5 new UNESCO World Heritage Sites worth a visit

written by Bex Shapiro July 14, 2017
Yazd Iran

The Acropolis in Athens. The Great Wall in China. The Galápagos Islands in South America. What do all these destinations have in common? Well, aside from being truly iconic, they’re all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  

These landmarks are all officially recognized by the United Nations, and for good reason: they’re of special cultural or physical significance. And, as you can imagine, the UNESCO list they feature on basically equates to a ton of bucket list destinations.

Luckily, there’s no need for that bucket list to get stale with the same old sights. UNESCO is always updating its list of ‘New Inscribed Properties’, and just days ago it published its official list for 2017, adding over 20 heritage treasures to it. We’re a fan of all the entries (of course) but thought we’d highlight five that are particularly worth a visit. Enjoy!

Gelati Monastery, Georgia

Gelati Monastery GeorgiaTalk about off the beaten path. The former Soviet republic of Georgia boasts the dream combination of history and scenery. Whether you’re in lively capital Tbilisi or ancient capital Mtskheta, you’ll find yourself surrounded by cobbled streets, beautiful architecture, and churches and cathedrals that go back centuries and centuries.

One place here that certainly warrants a trip is Gelati Monastery, a masterpiece that was founded in 1106. One of the largest medieval Orthodox monasteries in the world, the interior really is the star of the show. Brightly colored and an incredibly important cultural sight, it’s imposing and impressive in equal measures. It’s also located on a picturesque hillside just northeast of Kutaisi, the country’s legislative capital and a city that also houses the 11th century Bagrati Cathedral.

You can visit both Kutaisi and the Gelati Monastery on our 15-day Tbilisi to Istanbul tour, a trip that takes you from Georgian forests and mountains to Turkish taverns and spice markets. And if you want to indulge in even more adventure, you can also visit the UNESCO-listed monastery on this extended trip that visits Azerbaijan too!

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

Sambor Prei Kuk, CambodiaThere’s more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat, and if you want proof then just look to Sambor Prei Kuk, a pretty good place to start your explorations. The archaeological site has just been dubbed a new World Heritage Site, and it’s no surprise seeing as the brick temples there are one of the oldest structures in the entire country. Yep, there’s over 100 monuments and they’re all pre-Angkorian.

The site itself explains why we love this Southeast Asian country so much. A several-hour drive from Siem Reap (home to Cambodia’s more famous temple complexes), the forested area of Sambor Prei Kuk is far less crowded and much more serene. The octagonal temples themselves are masterpieces, while the destination itself offers an authentic glimpse into rural Cambodian life.

We’re so keen on the region that our Cambodia trips offer the chance to stay in a homestay just near the temple ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk. This means that a visit to them is always an (optional) activity we encourage culture enthusiasts to visit; the entrance fee is just a few dollars. Keen to go? Have a browse of this 14-day Best of Cambodia trip, this adventure through Cambodia and Laos, or this tour through Cambodia and Vietnam.

Ahmedabad, India

Ahmedabad IndiaPicture India’s most quintessential cities and it’s likely that Mumbai, Jaipur or New Delhi come to mind. Ahmedabad, however, remained pretty under the radar until UNESCO decided to (justifiably) shine a spotlight on it. The largest city in the western state of Gujarat is well worth a visit. Though a little overwhelming for the senses at first, this walled city is a fascinating blend of Hindu and Jain culture, with more temples, mosques and museums than you could hope to see in just a few days.

Founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century, Ahmedabad’s traditional gated streets feel simultaneously historic and buzzing with energy. And, really, this is one reason why the city’s rich architectural heritage is worth an explore. Don’t leave without venturing to the medieval minarets of the Rani Sipri’s Mosque or the oddly fascinating Shreyas Folk Museum.

One way you can see the sights is on our 14-day Gujarat Adventure, which starts off in Ahmedabad and then travels everywhere from the Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary to the supremely romantic city of Udaipur.


Valongo Wharf, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro BrazilRio needs no introduction. Brazil’s bustling seaside city is full of icons, from its Copacabana Beach to its Christ the Redeemer statue (pictured above). But away from the carnival festivities and the sprawling favelas lies a newly recognized icon: Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site.

Located in the center of the city, it’s a former harbor area that’s now listed by UNESCO for its long-standing history and archaeological layers. Initially built for the landing of enslaved Africans reaching South America from 1811, it is now the most important physical trace of the arrival of slaves to the continent. All in all, it’s an important place to really take in the city’s past and present from.

The wharf area is one you can visit fairly easily on any trip to Brazil, but it’s worth taking a little bit of time when there to gather a deeper understanding of it. For this, we suggest checking out the range of Rio day tours that Urban Adventures offers. They have four different day trips that offer the opportunity to visit Valongo Wharf, and it’s an opportunity you won’t want to pass up.

Yazd, Iran

Yazd IranYazd is a desert city, an Iranian gem, and so much more. Situated in central Iran, it’s a maze of traditional houses, mosques and teahouses, and is home to an enchanting culture and a colorful history. Originally settled 5000 years ago, its location is as compelling as its past. Surrounded by mountains but composed mostly of mud-brick houses, it’s simply a fascinating place to visit, not least because it’s the heart of the Zoroastrian religion.

Two of our favorite places to explore in Yazd, both of which you can visit on our 14-day Iran Adventure, are the Water Museum (showing how ancient underground water channels carry water from the mountains to city) and the Jameh Mosque (a work of art thanks to its gorgeous exterior and fine mosaics).

Yazd is also an unmissable new UNESCO site because of its fantastic location. Several hours drive from the renowned city of Esfahan, which has Persian architecture and historic bazaars aplenty, it’s certainly well-located. It’s also close to the Spice and Silk Roads, and is near to the town of Kharanak too. If you you visit Iran with Intrepid, you can take an excursion to Kharanak to see the abandoned structures of this hillside settlement, as well as the plentiful hammams (bathhouses). Or you can just chill out in alluring Yazd and the hotel our trips offer – a traditional 19th century mansion that sums up the city’s charm.

Feeling inspired to go explore that big, beautiful world? Intrepid has trips in over 100 countries; go check out our top destinations.

(All images c/o iStock)

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