The Top 14 Most Adventure-Worthy UNESCO Heritage Sites for 2020
These UNESCO World Heritage sites will take you off of the beaten path and reward you with a world of adventure free of tourists.
Photo By: Joe Sills
Photo By: Valerie O'Sullivan
Photo By: Intrepid Travel
Photo By: Joe Sills
Photo By: Safari Bookings
Photo By: Joe Sills
Photo By: Volcanoes Safaris
Photo By: REI Adventures
Photo By: Tourism and Events Queensland
Photo By: Paul Zizka Photography/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
The Farther the Better
UNESCO World Heritage sites represent the most incredible places on Earth including jaw-dropping natural wonders, the remains of ancient civilizations and sites almost too surreal to believe. Some, like the Roman Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower are teeming with tourists. But these far-flung UNESCO sites will keep you largely away from the crowds and free to enjoy new adventures off the beaten path.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
Miles of sticky mud, river crossings laden with leeches and jungle-made rice wine await travelers brave enough to venture into central Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Thanks to an abundance of unexploded ordinance left by the US Air Force, you’ll need a guide like Oxalis Adventures to navigate through the park; but your reward is an overnight stay in one of the largest cave systems on the planet. Oh, and did we mention spring rolls?
Tasmanian Wilderness, Australia
Take a trip to the edge of the world and then keep going. That's how you get to Tasmania. Towering gum trees, breathtaking waterfalls, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and the lingering legend of the Tasmanian Tiger make this land of the lost a must-see for outdoor adventurers. The best way to see the island? A flight to Hobart followed by a hike from its beaches to its alpine forests on the 40-mile Overland Track.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Imagine scaling 600 feet above the North Atlantic on an island shrouded in mystery and mist. Hikers trekking to the ancient hidden monastery at Skellig Michael may find themselves asking for guidance from above while climbing this isolated crag. The site served as the Jedi refuge of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. However, the ruins of a real-life temple compound await those who venture to the top. Casey's Tours provides landing expeditions departing from the village of Portmagee.
Classical Gardens of Suzhou, China
Retrace the footsteps of Marco Polo in Suzhou. This ancient city opened its gates more than 2,000 years ago, and its canal-lined waterways led the Venecian merchant to dub Suzhou the Venice of the East. The city is brimming with classical Chinese gardens. The most ancient examples reside in the water district of Tongli, where visitors can snag a gondola ride and authentic Chinese cuisine in a venue virtually devoid of Western tourists.
Medina of Marrakesh, Morocco
Hop on a camel and head into the Sahara or soak in the remnants of an ancient past in Marrakesh. Morocco's fourth-largest city is still brimming with medieval ramparts, ruins, monuments and artworks that once made it the cultural epicenter of North Africa and southern Spain. Intrepid Travel offers one- and two-week sojourns of Morocco both beginning in and concluding in Marrakesh.
Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza, Spain
Spend the night in a Renaissance palace and spend your days navigating winding medieval streets filled with Spain's finest foods in the twin cities of Úbeda and Baeza. The ancient parapets of these two Moorish cities are perched in one of Spain's most dramatic landscapes where rows upon rows of endless olive groves spread below their walls in either direction. And the best part? While Úbeda and Baeza are popular destinations for European travelers, Americans remain largely scarce.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Lions, leopards and water buffalo await those willing to explore the wilderness of Africa's last Eden. Each year, from July to September, the serpentine waters of the Okavango Delta create a home for around 200,000 of Africa's largest animals before drying up in the dry sands of the Kalahari Desert. Wilderness Safaris offers game drives and boat tours of the ecosystem. And though the Okavango's waters are highest in late summer, you can visit the area year-round.
Central Balkan National Park, Bulgaria
The rolling mountains of Central Balkan National Park form the spine of Bulgaria. Here, visitors can fully immerse themselves in a culture of homemade rakia (a fruit brandy popular in the Balkans), meals cooked with fresh ingredients and a mountain range littered with secluded monasteries and sleepy villages. For a small fee, they can even spend the night in a Balkan hut overlooking this fertile, forgotten landscape.
Frontiers of the Roman Empire, England, Scotland and Germany
Patrol the edge of an empire and walk in the footsteps of centurions, Gauls and Celts at these ancient Roman walls. 1,800 years ago, these fortifications marked the edge of Rome's grasp. The Antonine Wall and Hadrian's Wall both spanned the width of Great Britain. Elsewhere, the German-Raetian walls fortified the Roman frontier in mainland Europe. Thanks to their scale, travelers can easily explore these ruins at their own pace by hiking the Hadrian's Wall Path or the Limestrasse.
Virunga National Park, Rwanda
Stare into the eyes of evolution at Virunga National Park. This remote Aftrican park is home to one of the last remaining populations of wild mountain gorillas on Earth, but spotting them can require bushwacking through bamboo thickets and climbing volcanic slopes. These rare animals share 98 percent of their DNA with the blood coursing through your veins right now, and outfitters like Virunga Lodge offer a base from which to see them in person.
Lotru Mountains, Romania
The Transfăgărășan Highway blasts a 55-mile, serprentine route through Romania's Lotru Mountains, melding into the alpine landscape while creating what some consider to be the most beautiful road in the world. Getting there requires a rental car and careful route planning from Bucharest. These wild mountains encompass a small portion of primeval Carpathian beech forests in a massive UNESCO site spanning 12 countries from Germany to the Black Sea.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, a melting pot of natural life has been blended into a bizarre stew. The Galapagos Islands are home to towering cacti, flightless birds, marine iguanas, thousands of colorful finches — and yes, the giant tortoise. A wave of sustainable tourism — like this conservation volunteer vacation from REI — is slowly edging out a more destructive history of cruise stops that bring 150,000 people to the Galapagos each year.
Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia
A rusty river ferry guards the gates to Daintree National Park, one of the last natural footholds of the giant, flightless birds and hundreds of species of plants native to the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site. Though access to this site comes easily via Cairns Airport, a journey into the Wet Tropics feels like a visit to a science fiction world. Camping, mountain biking, scuba diving and snorkeling are all withins arms reach in the Wet Tropics— as are jungle treehouses that adventurers can rent by the night.
Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland
Reaching this remote Nordic site is no small task, but the rewards of the long journey are large. At Ilulissat Icefjord, floating icebergs can stand more than 3,000 feet tall and can sometimes be seen glistening in the glow of the northern lights. Access to the fjord is available via the city of Iliulissat. The community of 5,000 hosts a small airport and several hotels; it also serves as a gateway for ferry and helicopter tours of the fjord.