The Dolomites, Italy
Antonio Scarpi  /  iStockphoto
The limestone peaks of this mountain range within the Italian Alps jut into the ever-blue sky and tower over breezy green valleys below. Its 90-degree walls and glacier-carved valleys make this wonder an attraction all year long. Visitors ski in the winter, rock climb and paraglide in the summer and can find accommodations from exclusive resort towns to quaint villages.
updated 11/15/2009 10:06:37 PM ET 2009-11-16T03:06:37

Can't make it to the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Galapagos Islands or China's Great Wall? While these remain among the world's most spectacular man-made and natural destinations, there are other sites luring to curious travelers. Among them: 13 added this year to UNESCO's World Heritage List.

They include the Dolomites in Italy, the ruins of Loropeni in Burkina Faso and the sacred city of Cara-Supe in Peru.

Chosen by a committee of the United Nations' Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, World Heritage sites, recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are natural and cultural areas recognized for their universal value to humanity. The selection process involves extensive field work by conservation experts who have, in most cases, dedicated their lives to studying the natural world.

China's Mount Wutai, a five-peaked Buddhist mountain, joins this year's list. Its landscape of Buddhist architecture features 53 monasteries, including the east main hall of Foguang Temple and its life-size clay sculptures. The Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple, with 500 statues representing Buddhist stories, is also found here. Mount Wutai is northern China's highest mountain and is unique for its by steep sides and five, open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on the site as early as the 1st century and as recently as the early 20th century.

The royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty in South Korea, a collection of 40 tombs over 18 locations, was also added as a Worle Heritage Site this year. The tombs, built from 1408 to 1966, are thought to protect ancestral spirits from evil. All face south, toward water, and are protected in the rear by a hill. Structures on the grounds include a T-shaped wooden shrine, royal kitchen and guards' and tombkeepers' homes.

Spain's Tower of Hercules earned a spot on this year's list for its lighthouse and landmark at the entrance of La Coruña harbour in northwestern Spain. The tower was built in the late 1st century A.D. on a nearly 200-foot-tall rock; its 180-foot height comprises three graduated levels. The site also includes a sculpture park, the Monte dos Bicos rock carvings from the Iron Age and a Muslim cemetery.

Being added to the World Heritage List of natural and cultural sites is a bit of a no-win situation: Such recognition will most likely mean more tourism. While this can translate into more preservation and restoration monies, as well as a bite of the $944 billion global tourism industry, it can be overwhelming for the places the UNESCO designation is meant to protect.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal, U.K.
Christopher Furlong  /  Getty Images
Another engineering feat added to the World Heritage List in 2009 is this symbol of the Industrial Revolution. The Pontcysyllte aqueduct and canal in North Wales was one of the first water systems built with cast and wrought iron. Its soaring archways and impressive length were described by UNESCO as “monumental and elegant.”
To prevent nominating sites unable to handle increased visitorship, the IUCN spends 18 months evaluating each place under consideration, says Tim Badman, special adviser of World Heritage for the union.

"The management of visitors is part in parcel with every nomination we make," he says. "We recommend sites for acceptance if they have integrity, the right size and configuration, but also if they have a good system of protection."

Pallavi Shah, president and chief executive of Our Personal Guest, says she doesn't particularly seek to send clients to UNESCO-designated sites solely because they are on the list, but will include the sites in the itineraries of those headed to an area with a UNESCO site nearby.

For example, for "people going to Southeast Asia, without question Angkor is on the list," she says. "The World Heritage label acts "as a kind of validator on the quality of the experience." Regardless, tourism will certainly come. And that's to be expected, says Badman.

"The sites are there to be celebrated, to be presented to the world," he says, "and tourism is a way for people to really experience and understand what these great places are about."

© 2012

Photos: 7 finalists

loading photos...
  1. Table Mountain

    Table Mountain and the city of Cape Town, South Africa, are seen on April 2, 2010, from Blouberg Beach on the city's outskirts. Table Mountain on Nov. 11, 2011, was named a provisional finalist in the New 7 Wonders of Nature contest. (Afp / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Puerto Princesa Underground River

    Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn, center, sits with New7Wonders Foundation President Bernard Weber, third from right, and Director Jean-Paul de la Fuente, second left, on a boat as it passes under a mushroom-shaped rock formation Oct. 23, 2011, inside the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park at Kabayugan town, in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, western Philippines. The 5-mile-long Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Romeo Ranoco / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Komodo

    A Komodo dragon searches the shore area of Komodo island for prey. Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, which includes the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar as well as several smaller islands, was founded in 1980 to protect the Komodo dragon. (Romeo Gacad / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jeju Island

    Jeju Island in South Korea is one of the New7Wonders of Nature announced Nov. 11, 2011. The results are provisional until voting can be independently verified. (Jeju Provincial Government/hando / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Halong Bay

    Tourist boats are seen Dec. 8, 2007, anchored in Halong Bay on the northeastern coast of Vietnam. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam, and features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. (Afp / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Amazon

    Lake Condor, located deep within the Amazon jungle, reflects the sky August 20, 2001, in Peru. The vast Amazon Rainforest is 1.4 billion acres and is located within nine nations. (Anibal Solimano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Iguazu Falls

    Water flowing over Iguazu Falls leaves a cloud of mist between Brazil, foreground, and Argentina, background, as the sun sets Aug. 12, 2009, over the Iguazu National Park. (David Silverman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: A general view of the Table Mountain and
    Afp / AFP-Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (7) Wonders of Nature - 7 finalists
  2. Peter Hendrie / Lonely Planet
    Slideshow (27) Wonders of Nature - 28 nominees


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments