A couple of years back, I set myself the goal to visit 40 countries by the age of 30. I am already at 35, and thanks to this yearlong adventure I am on, I think I will hit 40 within the year. So, that means I am going to need a new goal!
Now that I have dedicated myself to a year of travel, simply racking up countries no longer seems like challenge enough, nor is it quite in the spirit of truly experiencing the world. Counting that I’ve been to Mexico, when I’ve really only spent a few days in Tijuana kind of feels like cheating. I want to challenge myself to see and experience the most beautiful, most impactful, and most culturally important sites of this great planet.
Luckily for me, a list of all those places already exists. Starting in 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee began identifying and recognizing places in the world that are considered of outstanding and critical value to our shared cultural and natural heritage. There are now over 1,000 sites on the list, in almost every country in the world.
I’ve decided that my new goal will be to visit every UNESCO World Heritage Site in my lifetime, because:
- The hard work has already been done. The committee takes nominations from every country, and evaluates the sites based on their cultural and natural significance from a list of ten criteria. That means that every site on the list is considered important not only to the country in which it exists, but to the world at large. That makes for some pretty powerful tourist destinations.
- It is exhaustive. The list includes both natural and manmade wonders, and ancient and modern cultural artifacts. The landmarks are scattered all across the globe, and hardly any country is left off. Anywhere I travel, there is probably a site nearby, and I’d be remiss not to take the opportunity to see it. Plus, it may challenge me to see and experience things I would not otherwise go out of my way to see.
- Some sites are threatened. Some the sites on the list are under threat from either human or natural causes. My eyes were really opened to this in the last few years, as all six UNESCO sites in Syria have been damaged by shelling and looting during the civil war. Part of ISIL’s visions campaign is to destroy cultural heritage. Some of these had been standing for over 5,000 years, and it is heartbreaking to see that kind of destruction. Other sites across the world, including some here in Southern Africa, are at risk due to the effects of climate change. These sites have all been recognized for their vital importance to our shared humanity. I want to see as many of these as soon as I can. If I don’t, it might be too late.
- It will never be done. I don’t expect to finish the list before I am 30, or even 50. I may never finish it at all, especially considering that new sites are added to the list each year. But that is what I like about this challenge! It is a never-ending bucket list, and it will ensure that I never stop exploring, never feel that I have seen or done all that there is to do.
Spencer and I have already visited a good number of UNESCO World Heritage landmarks in our lifetimes, but we have barely made a dent in the over 1,031 sites scattered across the globe. I’ve started a list here of all that Spencer and I have collectively been to, and I’ll keep it updated as we go along.
What sites have you seen, and which ones should I absolutely not miss?