I’m not really a country-counter. I’d rather return to somewhere I love and discover more than add somewhere new just for the sake of it. But when someone tweeted a link to a list of World Heritage sites recently, I have to admit taking a look. Surprisingly I’ve visited over forty, yet only written about two here. This says more about my slackness than the impression they made on me!
These are a few of my favourites.
The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is rich in World Heritage sites compared to its size: eight in total. Polonnarruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka in 11th century. Spread over 4km, Polonnaruwa is dusty, hot and fascinating, and also under-visited. Its scale is similar to that of Anaradhupura, yet its location towards the east of the island means we only saw a handful of other visitors in September. The detail in the carvings of elephants, lions and sacred symbols is beautiful to see.
The sheer number of temples, civic buildings and religious sites can be a bit overwhelming. This is still a holy place, so remove your shoes in the temples and don’t take photos with your back towards a statue of Buddha.
Oh and watch out for the monkeys, they can be a bit vicious.
Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina
Mineral-rich rocks streaked with green, purple, yellow and orange, backroads through dry riverbeds and a strong folk music culture combine to give this string of villages their identity. You’ll probably see a fair few backpackers with guitars round here, although many are Buenos Aires natives who prefer the laidback lifestyle. The Tropic of Capricorn runs through the valley just outside Tilcara.
Humahuaca village itself is full of artist’s studios, places to eat llama (if that’s your thing) and a singularly ugly statue, a memorial to the Heroes of Independence.
I fell in love with this area in the North West of Argentina, and it’s still one of my strongest travel memories.
I’ll be writing about Teotihuacan in more detail soon – it’s a great day trip from Mexico City. In the meantime, Wikipedia describes it as:
‘… a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city located in the valley of Mexico, 30 miles (48 km) northeast of modern-day Mexico City, known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead, and the small portion of its vibrant murals that have been exceptionally well-preserved.’
Iguaçu Falls, on the Brazilian/Argentinian border
Some waterfalls disappoint, but Iguaçu is an unforgettable place to visit, if you’re there at the right time of year. Dozens of smaller waterfalls, rainbows refracted in their spray, coatis and toucans, all lead to the thundering Devil’s Throat.
I really recommend arriving early (the park on the Argentinian side opens about 8am) and taking the smaller trails first before you head to the Devil’s Throat. It’ll be less crowded and you’ll see more wildlife.
Petra is incredibly touristy, but it’s definitely worth a visit. There are so many temples and ruins you could easily spend two days here. The walk up to the monastery takes a while, but there’s no need to hire a donkey unless you have to.
What are your favourite World Heritage sites?