UNESCO has designated over 1000 sites around the world to be significant for the heritage of humanity, but many of these rarely get a mention in articles and travel brochures. Here are a few spectacular sites which have escaped popular attention.

Leshan Giant Buddha, China

This amazing 71 metre-high Maitreya Buddha was carved out of a cliff face by a Chinese monk in 713, at the point where the Min and Dadu rivers meet in Sichuan, China. It took over 90 years to construct and it remains the largest stone Buddha in the world.

Image of Leshan Giant Buddha in China
Leshan Giant Buddha, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Leshan, Sichuan Province, China, Asia

Okavango Delta, Botswana

This carefully conserved wildlife habitat, situated where the Okavango River meets Botswana’s Kalahari, floods annually between June and August, transforming it into a lush animal habitat. During the dry months, animals from far and wide congregate in the area, resulting in one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.

Lions drinking at Okavango Delta, Botswana
Lion (Panthera leo) at water hole, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities with a series of spectacular churches from the 12th and 13th centuries, that have been carved directly into the rock. Many of these buildings, which are still important pilgrimage sites for Coptic Christians, are joined by tunnels and trenches, and several have coloured frescoes inside.

Photo of Lalibela world heritage site in Ethiopia
Pilgrims wearing traditonal gabi (white shawl) at festival at rock-hewn monolithic church of Bet Giyorgis (St. George’s), roof shaped like a Greek cross, Lalibela, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ethiopia, Africa
Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland
This icefjord is a collection of enormous icebergs that have fallen from the Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, one of the world’s fastest moving glaciers that is advancing at a rate of 19 metres per day. This incredible sight of natural beauty tells us an important story of the Earth’s history at a time when climate change threatens to change the world forever.
Image of Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland UNESCO site
Fishing cutter / fishing smack in Kangia icefjord, Disko Bay, Unesco Nature Heritage, Greenland, Ilulissat, Jakobshavn icefjord

Parque Ischigualasto, Argentina

This amazing national park in northwest Argentina, also called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), is a moonlike desert with striking rock formations including a red wall of rock, and a collection of small and perfectly formed round rocks called the ‘Bowling Field’. Dinosaur fossils from the Triassic Period are displayed in the park’s museum.

Parque Ischigualasto or Valle de la Luna in Argentina
Argentina, South America, Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, nea. Argentina, South America, Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna

Sterkfontein, South Africa

Sterkfontein is a set of over 36 limestone caves located near Johannesburg, more commonly known as ‘The Cradle of Humankind’, since scientists have found a huge number of hominid fossils here, dating back over 3.5 million years. One cave alone contains over a third of all hominid fossils ever found.

Sterkfontein limestone caves in Johannesburg
Tourists on guided tour of Sterkfontein Caves, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gauteng, South Africa, Africa

Copán Mayan ruins, Honduras

The Maya site of Copán, not far from the border with Guatemala, is one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilization, that functioned as an important political, cultural and religious centre of the region. Today the site consists of a complex of ruins with several secondary complexes encircling it, including the longest known Mayan inscription with more than 1,800 individual glyphs.

Photo of Copan Mayan ruins near Honduras
The Mayan ruins at Copan, Honduras, Central America

Convents and churches, Goa

These beautiful colonial churches and convents, telling the story of the evangelization of Asia, are often overlooked by tourists in favour of Goa’s beaches. The most famous is the stunning Church of Bom Jesus, which contains the tomb of Roman Catholic missionary St Francis-Xavier.

Images of convents and churches in Goa
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Panjim, Goa, India, Asia

The Stone Town, Zanzibar

In this picturesque town on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar you can sense the historical meeting of African, Arab, Indian and European cultures in the many notable buildings, historical sites and labyrinths. However as well as boasting an incredible history, lively bazaars and a tasty fusion cuisine attest to the fact that Stone Town is very much alive and kicking.

The Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar
Arabic doorway in Stone Town, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, East Africa, Africa

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

This national park in Uganda, stretching across 331 square kilometres of jungle, mountains and forest, is famous for its population of endangered mountain gorillas, and is thought to house half of the world’s population of the species. The park also contains hundreds of other mammals, birds and butterflies, making it one of the richest ecosystems in Africa.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda
Gorillas, Rushegura Group, baby gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Buhoma, Uganda, Africa
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