Africa & The Middle East Worldwide Wonder: UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Shortly after the end of World War II, 37 countries from across the globe came together in London to establish what we know today as UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. While their mission has grown in both scope and reach, their initial purpose was clear: to encourage dialogue and respect among world nations and cultures, and in doing so, to prevent the outbreak of war.

The group’s shared vision included the protection and preservation of cultural treasures and natural areas of significance. A 1972 convention led to the establishment of the World Heritage List, which now includes more than a thousand natural, cultural and mixed sites across 165 states and nations. We connected with an Andrew Harper Travel partner, Abercrombie & Kent, for their picks of the world’s most impressive UNESCO World Heritage sites.

OKAVANGO DELTA

Botswana

The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s most remarkable natural wonders. Wetlands, forest, savannah and desert are in close proximity here, and the plants and animals of the region have synchronized their biological cycles with the hydrological ones. Each year, the annual flood tide transforms the dry autumn plains into wetlands and welcomes herds of elephant, African buffalo, lechwe (a species of antelope) and zebra as they complete their migration across the Kalahari Desert.

More than 480 species of birds make their home here, along with 130 species of mammals, including the endangered cheetah, white and black rhinoceros, wild dog and lion. The preservation of this “Jewel of the Kalahari,” including the 1,900-square-mile Moremi Game Reserve, was imperiled for years before its inscription to the World Heritage list in 2014.

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Democratic Republic Of The Congo

While endangered mountain gorillas are the deserving stars of Virunga National Park and adjacent Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the area’s geological diversity is equally impressive. The region contains steppes, savannahs, plains, marshlands, lowland forests and permanent glaciers. The range of habitats contributes to a biodiversity which UNESCO says surpasses that of any other park in Africa. Elephants, lions, buffalo and antelope make their home within Virunga’s 3,050 protected square miles, along with an estimated 2,000 hippopotamuses.

The continent’s two most active volcanoes, Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo, are located within the Virunga massif in the southern part of the park. The snowcapped Rwenzori Mountains dominate the north and constitute the only true alpine mountain chain in Africa.

WADI RUM PROTECTED AREA

Jordan

Located near the border of Saudi Arabia, Wadi Rum in southern Jordan earned its World Heritage designation for both its natural qualities and cultural significance. In a varied desert landscape of cliffs, arches, gorges and caverns, tens of thousands of rock carvings and inscriptions provide evidence of 12,000 years of human occupation and interaction with the natural environment. The dramatic features also frequently substitute for the otherworldly locations in films such as “The Martian” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

“The incredible shades of red, orange and brown under blue skies, especially at sunset, give this area an out-of-this-world feel,” says Abercrombie & Kent’s Claudia Worth. “You can’t walk away untouched by its awesome raw beauty, or by the incredible hospitality of the Bedouins who live there.”