Seven New Unesco World Heritage Sites You Can Actually Visit
Last week, Unesco designated 21 new World Heritage Sites. They join a group of 1,052 protected places around the world that are awarded status for their “outstanding universal value” from either a cultural or natural standpoint. These include such iconic spots as the Giza pyramids in Egypt and the entire city of Venice.
Not all this year’s inductees are bound to become travel destinations. Some, such as the Ahwar of Southern Iraq—an archeological site and biodiverse inland delta system—are in conflict zones. Others, like the bird haven of Archipiélago de Revillagigedo, Mexico, are too remote for visitors. (The four volcanic islands that make up the archipelago are roughly 500 miles from the nearest port town—and offer nowhere to stay.)
But some of them would make memorable additions to popular itineraries or, better yet, are smack in the middle of well-trod destinations. “Once a site is inscribed, it sort of becomes a destination,” said Peter Debrine, Unesco’s senior project officer for sustainable tourism, in an interview. “Japanese travelers, in particular, often travel to see World Heritage Sites—they’ll sketch out itineraries going from one to the next,” he added.
According to data provided exclusively to Bloomberg by Foursquare, a location-intelligence company, sites that receive World Heritage status tend to see a bump in foot traffic, especially in the year following its induction to the list. The Singapore Botanic Gardens, for instance, saw a 204 percent increase in Foursquare visits and Swarm check-ins since being designated in 2015; the Tomioka Silk Mill, outside Tokyo, experienced a 43 percent year-over-year bump after earning Unesco status.
“Unesco designation does drive an increase in foot traffic,” said Sarah Spagnolo, editor-at-large at Foursquare. “But if a site is less popular at the outset, it's typically not enough of a tourist draw to send droves of travelers into lesser-known spots.”
Lesser-known is a relative term. Though it had indicated an interest in drawing tourists when it applied for Unesco recognition—and is set in a major city—the San Antonio Missions in Texas didn’t receive sufficiently substantial foot traffic for Foursquare’s data team to study. Neither did Christiansfeld, a historical site that lies an easy day trip from Copenhagen or Hamburg. Both sites were inscribed in 2015.
Debrine said that Unesco is not in the business of inscribing tourism sites, but the organization does view tourism as a “vehicle that instills a sense of pride in sites and encourages [local communities] to take care of them.”
Want to visit some of this year’s newly inducted heritage sites? Here are the seven you can access with relative ease.
Antequera Dolmens Site, Andalusia, Spain
Get there from: Málaga or Seville in Spain, or Gibraltar
Think of it as the Stonehenge of Spain: these megalithic rock formations date to the Neolithic and Bronze ages and are just a 45-minute drive north of Málaga. (From Seville or Gibraltar, it’ll take you roughly two hours by car.) Unesco calls the three giant, stacked structures—and the surrounding archaeological ruins—some of the “most remarkable architectural works of European prehistory.” It doesn’t hurt that they’re set against a stunning, smoky, mountain backdrop.
Antigua Naval Dockyard, Antigua and Barbuda
Get there from: Any of Antigua’s plush resorts
You won’t feel far from civilization when you see yachts moored outside Antigua’s Naval Dockyard, a fort-like historical site that was built as a shipyard for the British navy. It’s truly a stone’s throw from the beautiful Inn at English Harbour and down the road from the four-star Admiral’s Inn. Getting there from Jumby Bay, the best hotel in the West Indies, takes a bit more effort; the hotel is on a private island off the coast of Antigua, so you’d have to boat to the mainland and drive a half-hour south to reach the harbor. Still, the jaunt is worth it, if just for the site’s beautiful Georgian-style architecture.
Gorham's Cave Complex, United Kingdom
Get there from: Málaga or Seville, Spain
Despite being caught up in post-Brexit drama, Gibraltar remains a worthy destination—now with one more big draw. Four caves discovered on the eastern side of the Rock of Gibraltar have been designated for their “exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions of the Neanderthals.” As archaeologists and paleontologists continue to study the site’s rock carvings and small animal remains, visitors can take boat tours—some in the company of Professor Clive Finlayson, who prominently advocated for the site’s Unesco status.
Pampulha Modern Ensemble, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Get there from: Rio de Janeiro
Travel to Brazil is likely to hit bargain status following the Olympics; those who take advantage can explore its unreal art destinations, including one of Oscar Niemeyer’s earliest works, the Pampulha Modern Ensemble, in the business capital of Belo Horizonte. The Pampulha complex, which used to house a casino, a church, and government buildings (an odd mix, indeed), is built around an artificial lake that’s dotted with palm trees. Conveniently, it’s also by the Mineirão, the city’s famous soccer stadium, where you can catch a game or take a tour with Brazil’s famously rowdy fans.
The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, Global
Get there from: Tokyo; Buenos Aires; Lausanne, Switzerland; Geneva; Paris; Antwerp, Belgium; or Munich.
The work of Le Corbusier practically needs no introduction; the father of Modernism created boxy buildings that can be found anywhere from Buenos Aires to Tokyo. One of his most unusual works is the Chapelle Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, roughly an hour west of Basel, Switzerland. It was built as an extension to a Christian pilgrimage site that was partially destroyed during World War II, with an asymmetrical, curved concrete roof. It’s far less stark than Le Corbusier's other buildings. Icing on the cake for architecture junkies: A Renzo Piano-designed monastery is just a short walk away.
Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, Canada
Get there from: St. John’s, Canada
Birdwatchers and nature lovers have known about Mistaken Point for years—as have travelers on the Irish Loop, a driving route dotted with lighthouses that often leads passengers to this scenic jetty by mistake. (Hence the name.) For those just discovering it, the site is known for containing some of the oldest fossils on earth. Make reservations for a guided tour; you’ll learn about the area's 180 endemic bird species, see Atlantic puffins, and even get a view of the fossil assemblage.
Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, China
Get there from: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Hong Kong
Most first-timers to China won’t manage to see these colorful murals, painted on steep cliffs as early as the 5th century B.C. Even for residents of China’s best-connected metropoles, the journey poses logistical challenges. That’s why Stan Godwyn, a specialist in travel to China, hasn’t booked a single client on an adventure to this southwestern site. Still, he said, it’s possible. Direct flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Hong Kong will take you to Nanning, a city near the Vietnamese border that’s less than two hours from Chongzuo by car. His recommendation: Make an entire weekend trip out of it, and hit the dramatic, multi-tiered Detain Waterfalls along the way.