Everyone knows about Stonehenge and the Pyramids, but there are some stunning World Heritage Sites that get overlooked in favour of their more famous cousins. For centuries, or even millenniums, some of the most astounding sites of ancient times were forgotten or hidden from the world, buried under jungles, deserts, or farmers’ fields around the globe. Rumours of lost cities or chance discoveries by people going about their everyday lives have led to unimaginable finds that are today open for the world to see. The more adventurous travellers might want to check out some of these gorgeous natural and man-made sites.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
In the north-east of Vietnam sits Ha Long Bay, a collection of over 1,600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabitable by humans. It means that the site is almost untouched by people, allowing nature to thrive.
Terracotta Army, China
Standing guard over the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, the Terracotta Army is like no other archeological site in the world. Thousands upon thousands of life-sized warriors, each with a unique face, stand in rows, where they have stood since they were buried here in the 3rd century BC. It is estimated that some 700,000 workers were involved in the creation of the site, which is thought to have approximately 8,000 clay warriors. The site remained undiscovered for millenniums, until a farmer was digging a well in the 1970s and uncovered the treasure. Some of the site remains intentionally not excavated, but visitors will be more than impressed by the massive army that stands before them.
Iguazu National Park, Argentina
The waterfall at the heart of this National Park is the main attraction, but the park also boasts a vast subtropical rainforest populated by tapirs, howler monkeys and jaguars, among others.
Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
The ancient Mayan city of Tikal is one of the greatest archeological sites in Central America. Located in northern Guatemala and surrounded by jungle, the site comprises more than 3,000 structures from a city that existed between 600 BC and AD 900. Ancient pyramids, temples, plazas, and foundations of all kinds of buildings reveal a complex society that housed tens of thousands of people. The site was rediscovered in the mid-1800s and opened to the public in the 1950s. Some of the site has been restored, but work continues, with some areas not yet mapped or excavated at all. The ruins are in Tikal National Park, a biosphere reserve protecting the forest and wildlife in the area.
The Old City of Sanaa, Yemen
This mountain city is over 2,500 years old and was a major centre of Islam from the 7th century onwards. Its distinctive red-brick multi-storeyed buildings make it an unmistakable piece of architectural beauty.
Borobudur is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world and certainly one of Indonesia’s most famous landmarks. Set in lush, tropical surroundings, with mountains and volcanoes rising in the distance, the site is visually stunning and soothingly peaceful. Located on the island of Java, near Yogyakarta, this massive temple complex was constructed in the 700s, but two to three hundred years later, the site was abandoned, possibly due to volcanic eruptions in the area, and went relatively undisturbed for centuries. The site was uncovered in the 1800s by the British and later restored. Today, it is one of the most important tourist attractions in Indonesia.
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
This might be one of the most well-known landmarks on this list, but we couldn’t resist drawing your attention to the world’s greatest sheet of falling water. The mist from the waterfalls create beautiful rainbows and an iridescent sheen.
Towering over the city of Athens from its hilltop perch, the Acropolis stands as a proud monument to Ancient Greece. Dating from between the 5th and 4th century BC and dominating the site, the Parthenon is the largest and most recognizable structure from this period and symbolizes the extensive history of this country. Just steps away from modern day Athens, the Acropolis is a powerful sight, glistening in the Mediterranean sun during the day and lit for dramatic effect at night. For first time visitors to the city, it is an awe inspiring sight and sets the stage for travelers carrying on to other parts of Greece.
Portovenere, Cinque Terre and the Islands – Italy
These remarkable settlements clinging to the edge of cliffs along this stretch of coastline are of both cultural and scenic importance.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
One of the most recognizable structures in the world, the Roman Colosseum is the largest building remaining from Roman times. Its imposing presence in the city center of modern day Rome is a testament to the incredible history of the city and the achievements of the Roman Empire. Visitors popping up from the nearest subway stop or turning a corner and seeing it for the first time can’t help but be stunned by its immense presence. Construction began on the structure in 72 AD and today, it is still one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world.
The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera – Italy
This area was first inhabited in the Palaeolithic era, and comprises of a number of churches, houses, monasteries and hermitages carved into the natural caves. It’s the largest intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean.