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UNESCO World Heritage Sites :: Why They're Important (and Why You Should Go)

Story by The Travel Yogi


You’re in a conversation about travel and gushing about some of the most beautiful places on Earth.... How long before a UNESCO World Heritage Site comes up? For plenty of destinations, it’s only a matter of time. They’re places that leave a lifelong impression — Machu Picchu, the Great Barrier Reef and Easter Island are three stunning examples etched into the collective imagination. UNESCO’s mission is to foster exactly that feeling. In their words, their job is to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.”  Important and pretty cool, right?

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  In order to qualify for World Heritage status, a selection must meet at least one of ten exacting criteria. That list includes a requirement “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius” or to “contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.” Once selected, whether the site is natural or cultural, measures are taken to preserve it against forces like pollution, urbanization, and war.  Again, super important and uber cool.  

Our yoga retreats and adventures take us to an amazing variety of UNESCO locations (hmmm... think we planned that?) and we can enthusiastically report that they’re all stunning. The Galápagos Islands are a prime example: UNESCO describes the Galápagos as “one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world.”  Culturally the importance of the Islands is impossible to exaggerate, having inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution back in 1835. On ourGalápagos Yoga Retreat Adventure we do everything to bring you (responsibly) close to that inspirational wildlife. Think itineraries that include snorkeling, exploration of a cloud forest and the chance to watch wild giant tortoises amble by from the comfort of your yoga mat. With world-class attractions comes international attention, so we partner with responsible, sustainable operators to support UNESCO’s mission of preservation (see ourlast post on overtourism for more).

Galapagos Yoga Retreat

On the cultural swashbuckling end of the spectrum, Panama’s Casco Viejo (literally the 'old quarter') is a less-publicized but phenomenal World Heritage Site.  In the evolution of buildings you can trace the impacts of technology and social change, but this isn’t just a place for history buffs and engineers to nerd out. Walking the streets of Casco Viejo you’ll find the red-blooded history of piracy, slave rebellion and natural disaster.  And while it's not part of the UNESCO status, the refurbished historical hotel we stay in inside the quarter is one that Abraham Lincoln spoke at back in the day... not too shabby!  Panama’s tropical climate makes it a very lush place to ponder the passage of centuries and our Panama yoga retreat adventure gives you the best of the city and the islands on which to chill and think (and yoga and play...ha).

Panama Yoga Retreat

Those are two examples pulled from about a dozen sites that our yoga adventures visit. Others include Ha Long Bay in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tokin (dollars to donuts our Vietnam yoga retreat travelers aren't the only ones who know Ha Long’s iconic limestone islands), and culture junkies will be skipping through the streets of ancient Hoi An and its unique melding of cultures from five hundred years as a trading port.

And there are more.... think a Bali yoga retreat visit to their unique rice irrigation system, a profound cultural innovation that made UNESCO’s list and, of course, the aforementioned Machu Picchu merits two visits on ourPeru yoga retreat adventure. Sri Lanka is home to no fewer than three World Heritage sites - info we covered before on our Sri Lanka yoga retreatadventure cultural must-dos. And, keep in mind, that countries also keep a running tally of “tentative” inclusions, so more sites may pop up as the years go on.... we absolutely hope so...

Sri Lanka Yoga Retreat

Bringing it back full circle, UNESCO's important and beyond cool intention for these sites is that “World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”  Think about that for just a moment... one country's unique natural or cultural contribution belongs to all of us, for all time.  In a world of borders and controversy we think it's amazing that there's a global organization out there pulling together for connectivity and our shared and collective past, present and future.