The Best New UNESCO Sites Around the World

The Best New UNESCO Sites Around the World

Everybody loves a list. They allow us to organise otherwise overwhelming amounts of information, they appeal to our tendency to categorise things and they offer a sense of accomplishment when ticking things off. Travellers especially relish in compiling a catalogue of spots to conquer as they explore the world (see the prevailing ‘Travel Bucket List’ trend for proof). Thankfully, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) know this better than anyone and have been assembling lists since 1978, with the inaugural one featuring some heritage heavyweights, such as the Galapagos Islands, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Yellowstone National Park.

Today, the esteemed list features 1,154 UNESCO World Heritage sites, peppered across 167 countries, and has been divided into various sections: the classic list, the Intangible Cultural Heritage list, the Creative Cities list, the Biosphere Reserves list, the Global Geoparks list and the (rather niche) Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger list. A mélange of fascinating cultural, natural and scientific sites, the organisation aims to protect and preserve these places, deemed to be of ‘outstanding value to humanity’. The collection is constantly reviewed and around 30 new UNESCO sites grace the list annually, with 34 inscribed last year. Below we’ve handpicked our favourite new additions to the much-coveted list.

  1. Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex, Peru
  2. Frescoes of Padua, Italy
  3. As-Salt, Jordan
  4. Southern Islands, Japan
  5. Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil


Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex, Peru

Latin America is renowned for its astronomical observatories, with Chile crowned as the international capital of astronomy and Peru touted as an out-of-this-world star-gazing destination. It appears that the same could be said over 2,000 years ago, as the Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex – situated in northern Peru – is the earliest known astronomical observatory in the Americas. The 13 stone towers are a far cry from the futuristic observatories found in the Atacama Desert, yet extraordinarily the placement of the structures is so precise that natives were able to ascertain the date, with an error margin of only a few days, by tracking the sun’s movements.


Frescoes of Padua, Italy

Italy is overflowing with artistic riches and cultural gems, so it’s no surprise that the boot-shaped nation boasts more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country (58 and counting). Alleged to have once been the richest city in Italy after Rome, Padua sits pretty on the Bacchiglione river to the west of Venice. The 14th-century frescoes that decorate eight religious and secular building complexes throughout the city have been recognised by UNESCO as representative of how fresco art developed as a form of creative expression during this period. As with any self-respecting Italian city, food is also an art form in Padua and its culinary traditions range from bigoli (thick spaghetti in duck sauce) and bollito misto alla Padovana (mixed meat stew), to Pazientina (Paduan layered cake) and Santantonino (nougat and hazelnut ganache).


As-Salt, Jordan

Once an ancient salt trading hub on the East Bank of the Jordan River, the city of As-Salt is home to around 650 historically significant buildings, featuring a blend of Neo-Colonial, European Art Nouveau and local traditional architecture. Yellow sandstone buildings adorn the cluttered hillsides and are a standout feature of the town. The region is thought to have been inhabited since the Iron Age and was deemed a ‘Place of Tolerance and Urban Hospitability’ by UNESCO upon its inscription, in recognition of the generosity of its people and their traditions of hospitality towards visitors.


Southern Islands, Japan

A natural addition to the list, Japan’s Southern Islands occupy 165 square miles across the southwestern part of the country. Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, the northern part of Okinawa Island and Iriomote Island have all been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, providing protection for their unparalleled biodiversity and the high percentage of endemic species that call the coral-fringed isles home. The areas included on UNESCO’s list are uninhabited, meaning, unfortunately, they can’t be visited. However, some of Japan’s other Southwest Islands (such as Okinawa and Yakushima) offer a similar paradisiacal feel.


Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil

Described as a ‘living work of art’, the Sítio Roberto Burle Marx was designed and developed over a period of 40 years by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx and is the first modern botanical garden to be added to the list. Located in western Rio de Janeiro, the garden contains over 3,500 species of plants (Brazil’s most representative plant collection) and draws on Modernist artistic themes. If you’re hoping to pack more than one UNESCO site into your trip, Brazil itineraries can also include visits to the thundering cascades of Iguacú Falls (inscribed in 1984) and the historic centre of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil’s first capital city (added in 1985).

Written by Luisa Watts