The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designates vital sites across the globe for their historical, traditional, and natural significance. Sites can qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by meeting one of 10 criteria, such as artistic importance, its role as a human settlement, or its astounding natural beauty. Take advantage of the more than 1,000 wonders that UNESCO helps preserve by visiting these four iconic sites that are a great starting point—then get to visiting the rest as soon as you can.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the world’s most dramatic natural attractions, and more than 6 million sightseers visited the Grand Canyon in 2018.
The Grand Canyon is a mile deep and more than 200 miles long. Park visitors can join rangers and astronomers to explore the night sky over the Grand Canyon, make basecamp and enjoy a meal at one of many lodges or restaurants, or explore the iconic overlooks and trails by mule, bicycle, raft or on foot.
Great Barrier Reef
Tourists make the trip to the Great Barrier Reef every year to explore underwater environments unlike any on Earth. The reef is Australia’s great natural wonder — the largest coral reef system in the world — with more than 3,000 coral cays and individual reefs.
The Great Barrier Reef’s nearly 350,000 square kilometers of coverage are home to more than 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, and 240 species of bird, giving the reef bragging rights as the greatest biodiversity zone on the planet. Visitors can view its many wonders while snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, or flying overhead. Many of the reef’s official experiences are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, is instantly recognizable for its white marble mausoleum built in the mid-17th century. The site serves as a showcase and living museum of Persian, Indian, and Islamic art, and architectural accomplishments in India.
Vast gardens, expansive marble etchings, and perfectly planned, symmetrical architectural balance give tourists and travelers more than enough to marvel at during their visit. The Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Indo-Islamic architecture in the world.
Traveling to the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru is almost like traveling back in time to a place that captivates the imagination. Perched atop a 1.5-mile plateau, in the middle of a mist-shrouded tropical forest, sits the most astounding urban creation of the Inca Empire — the ruins of a 15th-century citadel. The walls, ramps, and terraces appear cut from the surrounding rock and are left standing as a testament to the empire’s architectural prowess and agrarian expertise.
Visitors can follow the narrow Inca Trail through the eastern slopes of the Andes in guided hiking excursions to emerge at the gates of Machu Picchu just in time for the sunrise. They can also book tours that take them from Machu Picchu all the way to the nearby Galapagos Islands.