UNESCO's World Heritage Sites are chosen based on criteria relating to each site's historical, social, and environmental value. These sites run the gamut, from ancient ruins to historic cities. The one thing they all have in common, however, is they deliver "outstanding universal value" to human civilization — the first criterion UNESCO applies to every site. While they are all incredible in various ways, here are 10 of the most picturesque World Heritage sites.
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
This stunning park is made up of mountains and icy, glacial lakes. It's home to the 99 mile-long Lake Argentino, as well as several enormous glaciers. Ice chunks break off the glaciers and crash into the lake periodically, forming new icebergs there throughout the year.
One of the most eye-catching glaciers at the park is the Perito Moreno Glacier, which acts as a makeshift dam for Lake Argentino. This beautiful silvery-blue ice mountain continues to grow and occasionally reaches stretches over 200 feet into the air. Visitors from all over the world visit to witness the natural phenomenon of "calving," when ice chunks fall off the face of the glacier. When you walk through the park, you can also hear the otherworldly sound of glaciers cracking and shifting.
UNESCO describes the park as an "enchanted" paradise, and we have to agree with this assessment.
Ningaloo Coast, Australia
The enormous Ningaloo Coast, located along the western edge of Australia, boasts stunning beaches, extensive undersea caves, and marine wildlife. Every year, anywhere from 300 to 500 whale sharks congregate along this coastline. Scientists maintain that Ningaloo supports the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world.
The Ningaloo Coast is also home to lagoons and reefs, which cater to both temperate and tropical wildlife.
Meanwhile, the Ningaloo reef itself hosts over 300 coral species, 700 fish species, and 1,000 species of marine algae. Many of the marine life living along the coast can't be found anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere.
Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park, Central African Republic
If you've ever wanted to see elephants, cheetahs, leopards, or black rhinoceroses, Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park is the place for you. These beautiful savannas boast a diverse variety of plant and animal species. It's also home to many endangered species, such as red-fronted gazelles, African forest elephants, and black rhinos.
St. Floris itself is the largest park in the region, spanning two separate ecological zones and hosting animals from both East and West Africa. You'll see forests, wetlands, grassy plains, and huge rivers at this gorgeous park — if you can imagine it, odds are you'll find it here. St. Floris is also a scenic corridor to the National Park of Bamingui-Bangoran, and it's a sanctuary to the largest savanna in Central Africa.
Mistaken Point, Canada
Whether you're an archaeology buff or just a fan of remote ocean landscapes, you're sure to enjoy Mistaken Point. This area is made up of beautiful coastal cliffs and is the site of the world's oldest collection of large, biologically complex animal fossils.
It's also the site of the world's most diverse Ediacaran deep-sea fossil communities.
When you look at the eroded cliffs, you'll see rocks dating back to the Ediacaran Period — which was over 560 million years ago. On display along these cliffs are the impressions of over 10,000 fossils, some of which are up to six feet long.
Classical Gardens of Suzhou, China
The Classical Gardens are made up of more than 50 gardens that date all the way back to the 6th century. These stunning landscapes were inspired by traditional Chinese landscape paintings; they constitute an intriguing blend of visionary craftsmanship and artistic prowess. Every plant, rock, and stream was arranged with delicate precision, and every structure boasts literary or poetic significance.
Chiribiquete National Park, Colombia
If you love ancient art, this park will be right up your alley. The caves here are filled with striking red paintings, some of which date back to 20,000 B.C. A popular motif of these cave paintings is the jaguar, a symbol of power and fertility to the indigenous communities that inhabited the area.
Today, indigenous groups living in the park continue to create new paintings.
However, the park doesn't just feature beautiful cave paintings — Chiribiquete also boasts striking tabletop mountains and some of the most pristine wilderness terrain in the world.
Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios, Cuba
This city was founded in the 1500s and gets its name from the sugar trade that supported its growth — Valley de los Ingenios translates to "Valley of the Mills," a reference to the local sugar mills. The region is known for its natural landscapes and stunning city, filled with picturesque 18th- and 19th-century buildings, cobblestone streets, and plantation houses.
The buildings are a mix of Andalusian, Moorish, and European neoclassical architectural styles.
Palace and Park of Fontainebleau, France
Nestled in the center of an enormous forest, the Fontainebleau hunting lodge was frequented by royalty as far back as the 12th century. It underwent significant renovations in the 1500s.
This stunning palace combines both French and Italian architectural styles and is made up of five courtyards surrounded by numerous buildings and gardens. The architecture at Fontainebleau was responsible for a shift in French art and design. The Italian artists, architects, and sculptors commissioned by the French king exerted a strong influence on the evolution of French Renaissance art.
Wadden Sea, Germany
These wetlands are the largest unbroken system of mudflats in the world, spanning over one million hectares of land. The area includes both freshwater and saltwater bodies. Its ecosystem provides support as both a molting and wintering area for migratory birds. Over six million birds can descend on the site at any one time, with upwards of ten million migrating through the wetlands every year.
Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
A domain of fire and ice, the Vatnajökull National Park is home to 10 central volcanoes and numerous glaciers. The combination of magma and ice has led to the formation of a surreal and unique landscape. Specifically, glacial ice interacts with volcanic and geothermal processes to create visually striking land-forms that can't be found anywhere else in the world.
The glaciers in this region are retreating, however, making the area a popular location for studying the effects of global warming. With its wide lakes, active volcanoes, and beautiful glaciers jutting into the sky, Vatnajökull National Park is one of the most distinctive and stunningly picturesque locations in the world.