As we know, a cruise to sunnier climes is a great way to escape the British winter but for those who like to blend cultural and historic experiences at the same time as working on their tan, there’s a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites which offer a great way to do just that.
It’s quite possible you’ve already heard the term ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’, whether you’re a culture aficionado, a regular reader of these blog pages, or just the type of person who makes sure you listen closely to your tour guide during your port excursions. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, to give it its full title, is a special agency of the United Nations which promotes international collaboration through education and culture, among other things. Its World Heritage Site programme is just one of the ways it does this, by cataloguing places of cultural or natural importance. The good news is, you can see many of the most famous ones while on your winter cruise.
UNESCO sites on a Far East cruise
The Great Wall of China
It’s no surprise that one of the world’s most iconic landmarks is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Indeed, it marks a lot of land, stretching over 13,000 miles across China. However, visit Beijing on your cruise and you’ll have the chance to see it for yourself with a trip to Badaling or a little further from the city, the less-crowded Mutianyu.
The Forbidden City
Beijing’s great for the UNESCO tick-list and the Forbidden City, now known as the Palace Museum, is another highlight. This sprawling 250-acre site consists of over 9,000 rooms and presents a fascinating insight into Chinese dynasties-past, offering a wealth of fabulous temples, courtyards and other key buildings to explore.
The Summer Palace
Staying in China’s capital, this is another top World Heritage Site. It used to be a summer retreat for emperors of old, but today, the site’s more than just the palace alone. This 290-acre park is a great way to escape the hustle-bustle, offering beautiful gardens, temples, bridges, tea houses and a tranquil lake.
Another UNESCO heavyweight, Angkor is dedicated to a number of Hindu gods, is the world’s largest temple complex and can be found close to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Angkor Wat itself is none other than the world’s largest religious structure and the site’s most famous temple.
Komodo National Park
Of course, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are about nature too and one particular highlight when it comes to famous Eastern creatures is the Komodo National Park on the Indonesian island of the same name. Here you’ll be able to see the fabled Komodo Dragons for yourself in a protected indigenous environment.
Prambanan Temple Compounds
The Indonesian island of Java is where you’ll find this vast 9th century Hindu temple complex – the largest in the country and one of the biggest in South-East Asia. The soaring pointed towers of the larger temples dominate the skyline but there are no fewer than 224 smaller temples perfectly arranged in rows to explore too.
Ha Long Bay
This spectacular Vietnamese bay is a true natural gem and regarded by many as one of the world’s most beautiful places. A boat trip will give you the opportunity to witness around 1,600 soaring limestone islands rising from crystal-blue waters as well as a number of secluded grottos and a vibrant local fishing community.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
UNESCO’s educational role is well-evidenced with the choice of this particular site. Equal parts moving and insightful, Japan’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial ensures that the world will never forget the fateful events of August 6th, 1945 but in a tasteful and thought-provoking manner.
UNESCO sites on a South American voyage
One of the most famous South American World Heritage Sites and a popular excursion if you’re on a cruise and stay in Peru. This 15th century mountaintop Incan site is one of the most popular and recognisable structures associated with the civilisation and is believed to have been built as an estate for the emperor Pachacuti.
Historic Centre of Lima
Peru’s capital has a centre which is in itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks largely to its stunning colonial architecture. Highlights include the stunning Archbishop’s Palace, the Basilica Cathedral, the Government Palace and the House of Pilatos, which dates back to 1590.
Iguazu National Park
The most famous feature of this 212-square-mile Argentine natural expanse is its spectacular waterfalls of the same name, which cascade into the Iguazu River and which really are one of the world’s most awesome natural spectacles. The park is also home to a number of rare and threatened animal species, such as jaguars and Harpy Eagles.
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins
Mexico is abundant in Mayan ruins but the ones you’ll find at Chichen Itza are some of the most stunning and a trip to them is a popular cruise excursion. This was believed to be one of the civilisation’s fabled ‘great cities’ and the towering El Castillo is a high point of the site, in every sense.
UNESCO sites on an Australasia and South Pacific cruise
Sydney Opera House
Australia’s most famous man-made landmark is understandably an UNSECO World Heritage Site thanks to its now legendary status as one of the most recognisable buildings of the 20th century. It’s Expressionist ‘shells’ are one of the identifying sights to be seen in the city’s world-famous harbour and the acoustics are pretty good, too.
The Great Barrier Reef
One of the world’s most celebrated natural wonders can also be found in Australia, specifically off the coast of Queensland – served by the cruise ship-friendly Port Douglas. It’s the world’s largest coral reef system and the biggest structure made by living organisms, supporting an abundance of marine life including green turtles, porpoises, dugongs and 30 species of whales.
Rapa Nui National Park
Easter Island is, strictly speaking part of Chile, though it lies in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean and Rapa Nui National Park encompasses a large portion of the island. It is, of course, where you’ll be able to see for yourself the most famous legacy of the Polynesian people, the iconic Easter Island statues, of which there are 887.