Blog Countries

Best Countries

While travelling in Mexico and reading other people’s reviews of Turkey, I was thinking that these 2 countries must be among the best WHS travel has to offer. But what about China? It has a huge list already, with many very fine sites. For an answer, I decided to query the data that we have gathered from the ratings of WHS by community members. Which countries are overall best for WHS?

Top Lists

I did a few selections that seemed appropriate to answer the question. You can do your own by looking at the Country Ranking page.

Overall the best countries, with an average score of 4 or higher, are:

  1. Zambia - 4.8
  2. Afghanistan - 4.7
  3. DRC/Holy See - 4.6
  4. Palau/Chad - 4.5
  5. Haiti - 4.4
  6. New Zealand - 4.3
  7. Yemen/Sudan - 4.2
  8. Guatemala/Honduras/Namibia - 4.1
  9. Ireland/Libya/Solomon Islands/Tanzania - 4.0

Looking only at the countries with 5 WHS or more, the ranking is:

  1. DRC - 4.6
  2. Libya/Tanzania - 4.0
  3. Egypt/Zimbabwe - 3.9
  4. Algeria/Argentina/Syria/Turkey/Uzbekistan - 3.8
  5. Australia/Peru/USA - 3.7

And among the large countries, with 20 WHS or more:

  1. Australia/USA - 3.7
  2. Canada/China/Russia - 3.6
  3. India/Mexico - 3.5
  4. Brazil/Italy/Japan - 3.4

Turkey is ominously missing from the last selection as it has ‘only’ 19 WHS so far. But with a Tentative List of 54 it’s just a matter of time it will storm this top list as well.

Some conclusions

What can be learned from this?

  • The higher the number of WHS a country has, the higher the chance becomes there is a “miss” (a WHS with a rating below 3 stars) among them. The USA has only 3 of those, whereas China for example has 10.
  • Another effect that comes into play is that natural sites on average are ranked higher than cultural sites: 3.72 versus 3.25. So countries with a lot of natural WHS (USA, Australia) come out higher than a country like Italy which mostly relies on cultural sites.

Community bias

Finally, the community ratings should be looked at critically. Do they rate the worthiness of a site being a WHS, or the visitor experience? The latter seems to be the most common practice. Especially very old sites such as hominid fossils or neolithic remains do not score well.

Also, we see that ratings vary wildly per person. Mexico’s Hospicio Cabanas is ranked between 1 and 4 stars for example. It may be that the lower rating reflects a view from the outside only, while the higher ones also take the murals in the interior into account. From the reviews, it can be gathered that the site has improved its visitor experience over the years as well.

And some WHS are visited more often than others, so these will have more outliers in their ratings. For the individual site score, this effect is already taken care of by using a toned-down Wilson score

Els - 23 January 2022

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Lubos 24 January 2022

vvv Disregarding the dwarf countries Belgium should be actually on the top of the list: 1 site per 2000 km²!

Lubos 24 January 2022

Best countries from Czech perspective:
1. Czechia - 1 site per 4.900 km²
2. Italy - 1 site per 5.200 km²
3. Germany - 1 site per 7.000 km²

Zoë Sheng 24 January 2022

The density of Italy vs the other countries is astonishing though. China is still good to do with fast trains and flight connections but the US and Australia are spread out.

Turkey T-list is lots of garbage.

Ian Cade 24 January 2022

Looking at the "Wilson Score" ranking a big contributing factor seems to be how remote they are (especially in regards to this communities travel routes) looking at the top 10 there is probably only 1 Rome (perhaps 2 sites Tikal?) that wouldn't require some sort of special trip or diversion to see.
This is certainly not to say they are not worthy, just that maybe we are more likely to be generous with our scores because of the extra effort we have put into getting to them

It would be interesting to do a spatial analysis, to see the relationship on scores. Though it would need a fair bit of extra work.

These 3 are geographically remote:
-Rapa Nui
-Galapagos Islands
-Volcanoes of Kamchatka

These probably don't require special arrangements but are the focus of specific focused trip and/ or remote from other sites in the country
-Machu Picchu
-Victoria Falls
-Tikal National Park (perhaps could be in the latter category as it can be tied to a trip to the Yucatan)

The only site that is in a dense cluster of WHS:

Clyde 23 January 2022

I would add Iran as well.

Nan 23 January 2022

>> Or look at Poland: ex concentration camp has a higher rating than centuries old polis (Cracow) central to the development of the nation?

I think there is a clear reason why. Cracow is nice, but not unique if we compare across borders (Vilnius, Praha, ...).

Auschwitz is dark and terrible (so terrible indeed, that I found rating it hard), but most certainly a very unique place in human history.

Best WHS in Poland is Wieliczka as it's both stunning and unique.

Nan 23 January 2022

* The longer/more extensive the list, the more "niche" the nominations tend to be. Most countries would start with the best and then add lesser components later.

* Natural sites are inherently a shorter / more picky list, too. There are less, so the quality is higher.

* While I agree that the Turkish tentative list has very strong contenders (see upcoming reviews), the size is bloated and the list should be pruned, but isnt. What I guessed:

a) little/no oversight is done centrally, but each region can put forward new tentative sites.

b) several sites advertise as being inscribed on the tentative list (e.g. Laodikya)

c) no QA is done before "inscribing" on the tentative list. Plenty of sites have a stub/draft nomination and not even the main site is properly described.

d) they simply decide not to clean up their list. The Marwin seems to have been replaced in the meantime by a new tentative site, but they still keep it around.

* Community rating are just that. We never really said, what should be measured and how to anchor a rating. Main issue I would take is not getting enough ratings for some remote corners, less so how we rate (as the bias should be global).

a) There are well documented outliers that I wanted to prune in the past. E.g. a Polish community member rating all sites in Poland 5*. Or 0.5* for Dubrovnik...

b) Personally, a 5* site should be both significant as well as great visitor experience.

Lubos 23 January 2022

Yes, the beauty is in the eye of a beholder but the aesthetics which perhaps influence the community rating most is never the only and often not the main reason for the enlisting yet many reviews here focus (understandably) in that direction.
Afghanistan and Libya have a sights with pretty highs scores and something tells me everyone visiting those should add extra star just for making it there and out (and perhaps thats the case).
Or look at Poland: ex concentration camp has a higher rating than centuries old polis (Cracow) central to the development of the nation?
I think itsnt just the list of sights which is inevitably going to expand but also there is a space for the growth of the visitors understanding.

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #765: Paquimé

Paquimé, located over 1,700 km north of Mexico City, is a site that is often overlooked. It doesn’t have the great monuments that other pre-Columbian Mexican sites are known for. It’s a niche site for archaeologists, exemplifying architectural and trading links between the area of the Classic Pueblo sites (now located in the Southwest USA) and Mesoamerica. Research has never been intensive, as archaeologists traditionally focus on either one of these worlds. But I was pleasantly surprised by its size and good condition. For me, it closed a circle after having already seen the other Puebloan sites of Mesa Verde, Taos, and Chaco. A visit also brings a lot of insight into the specific history of this region, always so far away from everything.

After walking past the still closed entrance barrier at the opening hour of 10 a.m., I was welcomed in by the guard and his German shepherd dog (I kept a safe distance, much more than 1.5m!) and sent on my way to walk the circuit that is signposted at the site. The first structure one encounters here is the ball court – it looks like a simpler version of the Mayan ones. The presence of a Mesoamerican ballcourt at Paquimé is often given as an example of the fusion of cultures that happened here, but the northern cultures had their own kind of ball courts as well and we do not even know whether they all played the same game.

The settlement consisted of several large residential compounds inhabited by family clans. In between them, structures for public use can be found, such as large ovens in which agave was turned into an alcoholic drink, irrigation canals, and places for religious ceremonies.

While preparing for my visit, I was most intrigued by the presence of bird pens for macaws. Although these birds are not found naturally in this desert area, they were kept and bred here. Their colourful feathers were used locally for religious rituals; the birds and feathers were also part of a lucrative trade with other settlements. Hundreds of bird skeletons have been found. On-site, a drawing shows how these bird pens were used: they used to have coverings and the birds were taken in and out via removing the plug at the front. The compound at the House of the Macaws even had special basins where they had their feathers removed.

The site in general looks well-looked after. The on-site museum is said to be excellent, however, this was closed when I visited in January 2022 due to maintenance reasons (this was not mentioned on their website, but my B&B owner had warned me). There is a fixed and signposted itinerary around the site that you have to follow. All along the route, there are information panels with texts in Spanish and English, adding to my knowledge even though I had read up well beforehand (see the links section for suggestions). It brought to light a few new connections, such as the astrological use of certain platforms and the clever canal system.

The visitor experience could be improved though: it is logical that you are not allowed to climb on the adobe walls of the buildings, but also you may not enter any of them. As all buildings are surrounded by earthen walls, it is hard to get a good look at the more interesting things inside the compounds. It would benefit from a couple of low viewing platforms like you see at Ancient Roman sites to be able to better view mosaics.

Getting there on public transport: best is to fly into the state of Chihuahua, to either Chihuahua or Ciudad Juarez. The city after which the dog species is named appealed to me more than the one associated with femicide. From Chihuahua, there are about 8 buses a day to Nuevo Casas Grandes. Both Omnibus de Mexico and Chihuahenses service this route, the bus I took continued to Nogales at the US border. Prebooking your ticket a day before (online, from a Mexican IP address) is advised. The ride takes about 4 hours. From Nuevo Casas Grandes it’s another 7km to Pueblo Viejo, the village where Paquimé is located. Taxis are available to cover this last stretch, as is an hourly yellow school bus.

Els - 16 January 2022

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Michael Ayers 16 January 2022

Ughh.. It's too bad you couldn't see the museum, because I thought it really was the best part of that Site (of course, I have a particular fondness for ancient pottery, especially from the Americas.)

I have also been burned by the "official Website didn't mention that part/all of the Site is currently closed" problem more than once during the last few years. Would it be too much to ask for Sites to keep their sites up to date?...

Clyde 16 January 2022

very interesting info about the bird pens! thanks for sharing

Kyle Magnuson 16 January 2022

Great review and I'm happy to see that you visited this site! I've planned to go here for years. Eventually, I will just take another trip to Tucson (1-2 nights). From there, I will drive to Douglass, Arizona and stay overnight. The drive from Douglass to the Museum of the Cultures of the North is about 3.5 hours. There are a couple airbnb options that look pleasant near Paquime. On the return North, I thought about visiting the Janos Biosphere Reserve, in which the largest herd of American Bison roam the prairie.

Lastly, the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (Silver City, New Mexico) has along with staff at Casas Grandes developed a working relationship and informal partnership to highlight the historical connections between their respective archaeological sites. Seemingly, still in the early stages, there are hopes of one day of establishing a binational tourist corridor.

Blog WHS Visits

Luxembourg revisited

Generally, I find it hard to prepare for sites within my own region with the same level of detail as I do for more exotic WHS. For example the City of Luxembourg: I had been there in 1984 and 2001, but couldn’t tell you more than I liked the panoramas. Most of the other reviews to date are also fairly superficial. A breakthrough in the knowledge of this WHS came when Jurre recently suggested some 25 new connections for it. During a 3 night revisit right after Christmas 2021, I further discovered that from a WH perspective it has at least 3 remarkable features that I was not aware of beforehand: its boundaries, a list of 20 notable monuments, and controversy before inscription.

The Boundaries

Although Luxemburg’s city centre is only small already, the core zone of this WHS covers an even smaller part. There is a hugely detailed official map available, but on the ground, the borders between core and buffer zones are hard to distinguish. Unfortunately, not everything that looks like an old rampart is included, neither is every 19th-century public building. Previous reviewers mentioned Fort Thüngen, Place Guillaume, and Place d'Armes, but these are all outside of the core zone, as are most of the bridges and parts of the Wenzel Circular Walk.

I found the WH plaque at a viewpoint in the Chemin de la Corniche, directly below St. Michael’s Church. The WH certificate is in a drawer in the City Museum. The museum includes a "UNESCO visitor center" too, but in the brochures on offer, the boundaries of the WHS core zone are also not strictly followed. 

The 20 Monuments

The best guidance for a thorough visit is the map mentioned above: it shows 20 numbered places of interest. These 20 are detailed in the AB evaluation too, in a descriptive manner that is uncommon nowadays. On foot, I tracked down all 20 within an hour or 2 - an enjoyable, self-invented scavenger hunt. The most interesting ones were the two-story Castle bridge (#2), the fine residence Maison de Bourgogne (#14), and the Tree Towers (#7). 

Along the way, helped by the information panels that are omnipresent in the city center, I even found us some more connections: there are 17th-century man-made terraces below the Bock-rock, the Tutesall used to be horse stables, the Ecluse du Grund was a sluice consisting of "a massive masonry dam" that could be opened to inundate the surrounding area as a method of defense (irrigation and drainage), and Renaissance sculptures are prominent in the Notre Dame cathedral.

The Controversy

This is the first evaluation document that I know of with evidence of a dispute within the evaluating party (ICOMOS). “A distinguished French expert in the field of military structures”, Dr. Nicolas Faucherre, opposed inscription as in his opinion, not enough was left after the dismantling of Luxembourg’s fortifications in the late 19th century as a result of the Treaty of London. The expert mission, however, resulted in positive advice, because of its historical significance and “remarkable harmony between the city and its landscape”. I found it strange to see that no further comparative analysis was executed, and I doubt that the City of Luxembourg would get inscribed nowadays as the historic city center is unremarkable and the fortifications are mostly gone.

Els - 9 January 2022

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Meltwaterfalls 9 January 2022

I have a real soft spot for Luxembourg. I’m not 100% sure quite why, culturally it is very quiet, and it didn’t exactly have a throbbing nightlife, but I have been three times and have throughly enjoyed each one.
I was surprised at how limited the WHS boundaries are though. It covers most of the parts I would have imagined, though I am a little surprised the Petrusse ravine and bridges aren’t included.
Thanks for doing a bit of digging though, hopefully it will come in useful for my next visit!

Astraftis 9 January 2022

I visited Luxemburg on a whim, just to complete the BeNeLux capitals, and it was a big surprise. It's such an intricated and complex cityscape! And it has a couple of great museums presnting the country uder all aspects. Moreover it was winter and I wandered alone the fortifications immersed in the fog, a surreal experience. I wonder how (apparently) it's not a more popular destination! An extension would make sense indeed.

Blog WH Travellers

The quest to 1100 visited WHS in 2030

Yesterday, January 1st 2022, I have started the next iteration of my life-long World Heritage Journey. I have quit my IT job and handed in my company lease car. I will do nothing else for a while other than travelling to WHS, writing about WHS, learning about WHS, engaging in the discourse on WHS, maybe even building a career out of it. It’s a dream that I always have hoped to fulfill, and all signs are positive now to take the jump. My "Missing Map" shows the To-do List:

Why 1100 WHS in 2030?

My original goal was “to see all WHS before I die”. But you never know when you are going to die, it may come earlier than statistics predict. And we also do not know whether the WH List will ever be finite. At this moment in time, I think I will be quite satisfied at reaching 1100. I do not long for those remote diving locations (eg. Cocos Island, Revillagigedo) and there’s the issue that a longer list will not make the content better. With an average of 20 new additions per year, I expect that the List will be 1314 sites long in 2030. If I reach my goal, my coverage will improve from 66% (2021) to 84%.

What’s the plan?

I plan to be on the road for 6 months a year and do 5 to 6 trips to countries or regions with significant clusters of WHS. I have identified some 40 of them. The trips will be mostly between 4 and 6 weeks long, as for me this is an ideal period. I travel more slowly than the average WH spotter and I like to use public transport. And I enjoy coming home for a few weeks to reflect on the trip and finish all the reports! My experience with a half-year-long trip in 2011 was that in the end, I had forgotten what I did in the first months; so I keep my future trips shorter than that. Focus on one coherent cultural region (a large country or a few neighbouring ones) also helps.

How feasible is it?

The mathematics behind it are:

  • I am on 764 visited WHS now, so I have 336 to go to reach my goal.
  • Divided over 8 years (2022-2029), this means an average of 42 a year.
  • Of these 42, I count on the yearly WHC meeting to contribute 10 (sites I have previously visited, are easy add-ons to other trips, or close to my home in Europe).
  • The remaining 32 will be picked from my Trip List, which includes trips where at least 3 WHS can be seen and the average all-inclusive cost of a WHS visit is 768 EUR.

Of course, life (such as personal health issues) can get in the way. But having a clear plan and focus always helps.

What does the Trip List look like?

The Trip List (here is the full version) contains 40 itineraries with rough cost and time estimates. The cost estimates aren’t rock bottom, there’s some 10% risk margin included. Most trips now are 3-4 weeks long, I could combine a few (such as #29 and #33: Zimbabwe + NW South Africa) in order to save money on long flights. I did this already with the first one I am embarking on (#10).

This list is quite personal, as other people need to cover different WHS than I do. The A-List is where I focus on now, but there’s enough flexibility to add Libya, Yemen, or Venezuela from the B-List if they open up properly during this period. Or add a tantalizing trip to Gabon or others from the C-List if I have enough money to spare.

The itineraries are designed around the WHS. TWHS will only be added if they appeal much to me or are up for nomination in the coming 2 years. Non-WHS side trips will be limited to a few easy picks on subjects that I like (capitals, national museums, mammals).

I'd like to offer up my Approach and Trip List for review by you, knowledgable WH Travellers! Are there ways I could improve on the efficiency, without breaking the bank?

Els - 2 January 2021

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Els Slots 4 January 2022

Thanks to you all for the hints and tips, I will incorporate them in a future version of the Triplist! It seems that both time & costs can be lower than what I had calculated. Let's see how it works out this first year.

Nan 3 January 2022

Agreeing re coming home every once in a while. Its good to have a base, but it will cost you in rent and flights.

One month was always a good number. Only recent exception was when I was doing work and travel last summer. Having meetings etc. really tied me back home.

Astraftis 3 January 2022

An exciting undertaking! I wish you all the best. Moreover, your estimated times seem more or less in line with mine, so to me they are all just right :-) And costs look reasonable too: I'd like to be optimistic and say that somewhere you will spare something, e.g. in Ethiopia.

By the way, I share similar thoughts about very long journeys. I have met many long-time (6+ months) travellers, and have always wondered how it would be, but have not been too envious in the end. Often I found them too hectical, or sometimes oblivious... dunno, maybe it's just plain envy. But I think I'd also need ample "decompression times" between an itinerary and the next, to elaborate all the experiences. Indeed, I deem it's a moment nearly as important as the travel itself.

Veel geluk!!!!

Philipp Peterer 3 January 2022

Congratulations Els, that sounds fantastic! Here’s a few inputs from my “a bit below Rucek” travel perspective:
Tunisia could also be done in 1 week. In 2 you can include some beach time.
Agree with Zoe, that Malaysia is def. too generous. Air Asia will fly you around the country for little money. 2 weeks would still be chilled.
Didn’t visit Saudi Arabia yet, but my calculations came to max 10 days.
Thailand/Cambodia is of course worth 4 weeks, but probably not necessary. I did Ban Chiang on a day trip from BKK (flying in and out Udon Thani the same day) and Preah Vihear as a day trip from Siem Reap. So in max 2 days you could cover them, hiring a driver. The parks can be reached from BKK. Haven’t done it so fare but looked into it.

Watkinstravel 3 January 2022

I'm so excited for you Els! This looks amazing and I'm more than a little jealous. It's even more inspiring in these still uncertain times. I'm looking forward to reading all about it.
I'm sure your itineraries will be up on individual threads later for further tweaking also.
I agree Saudi is a bit much (and car rental is definitely the way to go) unless you combine something else. I flew from Jeddah to Eritrea via Ethiopia so that might be a natural add on. Or even Ethiopia itself.
Kenya and Tanzania make a natural pair.
I'd be more inclined to include Mauritania with Senegal/Gambia. Depending on your mode of transport it will be easier overland from the south. Since you have to fly to Cape Verde anyway you could add it somewhere else if you worry about time.

Els Slots 2 January 2022

You're right about Saudi, that should take much less time. Especially as it is getting easier and easier to get in and around. For Malaysia and some other destinations marked with an *, I have included extra days & money for some serious mammal watching (Sabah indeed).

Zoë Sheng 2 January 2022

There is nothing to do in Saudi Arabia for 4 weeks. I think you want to self-drive there anyway, but you could take a bus to the oasis and get a local guide, then return. For the rest of the country I don't see that's possible if you are trying to tick of sites.

I'd recommend you combine Ethiopia with Kenya and Tanzania, where the latter are commonly combined as you drive across the border to visit both in one go. Saves a lot of driving. Also places like Eritrea only have flights from nearby countries and I remember asking for a visa before and they said you need to buy the ticket first :/ Consider adding that into a group or you find yourself going all out just for 1 WHS later.

Does Australia include the domestic flight costs to Lord Howe? It's $$$ because Qantas has a monopoly on it. Most people spend lots of time there because it cost so much to get there in the first place, so maybe consider 5 days. You can also spend a week alone in the rain forests, and with the Reef nearby that might make your 4 weeks too little. The trip up the west coast alone takes a while, maybe a week at your fast speed and that's with private transportation (I don't know if there are even buses).

Malaysia also seems excessive unless you like to spend time in Sabah for turtles and diving. Borneo maybe 2 weeks at the most - depending if you do the pinnacle hike at Mulu and Kinabalu only has the summit hike and that's pretty much it. The western part maybe over a week. I do recommend both Malacca and Georgetown, the valley will take you 1 day max and I would skip Taman Negara because it's a commercialized park and after Mulu you already saw the same but much better. The only thing I enjoyed was the glow-in-the-dark scorpions.

Wojciech Fedoruk 2 January 2022

Good luck Els and congratulations! The plan looks totally realistic and the budget is not tight at all. I think travelling more slowly you will spend a lot less than you estimated.

Els Slots 2 January 2022

Where time was the biggest restraint before, now that will be money. The total cost is estimated at 165,750 EUR. I have set aside a yearly travel budget of 25,000 EUR. (I noticed I made a mistake in calculating the average cost per WHS, it should be 647,46 EUR)

Nan 2 January 2022

Pay my trips from Cashflow and prefer not to do total cost accounting... Speaking of: You have big savings to fund this?

Re itineraries:
Covid travel restrictions move plenty places to C. China is closed for the time being.

Chile and Argentina are a natural combination. I wouldnt go down to patagonia twice. Or I would, just saying its easy to get from Puerto montt to Puerto natales.

New Zealand can be combined with a target along the way. Found the flight miserably long. J think I would break the 4w limit for this one.

Kamchatka deserves more love. I would assume this can be tacked onto a russia trip.

Jay T 2 January 2022

Wow — that is an exciting way to start the year! Your trips ideas look fascinating; I think trip planning is one of the most fun aspects of traveling. If you need any recommendations on the Western US or Alaska, let me know (and I’m sure winterkjm would have some good recommendations, too). I was just in Glacier Bay last summer, and it was excellent for wildlife watching. Happy travels in 2022!

Blog WHS website

2021 - A Year in Review(s)

2021 wasn’t the travel year we expected it to become, with a lot of Covid restrictions still or again in place. However, most borders opened in some form and after jumping through the right hoops (vaccine certificates, test results, QR codes) travel in large parts of the world was possible without a problem. This website thrived anyway, with visitor numbers back to normal so people at least have regained their appetite for reading about and planning travel.

Community Travel

Fortunately, the combined 2020/2021 WHC brought 34 new sites to tick off without having to leave the house. Each of these 34 has been visited by at least one community member; Dholavira proved to be the most difficult with 2 visitors so far claiming it. Zoe had the most of these 34 (25), followed by Thomas and Stanislaw with 17 each. Check the Top 50 scorers here.

Among the Top 10 travellers, Thomas has gained the most ground in the past year. Mikko has reclaimed his spot in the Top 10, due to his good score at the 2020/2021 WHC. Luis Filipe Gaspar banked over 80 and is close to the Top 10 now.

When you look at the numbers of new sites that the travellers have added to their tally in 2021, it is clear that travel right now is no level playing field. The Europeans that still had a lot to tick in Europe did well (Randi & Svein’s neverending summer holiday, Clyde, Nan, Luis Filipe). Older travellers and those in countries with severe restrictions (Australia, China, in a way the UK too) often scored a 0. Zos used his confinement within China to complete China.

Memorable Reviews

At 375, the number of new reviews still was low compared to pre-Covid times when we had over 800. Clyde managed to write 43 of them, detailing his extensive trip to Turkey.

1131 of 1154 WHS have now been reviewed, the coverage percentage-wise is the same as last year. The missing 23 can be found at the top of this page.

From the previously unreviewed WHS, we’ve managed to cover 3. Thimlich Ohinga was visited early 2021 by Michael Ayers. And he did it by bike of course. Michael is a master in visiting remote WHS and missing out on the easy ones! Ashur (Thomas) and Babylon (Wojtek) were the products of their fruitful trip to Iraq.

Also, a couple of sites that weren’t covered in years received an update: Clyde went all the way to Ani and Diyarbakir. Michael Novins did Socotra. Martina covered Putorana (I still fondly remember the video of this shared privately!), Kyle the Gulf of California. And Jarek and I tackled the Talamanca Range from both the Costa Rican and Panamian sides.

The harder-to-reach new WHS of 2021 delivered 2 reviews of Lake Onega and White Sea Rock Art (Martina, Alexander) and the Sudanese-style mosque in Kong (Thomas).

Notable reviews among the TWHS include Ostrava (Matejicek), Rijal Almaa (Zoe), Civil Rights Movement sites (Kyle, as part of an epic US road trip), Xinjiang Yardang (Zoe), the Flow Country (James), and the Ringed seal archipelagos of Lake Saimaa (Juha).

Tsunami Award for WH travel misadventure

The Romanian WHS of Roșia Montană is just the thing our yearly contenders Nan and Tsunami enjoy: visiting a remote, recently added WHS without mature tourist infrastructure by public transport (preferably taking a late bus). Their shared takeaways: don’t trust the online bus schedules, be prepared that there are no restaurants, hitchhiking works. Other difficulties encountered include: B&B host tested positive for Covid (Tsunami +1), phone out of battery (Tsunami +1), road closed due to flooding (Nan +1), 5km hiking with a sprained ankle (Nan +1), mine museum not open on weekends (Nan +1). Both, in the end, enjoyed the site and were grateful to its local people for support.

Are there any memorable reviews from 2021 that you’d like to put into the spotlight again?

Els - 26 December 2021

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Astraftis 27 December 2021

I have to say, the review that made me "dream" more was probably the one about ringed seals in Saimaa by Juha! It is now among the top of my to-visit places in Suomi :-) Also, I'd like to book a wandering tour around Žatec with Matejicek :-D

Just for fun: I like that if you go to Openstreetmap, search for "Saimaa" and try to visualize its borders, it breaks down so complicated it is (at least on my laptop)!

Nan 26 December 2021

Rain coat, overhead luggage bin, now in Istanbul.

What I definitely enjoyed were the interviews.

Zoë Sheng 26 December 2021

Lost your wallet again this year?

Nan 26 December 2021

Wondering g why I have troubles so often. I think its a mix of public transport, tight/ambitious schedules and travelling out of season. With a car hassle would be less. With more time, delays would be less of an issue. And in season the weather tends to be at its best as well as the tourist infrastructure. Anyhow, 2021 was nice for Romania. But my travel smartness went down, as i am making repeat beginners mistakes...

On the review, hard to say without a list. Enjoyed Pawel in Zatec.

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Erotic Art

Wiki defines Erotic Art as “a broad field of the visual arts including any artistic work intended to evoke erotic arousal, usually depicting human nudity and/or sexual activity.” We’ve had a connection about it for a long time, bringing together WHS where examples of Erotic Art can be seen. Both “Erotic” and “Art” have to be taken broadly here: it includes what we now consider overtly sexual depictions or symbols, but weren’t necessarily seen as such when they were made. The Meaning of Erotic Art seems to be a popular study object, shown by the number of Wikipedia pages and scientific articles devoted to it. Using these sources, I have been able to add some additional sites to the existing connection and better describe the ones that were already there.


Erotic Art is of all times, and the earliest examples can be seen in Rock Art across the world. While Tsodilo’s “Dancing Penises” may just be geometric designs, the Saharan sites of Tassili n'Ajjer and Tadrart Acacus hold numerous examples of explicit rock paintings. The artists specialized in depicting men with large or erect penises. <here is where I disappeared into a rabbit hole about Round Head Period rock art>.  Later on, this feature disappeared from the common depictions of men and only “privileged individuals” were shown with an exaggerated phallus.

Both at Valcamonica and Serra da Capivara, rock art showing sex between a human figure and an animal can be found. The meaning here may lie in hunting rituals or the domestication of animals. The Rock Carvings in Tanum have scenes of sexual intercourse at the Varlö location (“the bridal couple”), as well as figures having sex with animals.

Mesopotamia and Egypt

Ashur had a temple for the cult of Inanna, the goddess of sex and prostitution, where many explicit sculptures have been found. The occurrence was much rarer in Ancient Egypt, though the Turin Erotic Papyrus scroll discovered at Deir el-Medina (Ancient Thebes) had twelve vignettes showing men and women in various sexual positions. Both however have been taken away to museums.

Etruscans, Romans, and Greeks

Two of the Etruscan tombs in Tarquinia have explicit sexual scenes: two men whipping a woman, and Hercules having sex with another man. These are explained as to keep demons away from the tomb. Similar scenes are more common in Roman and Greek settings, for example, the Columns with Phallus at the Stoivadeion in Delos and the Erotic Scene mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale. At Pompei and Herculaneum many scenes were discovered, notably graphic paintings in a brothel advertising sexual services. Most of the other original explicit artworks have been relocated to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Christian and Islamic

With the rise of Christianity and later Islam, the display of sexually explicit scenes in public surroundings became rare. An exceptional remain is the Fresco of a bathing woman at Quseir Amra: a wall painting of a topless woman is visible on the walls of this private bathhouse of an Umayyad dignitary. It was possibly painted by a Christian or Egyptian artist. At the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Cahors (French Route to Compostela), an erotic scene between a man and woman can be seen above its portal.

Hindu and Buddhist

Your best bet nowadays to admire sexually explicit scenes at WHS will be in India. Here the erotic art is religious and executed on the temples themselves. Hindu temples at Pattadakal, Ellora, Hampi, and Konarak have them. The best examples are the sculptures at Khajuraho: its Devi Jagdambi temple has rows of erotic sculptures including mithunas (couples participating in Tantric sex). 

Not all Asian countries can appreciate the display of Tantric murals: at the Mogao Caves, Chinese authorities have declared a number of the caves off-limits, because they are considered too sexually explicit for visitors.

For more background reading on this subject, I'd like to point out the Erotic Art Connection where I have linked to the articles that I came across during my research. And to more explicit pictures!

Els - 19 December 2021

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Astraftis 19 December 2021

I remember very nice buddhist erotic reliefs at Mrauk U and am just waiting for its inscription to see it in the connection! This makes me wonder if there are other somewhere, e.g. at the Shwedagon pagoda or Pagan, even if time periods are very different...

Els Slots 19 December 2021

Kathmandu and Hampi were already there, see the full connection. Will add Sigiriya.

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 19 December 2021

Probably you could also add Sigiriya with its frescos...

Clyde 19 December 2021

You can add Kathmandu Valley too with erotic wooden carvings and Hampi in India.

Els Slots 19 December 2021

I've found it hard to find any references to erotic art at the Kakadu rock art sites, maybe because it's more taboo than at other places around the world where the images are from a very distant past. The image of Barginj at Nourlangie could count

Zoë Sheng 19 December 2021

Interested topic :)

You did not mention anything about Aboriginal and Maori art by the way, Kakadu has plenty and one is considered offensive to women so taking photos is highly advised against (allowed but you'd be the bad guy on the tour!) Totems frequently feature erect penises and get a good giggle out of any visiting high school group :p

Blog WHS website

Resources about WHS

Years ago we had a book section on this website. It fell victim to one of the many refurbishments, mostly because its content was quite static. However, books about UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the process around it keep on being published, and I have reviewed a number of them recently in blog posts. So I thought it would be a good idea to revive the “Resources about WHS” corner and extend it to include more contemporary media such as videos and podcasts.


The Book section is an extension of the original listings from 2005. Recent notable additions include a new publication on India’s 38 WHS and an ethnographic study of the World Heritage arena. You can sort them by country or year of publication.

The selection will be limited to studies about the World Heritage Process, generic overviews of WHS in countries, or volumes by theme (such as forests, coastal sites). It does not include site-specific books without a WH angle – it would be too much to include every book ever made about the Colosseum for example. It's also not meant to be an all-encompassing inventory, you can do a search on Amazon for that.

I decided to keep the ‘old books’, though you may only still be able to find some of them in your local thrift shop or Solivagant’s bookcase!


Totally new is the Podcast section. On long flights, bus rides and even lying in bed in the evening I enjoy listening to a captivating podcast about a WH-related subject. I don’t know of any podcast series that solely focuses on WHS, but there are plenty that will prepare you for a visit. Even UNESCO’s WHC is asking for podcasts now for its 50th birthday! 

I focused here on the series and not so much on the individual podcasts. To be included they must be relevant to the World Heritage subject of course, but contrary to the book section site-specific episodes are still worth having here. I'd like to end up with a summary of ‘podcast tips’ that you’d want to recommend to a friend. They must be fun or interesting to listen to.

When we collect a lot of them, they could be presented per individual WHS in the future. But first, let’s see what you come up with regarding suggestions. Meltwaterfalls has teased me for long that he has a whole list that he wants to share!

Other media

Inherited from the past incarnation is the section on “Articles”: downloadable scientific studies about World Heritage listings. They are still valuable to those who want to read up on the subject. And I added a video section - there’s Joel and Shandos for example who have been vlogging about WHS for several years now, they deserve a mention.

Do you have suggestions for additions to the lists of resources? Or know of even more types of media that have WH-related content? Post them below or in the “WHS in the media” Forum topic.

Els - 12 December 2021

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Astraftis 14 December 2021

Do you think it would be really too much to include site-specific books, even if not specifically on the WH side? Or is it just that you'd prefer to keep the bibliography as general as possible? Excluding guidebooks and too general works (e.g. "Römische Geschichte" by Mommsen :-P ),I think that probably we would have to keep some threshold just for the most famous sites, otherwise having some key reference, especially for lesser-trodden sites, would be a treat! I already have some titles at the ready... :-) Or even, a "bibliography" section on each WHS page would be fantastic!

Besides, I'm really curious about those podcasts, now. It's something I've never delved into, but I'll try to listen to a couple before going to bed, the only moment I see myself able to give them proper attention without the urge of doing something else!

Els Slots 13 December 2021

The longer ones of the Fall of Civilizations I find really too long, such as the Sumerian episode. But I did enjoy the Aztecs. The shorter ones on the Vikings and Easter Island are easier to handle. I have the same issue as you Michael with the UNESCO podcast, some 00:00 ones that do not play.

Michael Ayers 12 December 2021

Good work, Els. I listened to two of the podcasts last night. Paul Cooper's episode on the Inca was really excellent (but very long for some, probably). I also enjoyed the first episode of the UNESCO culture series. I was somewhat expecting that to be a little dry, but I thought it was quite good. Is it only me, or are only half of the UNESCO episodes working (the ones with a time length of 0:00 won't play?)

Meltwaterfalls 12 December 2021

Oh no I definitely have to find time to do this now!!! Hopefully this is week

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #764: Serra de Tramuntana

The Serra de Tramuntana is a beautiful landscape with steep mountainsides and lots of greenery. Like the rest of Mallorca, it is quite tourist trappy  - so expect no lost paradise. An easy way to get to know the area is to take bus 203 from Palma. This is the ‘slow’ bus, that reaches the coastal town of Port de Soller after 1h20 min. It passes through the mountain villages of Valldemossa and Deia, and crosses large parts of the Serra de Tramuntana. These are narrow mountain roads, where two buses cannot pass each other. The stone villages seem glued to the steep mountain walls, that are so characteristic of this area. Near the coast, you can see dramatic cliffs.


The Serra is popular for hiking, even attracting long-distance hikers for a long weekend trip from Northern Europe. Since there are many daily flights from anywhere in Europe to Palma de Mallorca it is very accessible; from Palma it takes only 45 minutes by direct bus and then you are in the middle of this mountainous region. Crossing the mountain range on foot from west to east via the GR221 “Dry Stone Route” takes about 8 days with mountain huts available to spend the night.

I stayed for 2 nights in Soller, the liveliest place I encountered during my short week in Mallorca and Menorca in November. On my first day, I hiked a loop between Soller and Fortnalutx. Smaller towns like Fornalutx and Deia are included in the core zone of this WHS, while the bigger ones such as Pollença, Sa Calobra, Soller, and Port de Soller aren’t. The hiking trails are signposted, but I recommend bringing an additional tool to really find your way. I had downloaded a description from the internet and used my phone with navigation.

The "long road" from Soller to Fornalutx mostly runs on narrow paths between terraced farm fields. Lots of stones here: from dry stone walls to the road itself. At breakfast I overheard an English tourist asking whether these roads date back to Roman times – “No” was the answer of the B&B owner, “they were built 2 years ago by the Spanish government”!

Every centimeter of this area seems to be in use for farming. There are lemon tree groves and I also saw almonds. With a cactus and a palm tree here and there, this results in a beautiful green landscape with colorful accents of flowers and plants.

The town of Fornalutx is a well-restored village with stone buildings and tiled roofs. Binibassi and Biniaraix are two other traditional villages along this route.

I had planned another day of hiking for Sunday, but the weather was against me. I still went on my way from Soller to Port de Soller, but it started raining so hard that I took the bus halfway to take me to the final destination. Port de Soller turned out to be a somewhat run-down seaside resort, perhaps caused by the winter season or by Covid closures. I still walked all the way up to the lighthouse of Cap Gros (part of the core zone - dating from 1859, “its construction took place without consulting engineers or architects”). The steep coastal cliffs are only partly visible from here.

Els - 5 December 2021

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Blog WH Travellers

Wojciech and Thomas ... In Iraq

Iraq’s WHS have seriously been underreviewed at this website: Ashur and Babylon so far had none, Samarra showed one visit from 1975, and Hatra had only reports by 2 US military personnel. While Iraqi Kurdistan has been easily accessible for the past 10 years or so, Iraq “proper” is now opening up more as well, aided by the introduction of a visa-on-arrival for nationals of 38 countries. The area around Baghdad is deemed safe enough, but what about the ancient cities around Mosul? Wojciech Fedoruk and Thomas Buechler put WH travel in Iraq to the test a few weeks ago. They've written reviews of the sites they managed to visit (spoiler alert: they reached all 6!) and share more stories below.

What’s the most efficient itinerary along Iraq’s 6 WHS?

Wojciech: “I planned to cover all Iraqi WHS within 7 days and it worked very well. It is recommended to start from Iraq ‘proper’: a visa issued in Baghdad is respected in Kurdistan, but the one issued in Kurdistan is valid only there, so you’d have to pay twice:

  • Day one – early arrival at Baghdad airport, taxi to Babylon WHS, then to Ur - part of Ahwar of Southern Iraq WHS, after that to Baghdad. I started at 6 AM and reached my hotel in Baghdad at around 5.30 PM. It includes over 700km of driving but most of this is on wide Basra - Baghdad road where literally everybody with a decent car drives at a speed exceeding 150 kmph – no speed checks at all.
  • Day two – Baghdad. If you hunt for WHS only, you should skip day two and stay near Ur, visit proper Iraqi marshlands and go back to Baghdad on that day.
  • Day three – Samarra WHS and Ashur WHS, overnight in Mosul
  • Day four – early visit in Mosul old town (could possibly be replaced by Nineveh TWHS, but after its intentional destruction by ISIS there is literally nothing left), Hatra WHS, back to Mosul
  • Day five – Mar Behnam Monastery, Nimrud TWHS, taxi to Erbil, on the way we visited TWHS Lalish temple
  • Day six and seven – Erbil Citadel WHS, Erbil and surroundings. This could be limited even to one day, but you need a PCR test to leave Erbil, so you have to plan it in advance.”

How did you organize it?

Thomas, who had visited the South of Iraq already on an organized trip in 2018 but found the North off-limits at the time, shares: “For the Northern circuit and its 3 UNESCO sites of Samarra, Hatra and Ashur the crucial thing here is to travel with the right guide. We were just 3 men and could travel uncomplicated in one car with a driver and guide. There were lots of police check-ups, a few times we had to leave the car and register. It happened also that we had to leave our passports behind, and could only collect them again upon leaving the sites.” This doesn’t need to be an official tourist guide, but a person with the right local relations and who can arrange things at numerous checkpoints.  

Your biggest travel achievement of this trip must be getting into Ashur and Hatra?

Wojciech: “These two are officially closed and nobody can officially guarantee letting you in. We had a very young fixer who didn’t care about the obstacles and with his help we managed to visit those two. Ashur was no issue as the chief guard of this place was his close friend (or relative). In Hatra we spent almost three hours waiting at the checkpoint until our permit came from Baghdad. Our fixer arranged it on the spot, sending our passport scans to Baghdad by Whatsapp. Overall, we were super lucky, as very few foreign travellers had the possibility to visit these two WHS after their recapture from ISIS.”

How is the current state of these 2 sites?

“Ironically, Ashur did not suffer that much, only because there was not so much to destroy – the remains were not that significant even before ISIS came there. All the important artifacts from Ashur were taken out a long time ago, mostly to the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad and Pergamon Museum in Berlin. ISIS completely destroyed the local museum and the guard’s house. Bullet shells from that time are still easy to find in Ashur, there is also a place where – as we were said – they executed hostages. Ashur is beautifully located on the bend of the Tigris river and this location is its curse. The Iraqi government plans to build a dam that may possibly threaten the archeological site and this is also a reason to put it on ‘In Danger’ list. The site looks rather abandoned, some works are performed on the entrance gate, which, apart from the Ziggurat, is the most significant visible remaining.”

“For Hatra, initial reports were frightening – the site was supposed to be systematically destroyed similarly to Syrian Palmyra. Fortunately, it didn’t happen – ISIS ‘only’ destroyed anything with images of humans and animals – such as reliefs and sculptures, some used as shooting targets for beginning recruits. Impressive city walls, columns, and most of the buildings survived. There are intensive reconstruction works by Italian archeologists and, as we were told, the site will be closed until they finish. I am a bit afraid that after reconstruction the site will be even less authentic, as the reconstruction of Iraqi monuments usually goes too far for Western standards – check Babylon for example.”

What were the highlights of the TWHS?

According to Thomas:

  • Nimrud: once one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the Middle East. A 3,000-year-old Assyrian city with lots of sculptures and frescos of the highest quality. But all of it has been destroyed by ISIS  2014/15 in an act of barbarity, even on a larger scale than what they did in Palmyra. It affected most of its structures like the winged bulls and lions, the ziggurat, the palaces of king Ashurnasirpal II, and the old gates, all turned into rubbles. With the support of UNESCO and Foreign governments, there are plans to rehabilitate Nimrud in its grandeur, but during our visit, the entire property was fenced off and guarded, and no archaeologists were there except one Iraqi specialist. There were closed tents where some of the antiquities are being kept. Officially the site is closed to visitors but we were given a brief tour, no photos allowed except in front of a stone relief (with hundreds of bullet holes) similar to the one that was sold for $ 31 million at a Christie’s in 2018. 
  • Old City of Mosul: it has been heavily destroyed by ISIS. The Great Mosque of al-Nuri with its famous leaning minaret was first used by ISIL in 2014 to declare the formation of a new caliphate but then blown in 2017 up shortly before the Iraqi army arrived. There is an ongoing reconstruction project, with the support of $50M by the UAE. The extent of destruction elsewhere in the Old City is massive, but people have returned to normal life. The local market is very busy, selling fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables. And there is horrendous traffic, especially in the evenings, crossing the Tigris river. Bridges have been destroyed in the conflict, and are currently being renovated, restoring the east-west access. As we experienced, a crossing can take up to 3 hours. 
  • Personally, the most impressive was the Wadi Al-Salam Cemetery in Najaf that I had the chance to visit in 2018. It is the biggest cemetery I have ever seen worldwide and contains more than 5 million bodies. Some war heroes with huge portraits in their military gear, and religious flags, there is a unique ambiance over the place or at least parts of it.

The photos from top to bottom show Samarra WHS, Ashur WHS, and the intrepid duo in front of Hatra WHS (including a crane in the background from the Saddam Hussein era). All photos are courtesy of Wojciech & Thomas. Their reviews of Hatra and Ashur have been published already, and Babylon will follow in the next week.

Els - 28 November 2021

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Blog TWHS Visits

Talayotic Minorca

Talayotic Minorca is Spain's submission for 2022. The revised documents are now available from the excellent nomination website. They’ve even added an Epic Subtitle: “Talayotic Menorca - A cyclopean island odyssey”. The 25 locations have been decreased to 9, but that’s just a cosmetic adjustment as the former locations are now bundled into clusters. Only the Torre del Ram near Ciutadella has not survived the cut. As far as I can see all suggestions made by ICOMOS during the Deferral of 2017 have been incorporated. All but one that is: the Necropolis at Son Real on the neighboring island of Mallorca has not been included. The Minorcans seem to want a WHS all for themselves! The process has cost 1 million EUR already.

None of the sites lie particularly convenient to be explored by public transport. The best ones for that would be Trepuco (cluster 8), about 3km from the nearest bus stop in Mahon, and Torralba d’en Salort (cluster 6) which lies about 4km from Alaior. One could also take a taxi to one of the sites and then walk back. Menorcaarqueologica does offer guided hiking along some of the sites with an archeologist. In the end, I choose to rent an e-bike for the day from bikemenorca. The distances between the sites in the southeast of Minorca are perfectly suitable for cycling.    

My visit didn’t get off to a good start: I sped past the turnoff to Talati D’Alt (not signposted from the ME12). And Torralba d’en Salort I found closed and fenced off. I then just continued to Alaior, where I had my lunch break planned as it is the only larger town in the area.

Fortunately, the next Talayotic site on my list, Torre d’en Galmes, was open. There were even 2 cars of other visitors at the parking lot. In the winter season, the entrance isn’t manned, so I didn’t have to pay for a ticket. The site is easy to visit under your own steam, with information panels to explain what you’re looking at. The remains of the settlement spread out downwards from a hilltop, where numerous circular dwellings can be seen (to me they looked similar to the ones at Su Nuraxi di Barumini). The enclosed dwellings had an efficient water catchment system, where rainwater was saved in cisterns.

There were different “rooms” within the enclosures, including a kitchen and spaces for the sheep and goats. Some were hypostyle rooms: carefully balanced slabs of stone, supported by columns that are narrower at the base than at the top. The structures here at Torre d’en Galmes, as at most Talayotic sites, span a long period. Some were inhabited up and until the Moorish era.

I cycled some 45 kilometers in total. It was quite windy and less flat than I had hoped. On the way back to Mahon, where I was staying overnight, I visited two more sites. So Na Caçana stands out as it is thought to have been a ceremonial center. The difference between it and a settlement isn’t visible however to the untrained eye. Its most impressive feature is the tall, quadrangular Talayot (watchtower) dating back to the 8th century BC. Trepuco lies on the outskirts of the Minorcan capital Mahon. It has a good example of a T-shaped Taula (a stone structure used in ceremonies). It’s a miracle that the horizontal slab stays in place.

Els - 21 November 2021

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