Our planet is so full of breathtaking nature and fascinating cultural phenomena that it's often difficult to prioritize which ones to visit. UNESCO takes some of that burden off our hands with their annual nomination of World Heritage Sites. Important locations worth preserving for future generations, the UNESCO list is essentially a treasure map for intrepid travelers of the Earth's most significant features. From the 21 sites chosen for inclusion in 2016, here are some of our new favorites.
Nalanda Mahavihara, India
Although much of it lies in ruins now, Nalanda Mahavihara was once an exemplary scholastic institution that displayed outstanding art and architecture alongside its educational savvy. As the most prestigious university on the continent, scholars and students from as far as Tibet, China, Korea and Central Asia came to study at the massive complex. With six brick temples and 11 monasteries still fairly intact, the extensive grounds offer visitors plenty to explore.
Ennedi Massif, Chad
Not typically known as a tourist destination, in the middle of Chad sits a plateau which holds a series of canyons and valleys which, in turn, contain essential watering holes and hundreds of spectacular and delicately eroded arches, cliffs and pitons. The plateau's incredible scenery would be viewed far more often if not for its relative inaccessibility and extreme desert climate. A trip out to the Ennedi Plateau is definitely not for the weak or timid, but those who are willing to take on the challenge will find it's well worth the effort. If the fascinating scenery wasn't enough, adventurers also have the opportunity to see ancient artwork as well. Thousands of images have been painted and carved into the cliffs and caves giving you a glimpse into one of the largest ensembles of rock art in the Sahara.
Ani Ruins, Turkey
Situated on low cliffs above the Akhurian River, this crumbling medieval city used to control a vital vein of the famous Silk Road. It's prosperity was evident in the 100,000 residents that once called the area home, but a series of unfortunate natural disasters and regular attacks led to its eventual abandonment. From mausoleums and monasteries to cathedrals, caves and castles, the archaeological site of Ani is as fascinating as it is desolate.
Khangchendzonga National Park, India
Khangchendzonga National Park contains the world’s third highest mountain peak, but that’s only one of many attributes that makes this section of the Himalayas so unique. The park is home to lakes, waterfalls, lowlands, a variety of rare fauna and flora, and more than a dozen glaciers all ripe for exploration. It is the first site in India to receive the "mixed heritage" designation for both it's natural and cultural significance.
Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art, China
A region in southern China boasting 38 sites of rock art, mountains, rivers, plains, and sky seem to meld together as the towering cliffs of the Zuojiang river flaunt their ancient narrative. Sometimes as high as 40 meters off the ground, the bright red paintings of the Luoyue people depict their life and rituals. The site is the only known cultural landscape to give any insight into the ancient civilization.
Sanganeb Marine National Park, Sudan
The mesmerizingly blue water of the Sudanese Red Sea is merely the beginning of the wonders Sanganeb National Park has in store for its visitors. The remote park is an atoll shaped reef that contains some of the most unspoiled coral reefs in the world. Scuba divers can marvel at the diverse flora and the abundant marine life which includes sharks, dolphins, turtles, barracuda, and schools of others.
Antequera Dolmens Site, Spain
For those unfamiliar with ancient burial customs, “dolmen” is simply a more descriptive term for what might be referred to as a basic stone tomb. Dolmens were erected thousands of years ago to create Stonehenge and even though that famous British landmark is visited far more often than the Antequera Dolmens, the site in Spain is impressive in it’s own right. The cavernous tombs are thought to be around 5,000 years old, and the Menga Dolmen, the largest in Europe, weighs 180 tons (compare that to Stonehenge’s largest which is only 40 tons.)