The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designates important landmarks and areas of the world as heritage sites. International treaties protect these places — in some cases, entire towns. Each landmark or region offers something wondrous for travelers to experience.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park sits in Montezuma County, Colorado. UNESCO designated these ruins as a cultural heritage site in the late 1970s based on their significance to Pueblo history. The prehistoric settlement includes 600 sandstone-and-mortar cliff dwellings, walled villages, reservoirs, and dams.
Petra lies between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea in Jordan. The prehistoric city is carved into the mountains, combining Greek and Eastern architecture. Temples, tombs, and living spaces wind through rock caverns. UNESCO estimates that a lost civilization, the Nabataeans, lived there from the fourth century BC to the first century AD. An estimated 30,000 people live in this city carved from sandstone.
Gwynedd, an area in north Wales, contains several castles created by James of St. George for King Edward I. The four castles are pristine examples of medieval architecture, history, and culture. King Edward I commissioned these castles and their walled cities in the late 13th and early 14th centuries after invading Wales. Because Edward I established these castles in a time of strife, they contain unique military features.
This sacred Peruvian city dates back more than 5,000 years. According to UNESCO, it’s one of the oldest centers of civilization in the American continents. Its ancient inhabitants created six pyramids hundreds of years before the more famous ones in Egypt. Remnants of ceremonial sites and dwellings remain.
Thingvellir National Park
In 930, the Icelandic people established the Althing — an ancient open-air legislature — in this location. It occurred there until 1798, and fragments of the Althing remain. The park sits in a rift valley between tectonic plates with Iceland’s largest natural lake at its southern border.
City of Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, sits atop ancient Incan ruins in the Andes. Since its founding in the 16th century, it’s been a melting pot of influences. The monasteries and landmarks combine Italian, Spanish, Flemish, and Moorish art with indigenous styles. The city itself is on the slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano.