What is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Machu PicchuHere at Breakaway, we love history—and no wonder. We’re located in one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina. The city’s history goes back to the 17th Century, and the local architecture bears this storied past in unforgettable ways. And in recent months, there’s been a movement afoot to name the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site—a fairly rare distinction in the United States. It got us thinking about all of the amazing World Heritage Sites you can visit when you travel abroad …

Tre Cime Three PeaksA little bit of background: In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted the World Heritage Site program, which both catalogues and conserves those places in the world that are so special to humanity, whether it’s culturally, physically, that they deserve special international recognition and protection. The program is so popular that all but a handful of nations the world over participate in the program—it is one of the international treaties that’s recognized the most widely.

In order to be selected for the list, a site must have “outstanding universal value,” with cultural sites representing such qualifications as being “a masterpiece of human creative genius.” A natural UNESCO site “contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.”

As of the most recent count, more than 1,000 sites have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The country with the most sites is Italy, followed by China, Spain and Germany.

Many of our tours at Breakaway Adventures will give you the opportunity to explore these unique and stunning locations. Here are just a few:

  • Heart of Pyrenees Walk in France. On this trip, you’ll visit the Cirque de Gavarnie, a truly majestic amphitheater-like natural formation carved by ancient glaciers, with black cliffs that tower 1,000 meters.
  • Pathways of the Canal du Midi Cycling in France. This cycling trip offers the chance to see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Canal du Midi as well as the village of Carcassone with its castle “la Cite.”
  • Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in Peru. You’ll visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites—the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu and the city of Cuzco.
  • Italian Dolomites Walk—which takes you to the jagged limestone peaks of the Tre Cime, the breathtaking symbol of the mountain range.

These are just a few ideas to get you started as you begin to research which unique places around the world with “outstanding universal value” you might want to visit on your next vacation. Will it be a place of cultural genius that’s valued the world over? Or a location with such stunning natural beauty that you’ll never forget it? The choice is yours!