Many travel companies and tourism boards love to highlight their “UNESCO World Heritage” sites but what does that even mean and why should you care?
UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This group encourages the preservation of sites considered to be of “outstanding value to humanity.” Yeah, that’s pretty subjective. In addition to having “outstanding universal value,” the sites must meet at least one selection criteria. These sometimes lofty criteria include representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, being a structure or landscape that represents a historically significant period and containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty. Like I said, it’s “lofty” and the kind of list that was put together by one committee and tweaked by several others. You can view the full list here.
By now you are getting the idea that these sites are pretty important and they are. There is also controversy about the selection process, that’s not a surprise is it?
So, should you pick trip A over trip B because it includes more UNESCO sites? Honestly, it really depends on what you want to see. The UNESCO sites are fabulous but there are many wonderful sites that don’t meet the selection criteria or simply haven’t been included yet. In the US, there are only 21 UNESCO sites but that doesn’t mean these are the only sites worth seeing here. You should understand that the same is true all around the world.
Curious about the location of these sites? Take a look at the interactive map.