[The following is a guest post from a fellow UNESCO fanatic named Jordan Adkins (his bio and blog link is at the bottom). I found his entries very fascinating (especially #3) so I hope you enjoy them as well. If you would also like to contribute your top 5 UNESCO sites and are a fellow travel blogger, shoot me an email: maximuz04 (at) gmail.com]
Have you ever visited a tourist site and thought it looked better in pictures? Or arrived only to be overwhelmed by hordes in tourist buses? I feel your pain! Global tourism is booming, and yet everyone seems to go to those same few places…Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Statue of Liberty. Now this is not without good reason but we have a huge planet out there to explore. There must be somewhere we can have a little time and reflection to ourselves? Well yes there is … there are over 1000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most of which have very few visitors, and are spread out all over the globe. I myself have been to 200+ so far and want to help people explore the lesser-known gems. So I put together a list, from my experiences so far, of 5 Amazingly Un-touristy World Heritage Sites! Hope you enjoy, and are inspired to visit more yourself!
#1 of 5 Amazingly Untouristy World Heritage Sites:
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum in Malta
The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (underground cemetery) was only found in 1902 during residential construction in Malta. Little did the workers know they had stumbled upon an enormous subterranean structure which was originally excavated in 2500 B.C.. Little is known of the incredible neolithic find other that its construction at the time was unparalleled with any other known developments on earth. Huge blocks of coralline limestone where lifted into place to create this ancient space, which was originally a sanctuary, but then became a necropolis in prehistoric times. Today it is one of the treasures of Malta and strictly guarded. Only 10 people are allowed in per hour on a limited guided tour (to prevent excess carbon dioxide and air humidity damaging the rock paintings), with no back-packs, cameras or other items. These guys are serious, and tickets sell out months in advance but WOW…It is worth it! Not to be missed!
P.S If you in the area check out my guide to the Top Five Things to Do in Malta!
#2 of 5 Amazingly Untouristy World Heritage Sites:
The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty in South Korea
The Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty are a collection of 40 tombs scattered around Seoul and its outer suburbs. For five centuries, from 1408 until as late as 1966, these tombs were constructed in areas of outstanding natural beauty honouring the memory of their ancestors. The Joseon Tombs were the last in a 5,000 year history of royal tomb architecture in the Korean peninsula which were used for showing respect for ancestors achievements, asserted royal authority, protected ancestral spirits from evil and sadly providing protection from vandalism. Huddled amongst the hills and river, guarded by stone statues of humans and animals, this place has an other-wordly aura. On my visit to one of the huge complexes I was only able to see a care-taker and one other lonely tourist, and otherwise walked alone along silent paths and 500 years of royal history surrounding me. A surreal experience. And don’t forget to take your Korean friends! All of mine didn’t even know this place existed!
#3 of 5 Amazingly Untouristy World Heritage Sites: Galápagos Islands in Ecuador
Ridiculously famous and not what you would traditionally call untouristy but hear me out! Found deep in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 km from any land, this unique island collection has inspired the world and come to be known as a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. A melting pot of multiple ocean currents and extreme geologic process has resulted in a bizarre landscape of extreme isolation and unusual animals. These islands inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection after his visit in 1835 and will surely inspire you too! Surprisingly for being so famous, they are nowhere near as touristy as you would expect. Live-aboards and small cruise options, as well as there being 19 islands, means it is still possible to have a beach to yourself (minus the sea-lions) or a quiet walk in the forest. Tourism here is extremely well-managed, plus the distance to affluent Western markets has thus far ensured most people are only able to experience it through film and video. Come and visit, but try to make your own way. Use local home-stays and avoid any large tourist developments so these islands can be treasured for generations to come!
#4 of 5 Amazingly Untouristy World Heritage Sites: Chitwan National Park in Nepal
Who would have thought one of the best places to go on safari was in Nepal! But yes, tucked in the foot hills of the Himalayas lies Chitwan National Park, one of the few remaining untouched vestiges of forest and floodplain which used to cover the entire ‘Terai ‘ region. This area is ridiculous rich in flora and fauna and has a large population of the highly endangered single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros. We managed to see 13 in one day! Chitwan is also one of the last refuges of the Bengal tiger, along with elephants, crocodiles, sloth bears and more. Located in a rather inaccessible corner of Nepal the few tourists it attracts tend to opt for a package on the outside of this grand landscape, but if you hire a guide and trek into the jungle overnight you are guaranteed to have the place to yourself. One of my favourite places of all time.
Check out my in depth guide to the glories of Chitwan National Park here
#5 of 5 Amazingly Untouristy World Heritage Sites: Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape
While most people only know of Cornwall and Devon for their quaint seaside towns, in the 18th century it was more renown for its pioneering copper and tin mining. Today this history is almost all but forgotten but remnants of this history dots the landscape in the form of deep underground mines, engine houses, foundries, new towns, ports and harbours, which at the time allowed the region to produce two-thirds of the world’s supply of copper. Not only are these rusting structures set in gorgeous surroundings reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic future but they testify to the areas contribution to the Industrial Revolution and the mining world at large. Many coastal walks cross this region where you will see barely a soul for miles, my favourite of which is Wheal Coates, pictured above. Trust me, you will hardly believe your in dreary old England!
For more highlights of the region check out my guide to a Cornwall Day Trip here.
So there you have it, 5 Amazingly Untouristy World Heritage Sites to inspire you to travel the globe. There are plenty more out there to find so get planning and feel free to let me know your own personal favourites.
Jordan Adkins, a travel writer at Inspired By Maps, has been to over 200 UNESCO sites in 50 countries. He enjoys roadtripping, eating any food someone tells him is local and complaining about the price of things in his native New Zealand. You can also follow him on Facebook or Instagram.