriad of myths and legends.
Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, Palau | View Itinerary
Exquisite turquoise lagoons surrounded by multicolored coral reefs are filled with hundreds of astounding species (including the elusive dugong and at least 13 species of sharks) in these volcanic limestone islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Among the region’s fascinating features is the fact that the islands are full of remains of stonework villages, burial sites, and rock art from ancient civilizations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Also intriguing: these islands hold the highest concentration of marine lakes anywhere on earth—salty bodies of water where new species are still being discovered. These rock islands truly are a treasure trove!
The Pyrenees, France and Spain | View Itineraries
Composed of two of Europe’s largest canyons on the Spanish side and three major steep-walled semicircular basins on the French side, the Pyrenees are filled with awe-inspiring meadows, lakes, caves, and forests. Human settlement here dates back to the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000-10,000 BC!), and villages and pastures are linked by trails that people have been sharing since the Middle Ages—an amazing and rare example of an ancient way of life that is still in practice today!
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania | View Itinerary
This striking landscape consists of highland plains, savanna, swamp, woodlands, forests, and the vast Ngorongoro Crater—a natural “enclosure” for wildlife. With the largest concentration of wild animals in the world, inhabitants range from lion to wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, rhinoceros, cheetah, and wild dog. Astonishingly, archaeologists have found evidence of human evolution and hominid’s early footprints here dating back 3.6 million years! Some form of humans and animals have coexisted in this wonderland for millions of years. Remarkable.