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Travelling to the first 12 UNESCO world heritage sites

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Heritage sites

The UNESCO World Heritage Site list is perfect for making summer travel plans. Discover the first 12 World Heritage Sites that span four continents.

UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, provides one of the most expansive lists of diverse places to see around the world. Some of these sites are located halfway across the globe, while others might be closer to home than you realise.

The first 12 inaugurated sites have been on the list for more than 40 years. Maybe it is time to go check them out? Get to know the first 12 sites and add them to your travel list this summer:

1. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Canada

If you make it to the island of Newfoundland, the L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site is a place to visit. Set in a picturesque landscape, this site marks the first confirmed evidence of Europeans settling in North America. You can see the remains of villages where Vikings from the 11th century lived. When you are done with that, continue on to enjoy the area with outdoor activities like fishing and nature walks.

2. Nahanni National Park, Canada

You’ll find Nahanni National Park in the Northwest Territories in Canada. From canyons to breath-taking waterfalls, the park is a treat for people that want to enjoy the wonders of nature and get a chance to spot a grizzly bear. Although the park is open all year, the summer months are the most popular times to visit. Entering some areas of the park requires pre-registration, so make sure you plan ahead when you decide to travel to this beautiful place.

3. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands were the first UNESCO World Heritage Site and are nestled in the Pacific Ocean around 1,000 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The area is made up of 19 islands, which have designated sites that you can visit with official tour guides. Visits are limited to a few hours, so make sure you take plenty of pictures of the unique flora and fauna. Don’t forget to keep a lookout for some wildlife that is found nowhere else in the world – such as the famous marine iguana and the Galapagos penguin. Even the bright red graspus graspus crab, though not unique to the islands, is fun sight along the shorelines.

4. City of Quito, Ecuador

Far away from the Galapagos Islands and high in the foothills of inland Ecuador, the City of Quito offers a unique experience. This capital city sits in 2,850 metres above sea level, making it the second highest capital city in the world. It also takes second place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list because it was added to the list right after the Galapagos Islands. While there, enjoy the rich cultural heritage from the Incan civilisation to the Spanish influence, to today. Much of the old city’s landmarks remain well-preserved including cobblestone streets and churches.

5. Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

UNESCO describes the Simien Mountains National Park as having some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices. Like the Galapagos Islands, the park hosts some animals that cannot be found anywhere else such as the Walia ibex goat. Some other rare animals also call this home like the Gelada baboon and Simien fox. This place is a great place for experienced trekkers, offering challenging but rewarding routes that can go on for days.

6. Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia

The rock-hewn churches are what the name suggests: 11 medieval churches expertly carved out of rock – from the ground down, instead of built upwards like many typical structures. These churches are attributed to King Lalibela, who reportedly wished to create a holy place close to home. Even today, the churches are a place of pilgrimage for Christian Ethiopians. For tourists, if you can’t make it during summer, October to March is a pleasant time to visit. It is recommended that you visit the area with a tour guide or as part of an organised tour of the area.

7. Aachen Cathedral, Germany

The Aachen Cathedral is in Aachen, the westernmost city in Germany. It is near the borders of both Belgium and the Netherlands. The Aachen Cathedral is amongst the oldest cathedrals in Europe and holds both religious and artistic significance. After you take in the architectural beauty of the cathedral, get exploring. Aachen also has the Vennbahn Cycle Route which lets you cycle for 125 kilometres on a disused railway taking you through Germany, Belgium and all the way to Luxembourg.

8. Krakow's Historic Centre, Poland

Did you know that Krakow was the capital of Poland until the 1500s? When visiting Krakow, you can be transported back in time – this city has one of the oldest university quarters in Europe and features architecture reflecting changes throughout the centuries. The historic district includes the Old Town, Kazimierz, and Wawel Castle. The Old Town alone has thousands of historic sites and a vast array of artistic achievement. Plenty to check out on a summer day.

9. Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines, Poland

Poland’s amazing history shows again at the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines. The mines at Wieliczka were the first to make the UNESCO list in 1978. In 2013, it was agreed that the Bochnia salt mines should be recognised alongside. More than just historical interest about the history of salt mining (which was stopped at these sites commercially decades ago), they also reflect culture. You will get to see everything from mining tools to underground chambers, relics and chapels.

10. Island of Goree, Senegal

The Island of Goree is a tiny island off the coast of Senegal. At only 900 metres long, it holds reminders of the painful history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Historians debate about the specific role the island had for that time. However, its message, and its symbolism is unmistakable. The island was added to the Senegalese national heritage list in 1975.

11. Mesa Verde National Park, United States

The Mesa Verde National Park is in the state of Colorado, in the United States. It was established to preserve the archaeological heritage of the Pueblo Nation, who made it their home for centuries. The park provides different guided tours (and some locations can only be visited with an official guide) to show the sites and tell about the history. Make sure you check ahead how strenuous the tour is since some places will require climbing.

12. Yellowstone National Park, United States

In 1872, the first national park of the United States was established – Yellowstone National Park, which spans the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Today, this well-known park is still one of those places that should go on your bucket list. Geysers, waterfalls, lakes, canyons, bears, wild bison – there is a lot to see. The park spans 8,983 square kilometres of exciting terrain, so plan ahead and pack for an outdoors adventure.

The world is full of wonderful places – rich with history, nature, and wildlife – go ahead and explore. Want to make last-minute travel plans? Create a travel budget and find out options to suit your finances. You can also get more room to manoeuvre with a dependable online loan that can turn your plan into plane tickets in a matter of minutes.

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