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Book: Chinese Heritage Sites and their Audiences

With 55 sites inscribed, China is the joint leader among the nations with the most WHS. It will probably be surpassed by Italy again after the combined 2020/2021 WHC, as China has only 1 proposal on the table while Italy has 3. It must have really hurt the Chinese that their Badain Jaran Desert proposal couldn’t be evaluated due to Covid reasons so they miss out on a year – even more so while they are hosting the WHC session. China already wasn’t a big fan of the Cairns Decision of 2000, which limited the number of nominations per country to 1 a year. It has so many more to offer and now it will take them 100 years!

The young Chinese scholar Rouran Zhang has written a study about how China deals with its heritage sites and how they are perceived by their visitors. The WHS of West Lake and Xidi & Hongcun are used as case studies. Zhang is also an expert member at the ICOMOS committee on Cultural Landscapes, so he brings in both the Chinese and the international perspective. “Chinese Heritage Sites and their Audiences” is a book for a scientific audience (with annotations and all that), but I learned a lot from it about China’s journey in the world of WHS.

The road to 55

China only ratified the WHC convention in 1985 and got its first batch of WHS in 1987. According to Zhang, they went through 3 phases:

1.     1985-2000: China accepted the international authorized heritage discourse and explored its meaning

2.     2000-2011: China made adjustments to its internal heritage policies to fit within the international framework

3.     2011-present: China has gained the confidence to nominate new types of WHS, such as cultural landscapes and cultural routes. It also understands that its status of WHS world power comes with international responsibilities (such as the contribution to the Angkor Restoration project)

During the second phase China reshaped its heritage management systems and policies along the lines of international organizations like UNESCO, ICOMOS, IUCN. That while recognizing that these international standards do not always fit the Asian perceptions, such as a strong focus on the harmonious relationship between man and nature. This resulted for example in a IUCN-style system of national parks, but allowing for both natural and cultural features to be highlighted.

China sees the WH listing process as a game and knows that it has to play according to the eurocentric rules for political and economic purposes. The main benefits are a sense of nationalism and the opportunity to attract (domestic) tourists, which will lead to economic development for remote areas in particular.

West Lake

West Lake (2011) already was a well-known tourist site in a well-developed region of China before its WH nomination. It was the country’s first nomination of a cultural landscape. Although the inscription seems to have gone smoothly, there was some disagreement between the Chinese and ICOMOS. ICOMOS changed the proposed OUV criteria upon inscription and negotiated in an exchange of letters beforehand that the Longjing tea gardens were left out from the core zone. Zhang sees this as a sign that the eurocentric ICOMOS experts didn’t grasp the full story. For the Chinese, there is no meaning in a West Lake without the tea culture. For ICOMOS, it was ‘just’ an agricultural site not even visible from the lake.

The research also unveiled that a group of local people were removed from their homes near West Lake in anticipation of the WH listing. Officials questioned by Zhang weren’t prepared to talk about it; the elderly displaced locals that he managed to track down mainly missed the proximity to the park and their old neighbours.

Xidi and Hongcun

ICOMOS on the other hand was quite smitten with the towns of Xidi and Hongcun and their vernacular architecture. No difficult deeper meanings here, it was all about historic buildings. This case study focuses on how the two towns have been affected by the surge in tourism after their WH listing in 2000. The inhabitants of Xidi at first profited well because all revenue went to the local community, which was united in the Villagers’ Committee of Xidi. The average income became three times as high as that of the rest of the poor province. Hongcun eventually came into the hands of a Beijing-based tourism company and became much more profitable. They professionalized its management, and invested in infrastructure (e.g. a direct road to the popular WHS of Huangshan) and in advertisement (including a 37 million USD theatre production).

Local authorities are mostly worried about preserving material authenticity that is recognized by national or international authorities, and banned local customs such as selling traditional food items as they would pollute the image. When renovation of the buildings is necessary, home owners get 40% of the costs reimbursed by the government.

Els - 13 June 2021

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The Global Strategy in 2021

The WHC meeting in the second half of July will be a special one, as the combined nominations for 2020 and 2021 will be discussed. It brings us a long list of potentials to look at. The first batch of IUCN and ICOMOS evaluations have been published last Friday. The second batch, including mostly extensions and referrals/deferrals from earlier years, will follow in a week or two.

With the lumping together of 2 years worth of nominations, it is also easier to see trends. For example, is the Global Strategy working?

Mosque in Quanzhou

What is the Global Strategy?

The Global Strategy was announced in 1994 to create a more Representative, Balanced and Credible World Heritage List.

A global study carried out by ICOMOS from 1987 to 1993 had revealed that Europe, historic towns and religious monuments, Christianity, historical periods and ‘elitist’ architecture (in contrast to vernacular) were all over-represented on the World Heritage List; whereas, all living cultures, and especially ‘traditional cultures’, were underrepresented.

As the study was done by ICOMOS, its focus was on cultural sites. However, the imbalance between cultural sites and natural/mixed sites later also became part of the problem to be solved. This strategy has evolved over the years and has become part of the Operational Guidelines. Measures taken included the limitation of only 1 nomination per country per year and the allowing of only 35 nominations in total (with prioritization done on criteria to create at least a geographical balance). There's also the Upstream Process to help "challenging nominations" forward.

The 2020/2021 nominations

I made yet another spreadsheet where I marked the 48 nominations of 2020/2021 against the following Global Strategy criteria:

1. Europe vs the rest of the world

European nominations still are good for 50% of all proposals (this was 54% in 1994). No “new” countries (countries without a WHS) have a nomination. Only Cameroon, Georgia and the Dominican Republic haven’t had anything inscribed during the past 20 years and will try now again. 10 countries (including the 4 of the Lake Chad proposal) have less than 4 sites already inscribed and would have received preferential treatment. However, both 2020 and 2021 saw less than 35 nominations so the priority ranking did not come into effect.

Especially European countries have found their way out of the 1 nomination per country limit per year. Germany in this session will have 5 and Italy 4 because of their participation in transnational nominations lead by a different state.

2. Historic towns and (Christian) religious buildings.

The archetypical WHS of the past was a European historic city with a gothic cathedral at its center. We hardly see any of them this year: there is Padua’s Scrovegni Chapel, Ribeira Sacra, the Coptic monasteries and the extension of the Popocatepl monasteries as purely Christian sites. City centers (parts of them) include Nice, Bologna and Ljubljana.  

Exterior of Padua's Scrovegni Chapel

3. Historical periods vs. prehistory and the 20th century

In this category the biggest change may have occurred. The proposals include 7 sites built in the 20th century, including the modern architecture of the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx, Plecnik’s Ljubljana and the Atlantida Church of Eladio Dieste.

4. "Elitist" vs. vernacular architecture and traditional living cultures

I struggled a bit with applying "elitist architecture" - castles, villas, public buildings for sure, but how "elitist" was the Limes? I put it with all the other military architecture under "elitist" as it was state sponsored. The number of traditional living culture sites in this group of nominations is very low, I only counted 2 of them (Lake Chad and Iran's Hawraman/Uramanat).

5. More balance between nature and culture

In 1994, 29% of the nominations were mixed or natural. In 2020/2021 this percentage is only 19%.

So is the 2020/2021 batch more Representative & Balanced?

The “best” nominations measured against the criteria above are Gabon's Ivindo NP, Kaeng Krachan Forest and the Lake Chad cultural landscape. Regarding the last one we already got the news that it has not been evaluated due to security reasons, so it will not be inscribed this year.

The most progress has been made in the "period" criterion: a significant part of the nominations are either very old (8) or date from the 20th century (7).

The Upstream Process seems to have had little effect: only the 2 Slovenian sites went (partly) through it according to the AB evaluations, and even then the Classical Karst in the end got a Negative advice from IUCN regarding inscription.

In comparison to 27(!) years ago when the Global Strategy movement started, I think only baby steps forward have been made. An additional measure could be to apply the limit of 1 nomination also to transnational sites a country participates in. It doesn't help others when ICOMOS gets flooded with work regarding 5 German nominations. Also, I think there is a fundamental weakness in the WH system that allows only State Parties to nominate their own sites. Why not let a State Party (or a group of them) nominate a site elsewhere? Or why not let a NGO put a site forward?

One of Japan's Jomon sites

And what about Credibility?

Credibility was the third pillar of reform. In the 2020/2021 document set you can find the Reports of the Advisory Bodies, and this statement of IUCN which is in there sums it all up nicely: “IUCN expresses its continued and increasing concern regarding the Committee’s tendency to deviate from the technical advice of the Advisory Bodies. At the 43rd session some 83.7% of Advisory Body recommendations were modified by the Committee, mostly to push decisions to be more favourable for nominations and less rigorous on conservation commitments. Furthermore, the Committee, as happened twice at the 42nd session, again amended a recommendation for non-inscription to inscription. IUCN continues to believe this sets a concerning trend which unchecked threatens to undermine the credibility of the Convention.”

Els - 6 June 2021

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Nan 7 June 2021

Never thought about it that way...

* First, you bundle mediocre sites together to create sth akin to OUV.
* Then, you extend the site to include even lesser sites who wouldn't have made it on their own.
* Last but not least, when the site gets too big, you split it off and create Limes 2 and 3...

I am a bit saddened about the inflation taking place. The list should be about great and important sites. And not each and every Roman ruin running from the UK to Mesopotamia.

Els Slots 7 June 2021

What annoys me especially with the Limes (and also with the Beech forests) is that a precedent has been set after accepting the first extension, and now every single one remaining thing can be added. The Lower German Limes consists of 106 serial locations. Every single one of them should show/attribute to the OUV, I cannot imagine that they do.

Nan 7 June 2021

Being German I should be proud of this year's massive haul. But I really am not as the quality of sites we keep pushing is just too low on on average. Combining 2020 and 2021 only makes the problem of the inscription process more massive.

In total it's 5: Limes North West (Limes 2), Limes Danube (= Limes 3), European Baths, Mathildenhöhe and Shum.

* 3 of those are multinational so don't count against the limit.
* The Limes one feel redundant. I am hard pressed to see how Xanten is different from Mainz and why it deserves a separate inscription.
* Mathildenhöhe seems the lesser site in comparison to Vienna.
* ShuM .. Speyer could have been enlarged to encompass the Jewish ruins. It's ruins and cemetery primarily, so not sure if Jewish central Europe traditions aren't better represented by the Czech sites (Trebic, Prague).

Limes 2 and 3 are just redundant at this point. The best site should have been inscribed and that is Hadrian's wall in the UK.

It's not really a world heritage list if it boils down to European heritage sites primarily. I think additional revisions are needed:
* Limit inscriptions to a max number per year. 20 (?)
* Prioritize inscriptions to underrepresented countries.
* Require for each new European subscription support and funding for a non European one.

I may get to the point where I will simply freeze the list (e.g. 2010) and only focus on the subset of sites I consider relevant going forward for my travel plans. This whack a mole game with mediocre (or worse) sites is just plain annoying.

Assif 6 June 2021

Thank you, Els, for this important summary. I wholeheartedly agree that the Global Strategy has led to very little progress in over 20 years. I wonder how sincere the committee's efforts are to change the current power relations as they are reflected by the WHS list.

Blog TWHS Visits

Lower German Limes: Berg en Dal Aqueduct

The Dutch part of the Lower German Limes TWHS comprises 26 locations on the 2nd century Roman frontier along the river Rhine. Together with a string of sites in what is now Germany, it formed the north-eastern boundary of the Roman province of Germania Inferior. This Lower German Limes is up for discussion at the upcoming Combined 2020-2021 WHC session in July. I haven’t been able to find any news about the outcome of the ICOMOS advice yet, but it seems unlikely that the site will not be accepted given the history of earlier Limes proposals.

Signs to look out for on the hiking trail

I reviewed the German part of this potential WHS already in 2019: Lower German Limes: Xanten. For a glimpse of the Dutch part, I chose location #25: the Roman aqueduct at Berg en Dal. Berg en Dal is a pretty village close to Nijmegen, which was the most important Roman city in the Netherlands. A legion of 5,000 soldiers was stationed here and a town of craft- and tradesmen developed around it. The aqueduct was a military aqueduct, which supplied the legionary fortress with fresh water. It is one of the few known examples of its kind with extant remains. A well wasn’t enough to provide for all the water needed, so they built a water pipe (aqueduct) from several sources in Berg en Dal. The water supply used a wooden gutter, of which nothing remains. Only the earth works can be seen.

There is a 7km long hiking trail along the traces of the aqueduct. It starts from the center of Berg en Dal. A website plus QR codes along the way explains the features in detail. Both trail and website look to have been designed during a sudden flurry of attention (and monetary subsidy). On the ground, in May 2021, the signposting proved to be few and far between, I needed and the global map on the website to get me to the finish. 

The gully, deepened by Roman soldiers

Actually the most interesting part is already right at the start. Here lie a few natural springs, conveniently near the highest point of the area. What is most visible is the unnatural deep gully that starts here: excavated by Roman troops. This and other parts along the route lie on private property and are not accessible, which is a shame as it would have made the hike more pleasant. Now it is more like a stroll through the (often opulent) neighbourhoods of Berg en Dal.

To make the experience even worse, the “Roman Aqueduct” may not even have been an aqueduct. One of the information panels along the way hints that the “aqueduct” was merely a project to keep the Roman soldiers busy and in shape. The nomination dossier leaves it at “Although a water channel has not been attested so far, it is the obvious explanation”.

Fake ruins of Porta Romana, the gate to the legionary fortress

The Lower German Limes will be discussed as a separate WHS and not as an extension to the Frontiers of the Roman Empire WHS (a summary of the reasoning behind that can be found here). I think a location like this is exemplary for those serial sites with many locations. More does not make it better. There are already so many great Roman sites on the List, it doesn’t need these meagre remains. The German part isn’t much better. If you want to see what the Romans did to the Netherlands however, Nijmegen still is the best place to go. Its Valkhof museum has a Roman archeology section with regional findings.

Els - 30 May 2021

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TWHS project: the wrap-up

On the 31st of January I started the “TWHS project”, to pimp up the individual tentative site pages that have always been limited in content on this website. Now, after almost 4 months, we have reached the finish line (except for a few loose ends). It was a massive job, and especially the many descriptions in French or TWHS with hardly or no description at all were tough to do. But we got through it, thanks to all who participated. Each TWHS at least has a basic page now, including over 40% with a photo as well. I think the addition to the country pages with the markers for "extension" and "already (partly) inscribed" also add value.

Some statistics

  • When we started the project, there were 1751 TWHS. Now there are 1772.
  • We managed to add photos to 755 of these 1772 (keep them coming!)
  • 11 different people sent in texts.
  • 13 sent in photos.
  • We’ve found additional locations for TWHS, so the maps got a boost from it too.
  • We’ve discovered 40 TWHS that are already (partly) inscribed as WHS.
  • And 73 TWHS that are proposed as an extension to an existing WHS.


Disappointing Tentative Lists

There were many of them, Lists that disappoint. Some were long, others messy or just lacking clear descriptions:

Belarus stands out for its uninformative descriptions; also the text of the wooden church(es) nomination accidentally contains half of the old text of the Minsk FTWHS.

Brazil has 3 sites already inscribed but still on T list (Atol das rocas, Anavilhanas, Serra do Bocaina). Furthermore lots of old entries and nondescript national parks.

Dominican Republic is a total mess. Montecristi was apparently built in the 23rd century, the City of Azúa de Compostela's description is incomprehensible. Some of the 13(!) TWHS have no description at all. Jacagua's description seems to be written by a carpenter as it consists mostly of measurements.

Egypt’s Tentative List really needs a good clean up from the side of the State Party, many sites are hardly described and there are various double entries. I especially hate the serial sites all across Egypt without obvious links between them.

France: a revision is necessary, as 24 out of its 38 TWHS date from 1996 to 2002. In most cases there is little or very little text on the UNESCO website. And little potential for WHS.

Cyprus as well also holds mostly old entries from 2002, with bad descriptions or none at all. There's a controversial mine at Mathiatis South. Furthermore, 7 of the 11 TWHS actually belong to 1 serial site - the Troodos ophiolite.

Finally, Turkey, India and Iran have huge tentative lists. Probably mostly to please regional authorities or boost tourism in general. After separating the chaff from the wheat however, these 3 countries do have some to possible nominations to bring forward. I have evaluated them in separate write-ups: Turkey, India, Iran.

Tentative Lists with potential

The list with the most potential that I came across myself is the one of Bhutan. Of course Bhutan is still waiting for its first WHS and the major dzongs should be a shoo-in. Furthermore I liked Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (remote mixed site, OUV partly based on occurrence of a yeti type being) and the Tamzhing Monastery (niche Buddhism). It also has a fairly high number of natural TWHS.

Indonesia has been underrepresented with 9 WHS. It could be enriched with entries from the T List, I easily found 5+ sites that could make it. These include archipelagos with a large marine component, lots of coral and good for diving (Raja Ampat, possibly Taka Bonerate too). Dutch colonial heritage in Semarang – well-preserved and with a full thumbs up rating from our visitors. Vernacular architecture of various ethnic groups is where the best chances may lie for Indonesia. Tana Toraja is the best known, but I also liked Bawomataluo with its megaliths and Minangkabau society at Nagari Sijunjung. In the cultural landscape category, the nutmeg production on the Banda Islands is of interest.

Finally, a number of Syria’s TWHS are highly rated by our community, for example Apamea and the Hama water wheels.

To those of you who went through some of the lists: what impression (or which site) stands out?

Els - 23 May 2021

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Zos M 23 May 2021

Posted my comments for Philippines tentative list on the forum thread since it's long. Overall, there are lots of potential and still have some gaps not currently proposed.

Colvin 23 May 2021

Here was my remark from the forum on the sites from Oceania:

Now that I have looked over most of the Tentative List for Oceania, some general trends seem to stand out:

Coral Reefs: Many Pacific nations seem to want to get in on this natural wonder, proposing untouched and/or richly biodiverse coral ecosystems. To be fair, some of these tentative sites are in the Coral Triangle, but I don't know how much room there is on the list for incredible coral reefs. Out of the ones I looked through, I was most interested in the nominations for the Marovo-Tetepare Complex (Solomon Islands) and the Marine Protected Areas of American Samoa (USA).

Avian Hotspots: Not surprisingly, there is a high degree of endemism for fauna in Oceania, particularly when it comes to bird life. This continent of islands is also very important for migratory seabirds. At least a dozen tentative sites include references to their avian excellence, but most of the sites also include references to other important natural and cultural features, which may be more of an overall factor for getting them inscribed. Sites like New Zealand's Kermadec Islands and Marine reserve or Whakarua Moutere (North East Islands) might have opportunities for inscription if they were to improve their packages.

Mixed Sites: Perhaps pulling from the success of Papahânaumokuâkea (USA) and Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), several countries have proposed mixed sites to take advantage of the natural wonders and biodiversity as well as the cultures that live in and rely on these environments. Some of the proposed tentative sites, such as Les Iles Marquises (France) and Fagaloa Bay-Uafato Tiavea Conservation Zone (Samoa), seem promising, but others, like the Northern Marshall Islands Atolls (Marshall Islands), need more work.

Looking over the list, the unique nominations that interest me most for cultural sites are the Yapese Disk Money Regional Sites (Micronesia and Palau) and the Nowon and Votwos of Ureparapara (Vanuatu). For the natural sites, I'm intrigued by Yaduataba Crested Iguana Sanctuary (Fiji) and Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (USA).

I'd also love to see some more transnational sites put forward to highlight the region's rich heritage, from the Lapita culture to more recent Polynesian cultures, sailing across the Pacific.

Colvin 23 May 2021

This project was a lot of fun! I wrote up a review of the Tentative Lists of Oceania in the forum, but I may copy that over in a second comment.

I worked mostly at the end of the alphabet, and generally found at least one or two sites in each country there that impressed me, such as the Natetale Cluster of Dzimbabwes (Zimbabwe); the Barotse Cultural Landscape (Zambia); Hacienda Chuao (Venezuela); and Ba Be-Na Hang Natural Heritage Area (Vietnam).

I was most impressed with the list from Yemen, though, which includes such cultural sites as the Archaeological Site of Marib, the Historic city of Saada, and Jibla and its surroundings; and the natural Hawf Area, a fog oasis that may still house the endangered Arabian leopard.

Like others have mentioned, some of the site proposals on the TWHS list were incomplete or bad; thankfully, not all were Tet el Bad (Palau).

Frédéric M 23 May 2021

Yeah, this project was really interesting.
Mexico has a long list filled with historical towns and prehispanic archeological sites. Some natural TWHS seem to have potential: Aire de protection de la flore et de la faune Cuatrociénegas, Los Petenes-Ría Celestún and Ring of cenotes of Chicxulub Crater, Yucatan. Peru has some weird shamanic entries, but also a lot of potential: Archaeological Complex of Toro Muerto, Chachapoyas sites of the Utcubamba Valley, Chankillo Astronomical Complex, Guano Islands, Islets, and Capes National Reserve System form Peru (RNSIIPG), Lake Titicaca, Landscape Reserve Sub Cuenca del Cotahuasi, Sierra del Divisor National Park.
African countries french T-lists I went through were not great. Mainly cultural propertries with either few tangible remains or only local significance, often with poor description of the OUV. Some slave trad sites. And natural sites that didn't seem to stand among the already inscribed savannah and tropical forest sites of Africa. Some interesting candidates: Reserve de Biosphere de l'Archipel des Bijagos (Guinea Bissau), Les forets sèches de l'Andrefana (Madagascar), NOSYnakà (Sahamalaza, Nosy Hara, Nosy Tanikely, Lokobe, Ambodivahibe, Ankarea, Ankivonjy) (Madagascar).

Hubert 23 May 2021

It was really a nice project.
Not only the short or non-existent texts made it difficult, the long but meaningless descriptions were also annoying.
The French list needs to be revised, but Spain also has a weird list. Unesco should insist that the state parties renew their list regularly: just delete everything older than 20 years. Anything that should remain must be resubmitted.
The biggest surprise of my contributions was Pakistan. A long list too, but with potential. Many archaeological sites where I don't know how much is preserved.
But some more recent sites look impressive:
Tomb of Jahangir, Wazir Khan Mosque, Chaukhandi tombs, or Derawar Fort.
And the Central Karakorum National Park.

Kyle Magnuson 23 May 2021

North Korea's 21 year-old Tentative List is filled with brief descriptions that lean heavily on hyperbole and flowery language.

Mt. Myohang and the Relics in and Around the Mountain - "Mt. Myohyang has been called "the mountain of curiosity, beauty and sweet smell".

Historical Relics of Pyongyang - "Pyongyang, the cradle of the Korean nation, has a great number of sites of all the primitive ages . . . The city has been the capital of Ancient Korea for nearly 3000 years . . ."

Mt. Kumgang and the Historical Relics in and Around the Mountain - "Mt. Kumgang is a strikingly beautiful mountain with numerous peaks and curious rocks amounting to some 1,2000, waterfalls and pools formed by crystal-like clear waters . . ."

Caves in the Kujang Area - "The cave is characterized by its soft, beautiful and gorgeous appearance."

Mt. Chilbo - "And the beautiful scenery of the curious rocks in Sea Chilbo, stretched out for 40 kilometers from Musudan to Orangdan, throw the visitors in a trance."

Blog WHS Visits

Wadden Sea: Schiermonnikoog

In January I already wrote about my visit to the Dutch Wadden Island of Texel, as part of my goal to visit all national parks in The Netherlands. On Ascension Day 2021 (May 13), I managed to tick off the last one of the 21 parks: another Wadden Island, called Schiermonnikoog. It was my first visit to this island and I went there for a day trip.

The Schiermonnikoog National Park covers the whole island. With only 900 inhabitants and 40 square km surface, it is the smallest inhabited Wadden Island in the Netherlands. Just like at Texel, the Wadden Sea WHS is limited to the island's coastal areas.

How to get there

Schiermonnikoog can only reached by ferry from the port of Lauwersoog (Groningen). The transfer with a big boat takes about 50 minutes, there are also smaller boats which can take you there in 20 minutes for a surcharge. Ferries leave a few times a day (schedule), there is no pre-booking possible. When it is very busy they just will add another boat. You’re not allowed to take your own car with you to the island, only inhabitants can do so and there are also trucks making the journey across. There are public buses on both sides, so also when you’re limited to public transport it will be easy. The most popular transport option however is the bike: many people bring their own, and you can also rent them from the dock in Schiermonnikoog.

The journey across the Wadden Sea I found quite uneventful. We only encountered a couple of fishing boats.

Which locations are inscribed?

The Wadden Sea WHS mostly consists of a marine area which falls dry during low tide. But it also includes a few coastal locations on the ring of 'barrier' islands that enclose it to the north. The more detailed maps for each island can be found in the nomination dossier. At the one for Schiermonnikoog the island's shape is hard to distinguish, as the map not only shows the permanent land but also the banks that fall dry. The main location in the southwest of the island is the "Rif", a gigantic high tide refuge. The area to the east of the ferry port is also included. These are the "Kobbeduinen" dunes, a series of named natural ditches within the salt marshes and the eastern tip of the "Balg" sandbank.

What are the typical landscapes to look for?

The site's OUV is based on the "multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment". Examples are:

  • Salt marshes that are regularly flooded by the tides and provide resting, breeding and feeding grounds for birds. This is a specific strong point of Schiermonnikoog. Already directly at the ferry port and the marina that lies some 2km to the west large groups of birds can be found ‘camping out’. Sometimes species by species (the oystercatchers seem to enjoy their own company), but also in mixed groups.
  • Coastal sand dunes. The dunes here aren’t as high or spectacular as on Texel, but they can be climbed and will give you good views of the “Rif”.
  • Barrier islands: the whole of Schiermonnikoog is one.
  • Sandbanks: the "Balg" is only accessible during low tide. Seals can often be seen here.
  • Tidal inlets and channels: a number of natural channels or ditches (“slenk” in Dutch) can be found in the southeast of the island. They are not that accessible and can be impossible to cross on foot during high tide.

Where are the birds?

Like Texel, Schiermonnikoog is a great birding site. I was even more lucky here, probably because of the season (May versus January). Several fields were closed to visitors because of the breeding season, but there was plenty to see even from behind the fences. Despite its small size, Schiermonnikoog actually has quite a varied landscape with forests, fields and farmlands in addition to the coastal features. In the forest I saw my first European goldfinch and Coal tit, the farmlands were literally covered with Barnacle geese, in the fields I saw no less than 3 Pheasants and the high tide refuges near the marina were occupied by hundreds of Bar-tailed godwit and Oystercatcher. A first for me here were the Ruddy turnstone (see 3rd photo).

Els - 16 May 2021

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WHS Plaques and Certificates

Over the years, many reviewers have pointed out the location of the WHS Plaque or a framed Certificate of Inscription in describing their visits. Finding them is almost a niche within a niche hobby! There is even a Flickr group dedicated to the subject (it got a bit sidetracked but the earlier entries do have some good examples) and a stock photo collection. Personally I am not so obsessed by this – I notice them in passing but usually am more interested in finding the OUV or an angle that has not been reviewed on this website yet. I even had a hard time finding photos of the things for this blog post.

But due to the general interest I’d like to poll how we can incorporate these markers in the website.

The Story behind the Plaques and Certificates

A few years ago already, Solivagant has explained the background story on these markers in depth in this forum topic. The bottom line is:

  • There are no “official” plaques that are handed out to new WHS, a site should place one (“whenever possible”) after having been inscribed.

  • “It should be so placed that it can easily be seen by visitors, without disfiguring the property”

  • “the World Heritage Emblem should appear on the plaque”

  • “the text should mention the property's Outstanding Universal Value”

  • The Certificate of Inscription (aka “Framed Paper Version”) has no official status in the Operational Guidelines, but seems to be sent out on the occasion of inscription or of official inauguration by a dignitary. Possibly also in multiple copies when there are serial locations.

What kind of markers have we spotted?

182 WHS reviews currently contain the word “plaque” (including 57 written by Clyde!), and 172 of them refer to the kind we mean here. Most of the time the appearance of the plaque is not further described, but we have at least:

The Certificates of Inscription come in fewer appearances, most of the time it is the A4-sized paper in a simple frame. There is however a mixed form with the plaque: a bronze plaque with the inscription certificate engraved in it. Examples can be found in front of the Hoja Nasruddin statue in Bukhara and at Bahla Fort (see 3rd photo). 

There are also many haphazard signs, as the one below from Abu Simbel, that do show the official logo but have no reference to the OUV of the WHS.

Where are they found?

The guideline “It should be so placed that it can easily be seen by visitors, without disfiguring the property” seems to be followed well. The certificate-style marker is usually found in museums / visitor centers / gift shops (even outside the core zone). In the Charles Darwin Research Station for Galapagos for example.

The metal plaques often are at the entrances of sites, near the ticket offices. Or on the floor in front of the actual monuments if they are in city centers.

The Rhaetian Railway has a red square one at every train station.

If we are going to dedicate a fixed corner of this website to WHS Plaques and Certificates, how should we organize this? Should we:

a.    Create a connection where we log for each WHS: what kind of marker it is – where it is located. Adding a photo here would be hard, only a link would be possible.

b.    Add a text in the info section to the right of each WH page, again with what kind of marker it is – where it is located. Small photos could be added. Against it could be argued that the info section is for more formal information and this stays trivial and is based on submissions of individuals.

c.    Start our own Flickr group?

Or do you have another suggestion?

Els - 9 May 2021

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Clyde 15 May 2021

I have hundreds of Unesco plaques, markers, boards, signs on my Flickr account

Astraftis 12 May 2021

Hey, I am emerging from the hiding I have disappeared in until now to say that I'd like a lot to see this information on the respective WH pages. I think it deserves to stay there, at least i na sidebar, it has some symbolic importance, too. And maybe it could also have a link to a Flickr album.

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 10 May 2021

A Flickr album is the simplest option, for me.

Nan 9 May 2021

I would rather see this as a general issue: Where to put general information. Right now, it's often hidden in the reviews and I would say we should rather manage this type of information as a wiki.

Essentially site info would go to a separate tab/page. We can even make it so, that it is available offline at the same time.

For site info (apart from what we have so far) I would see the following sections.

1) Getting To
Directions. Bus/Train/Plane. Car if special. General Access Points and hubs.

2) Getting In
Ticket process, reservations etc.
Athos -> 20 Tickets for non orthodox male christians. Female visitors can only do a boat trip.
And core zone discussion (e.g. Manu).

3) What to do
Sian Kaan: Boat trip (Reserve at Native tourist office). Bird watching..

4) Where to stay
Either travel hub / city with hotels or special places directly tied to the WHS

5) Points of Interest incl. Unesco plaque
Note: I have been in favor in the past of having location maps with POIs for each site, e.g. Tour Eiffel in Paris.

Michael Novins 9 May 2021

It would be great if we could find a home for a plaque on each WHS’ page. I have hundreds.

Kyle Magnuson 9 May 2021

Flickr Album to share a variety of examples from around the world.

Blog Connections

WHS affected by Poaching

Last week, 3 foreigners accompanying an anti-poaching patrol in Arly NP in Burkina Faso were murdered. With the focus of the jihadist killers on the white people within a larger group, this does look like a terrorist act.  However, it also highlights the issue of poaching as they may not have liked the international attention for their illegal activities in the region and the park. I have used this tragic act for a refreshment of 2 connections on our website: “Poaching” and “Rangers killed by Poachers”.

Poaching as a threat

According to the IUCN Outlook 2020, poaching is the number 1 threat to natural WHS in Africa and Asia and the 4th overall. The COVID-19 pandemic also causes an increased risk of poaching, as in-person staffing is reduced and illegal activities can flourish.

So far we only had 6 sites in our Poaching connection, but I got 52 hits on a text search for “poaching” on the UNESCO website. After some further scrutinizing, using the UNESCO documents and the IUCN outlook reports for the individual sites, I was able to extend the connection to 39 WHS. Notable additions include Okavango (hunting of giraffe for meat), Saryarka (reducing the numbers of the endangered Saiga antelope) and Lake Turkana (for bush meat and trophies (zebra)).

It becomes clear that poaching does not only cover the hunting of iconic threatened mammals such as elephants and rhino’s, but also illegal fishing and shooting of birds. It is sometimes the result of encroachment and low-level substinence hunting by local people. In other cases international criminal organizations are behind it.

In Danger due to Poaching

9 WHS are currently placed In Danger because of Poaching. These are:

Looking at the seriousness and high occurrence of this threat you’d expect more of these to come. Strong candidates are Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng (tiger), Mt. Nimba, and Air and Teneré (gazelle and ostrich) – some of these sites have been hardly monitored during the past decade in the WH lifecycle and lack data from Periodic Reporting (should be every 6 years) or SOC reports.

Rangers killed by Poachers

There are good news stories as well – anti-poaching measures have brought things under control in Chitwan and Ujung Kulon for example. At other locations, park rangers or members of anti-poaching units find themselves in the frontline against sometimes heavily armed poachers:

  • Garamba NP: in 2017, 2 rangers were killed during a fire fight with poachers who were cutting up a recently slaughtered elephant
  • Serra da Capivara: also in 2017, a ranger was killed when he was ambushed by armed men who were hunting illegally
  • Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng: 2 rangers killed in 2013 by poachers who "admitted killing and eating several adult gibbons, and were planning on selling the baby into the pet trade" 
  • Kaziranga: 1 killed by rhino poacher in 2015 and others before (the site is also known for its ruthless killing of poachers by rangers
  • Virunga: 19 killed in 2020-2021 and many before

Els - 2 May 2021

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Blog Countries

Tips for travelling to Costa Rica

In March 2021 I spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica, my first visit to this country. It had never been that high on my wish list – too touristy and no specific highlights that appealed to me. But it’s quite an ideal destination during Covid times: a real outdoor destination with good healthcare and few limitations. I easily covered 3 of its WHS, its only TWHS and several additional parks by rental car. Find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Costa Rica as a World Heritage Traveller.

One of the many bridges on the Drake Bay Trail

1. It's so easy

Travelling in Costa Rica is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with only 100 pieces. The travel complexity factor is very low: everything runs smoothly, a lot of English is spoken, it is remarkably clean, you can drink the tap water, you can pay in USD or colones which both can be withdrawn from ATM’s. Many accommodations are owned by foreigners who cater to North American and/or Western European tastes. All this makes Costa Rica an ideal destination for travellers who venture outside of their own continent for the first time or those travelling with families.

2. Go meet the birds and the butterflies

The natural green surroundings almost everywhere are clearly Costa Rica’s main strength. Even when you’re not a birder, signing up for a bird walk will be rewarding here. The country also has beautiful large butterflies. Just enjoy the countryside in slow motion by hiking or spending the night in a rural area. The zones right outside of the (often pricey and overly manicured) national parks can be just as rewarding.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

3. Create your own balanced itinerary

There is a really well-trodden tourist trail around the country, but with a focus on WHS and also including a couple of cultural sights in addition to the best national parks you will get more out of your trip. The capital San José is worth a day for reasons I already described here. The FTWHS of Guayabo archaeological site certainly warrants a visit. And I did enjoy Marino Ballena national park near Uvita as the best non-WHS natural site - you can do great long beach walks here. Esteban has provided me with a wealth of trip ideas, I will share some of them on the Forum for future use.

4. Don't skip the Osa Peninsula

The Osa Peninsula was the highlight of Costa Rica for me. This included the day trip to the Sirena station of Corcovado NP for example (overnighting is not possible at the moment). But I also enjoyed the Drake Bay Trail, a lovely coastal hike that you can do on your own for as long as you like (the full trail is 20km long, one way). And I did a private guided birding tour in the outskirts of Drake Bay in patches of primary forest, which resulted in views of three species of manakin and other colourful birds.

When you do not get the vaccin, you’re like soft ice cream!

5. Rental car or public transport?

Due to being able to stay in my own little Covid bubble, I travelled around alone in a rental car. I had a Hyundai Creta SUV - no 4WD but a 2WD. The high clearance came in handy about 2 or 3 times, for those final 5km towards a destination. I found car rental pretty expensive, usually I take the smallest and cheapest car available but that’s not an option when you need a SUV. The driving itself was easy as long as you’re not in a hurry. In non-Covid times I’d certainly would have done this trip by public transport. Buses will get you to most places, albeit in a bit more time. The twice daily Drake Bay – Sierpe boat service for example was awaited by minibuses set for Palmar Norte.

The (T)WHS of Costa Rica are seriously underreviewed at this website. Please write down some of your memories no matter from how long ago in a review.

Els - 25 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (WHS) 26 April 2021

Well, it's great to have helped you have the best experience possible, Els. I always really find interesting to see what people from other countries think of Costa Rica. Normally, the experience of tourists (and many Costa Ricans, who know mainly shopping malls, all-included hotels and always the same beaches) is very poor and superficial, getting to the extreme of thinking that there aren’t cultural destinations. As an avid hiker and someone who fully knows 333/488 districts of the country (and who knows in part another 85), I guess I have some criteria on that. Then, my main purpose was to provide you with the richest and most varied experience possible, on a limited schedule.
Regarding what you say of rural areas, I agree. Not only environmental policies have resulted in private areas sharing many features with neighboring protected areas, but also areas like Zona de los Santos, northern Cartago, Turrialba, El Guarco, Occidente, Puriscal-Mora-Acosta municipalities, etc., are favorite destinations of me and rewarding in many senses. On a normal hike I usually get to experience great landscapes, forested areas, some wildlife, rivers to swim at, agricultural lands, towns with maybe a heritage church, school or house, people, “comida típica” and a rich cultural experience.
Therefore, my advices for people visiting the country would be:

a) It is a real pity to see tourists always circling between Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, La Fortuna, Jacó, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo-Cahuita and maybe the Poás and Irazú volcanoes NPs. Even when doing that beaten track, some variations may be possible: for example, Carara National Park near Jacó is a great chance to see a transition from a dry-tropical to a wet-tropical life zone and Orotina -nearby- has interesting railroad history, Cerro Chato near the Arenal volcano is a demanding hike to an exuberant cloud forest and a pristine volcanic lagoon, Playa Grande near Tamarindo is near the entrance point to Las Baulas National Park, etc.

b) Venture outside the beaten path and try some rural tourism too: it may not only benefit a community and create productive chains, but would additionally be the best mean to get insight of the country's real and regionally-varied nuances.

c) I would also consider visiting an indigenous reserve: they provide a really different culture experience: I have the feeling that festivities like “El Baile de los Diablitos” from the Boruca people, el “Baile de la Yegüita” from the Chorotegas in Nicoya, or “La Jala de la Piedra” from the Bribri people will sometime be inscribed in the Intangible Heritage List. Many of these communities are in the poorest parts of the country, so visiting a Ngöbe, Maleku, Teribe, Huetar or Cabécar town would also be great, if you approach their communities and traditions with respect.

d) As stated before, there isn’t a homogenous “Costa Rican” culture, landscape or feel, they are as diverse as our microclimates. To incorporate different regions in a same trip is great to see variety. Even between regions that were populated through the outwards migratory movement of “white” or mestizo people from the Central Valley (1840s-1910s), there are differences. Additionally, different migratory movements after independence (from Europeans in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews, Afro-Antilleans, Chinese, Lebanese, people escaping from Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s and back again now, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Venezuelans, etc.) have enriched the culture of many areas.

e) Regarding cities/towns, I would not skip them either. As Els says, San José (still) has things that are worth a visit: just this 44 km2 municipality has 90 heritage buildings and sites and many which potentially be declared so. Though all cities have suffered decades of loss of their heritage (as Els describes in her San José review), some still have public spaces, buildings, places that could be rewarding: Heredia, Cartago, Santa Domingo (recommended), Atenas, Alajuela, Palmares, Naranjo, San Ramón, Grecia, Barva (partly lacking authencity, but still interesting besides its central park), Ciudad Colón, San Joaquín de Flores, etc., have (in my view) something interesting. Outside the Central Valley, Puntarenas is a great experience of a coastal city, Esparza and San Mateo preserve many of their Victorian buildings, Liberia and to some extent other Guanacastecan cities an towns (Nicoya, Santa Cruz, Bagaces, towns like Quebrada Honda, Bolsón and Santa Bárbara de Diriá) show a really different cultural background than the Central Valley (and I suspect that part of Liberia may be a future TL Site), Limón is dilapidated, unsafe and poor as can be, but has this rich past, Victorian architecture and Afro-Caribbean feel really got me during a visit I made last January (and they’re working towards using that as an engine for urban renewal and social fabric restoration), “plantation” towns like Golfito, Quepos, and Palmar Sur keep some of their 1930s-1940s heritage, etc.

f) Regarding food, I think there is also this prevalent idea of Costa Ricans only eating rice, beans and “Casados” and it's really not like that. I don't want to be super extensive on this, but the country has different regional variations, from the very established culinary tradition of Guanacaste -with a distinctive Mesoamerican tradition, and corn-oriented dishes- to the Southern-Caribbean food, the great seafood and desserts at Puntarenas, to the important Chinese community that flourished in the country and is practically everywhere, to the Costa Rican regional varieties of coffee (with Tarrazú, and Turrialba being my favorites). Just referring to the Central Valley, I can mention the variety of "picadillos", soups (like “Olla de Carne”, or “Sopa Negra”), rice dishes, corn dishes, seafood-based Holy Week dishes, sweets (like "cajetas", "guayabitas", "dulces" or “mieles” of different fruits and vegetables, "Tres Leches" and other pies), natural fruit drinks, “Chifrijo” and other “bocas”, and others. For your reference, I share with you the link to these traditional cooking books that the Heritage Center has developed, specialized each of them on a specific region:

Lastly, needless to say, if you require some advice on places to visit, please consider my e-mail address: I will try -with my sometimes-limited time- to provide detailed orientation to you.

Els Slots 25 April 2021

Pricewise it is comparable to South Korea or Southern Europe, so medium range I would say. The food is not especially outstanding, but maybe Esteban will correct me on this!

Meltwaterfalls 25 April 2021

As ever thanks for this run down Els. As you say it certainly seems appealing as a family holiday destination.

I've always assumed Costa Rica to be a more expensive destination, is that the case?

How did you find the food? Any particularly tasty dishes that you encountered?

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #744: Guanacaste

Like Talamanca, Guanacaste is a vast area which value is hard to summarize in one phrase. One can easily spend days visiting its specific features, its OUV ranges from the marine (turtle nesting sites) to the terrestrial with dry tropical forests and much more. I am only the third reviewer on this website, 11(!) years after the last one. However parts of the included area close to Liberia are quite popular with the beach tourists that mostly come from the USA.

There’s a similar choice to make as with Talamanca as to which included area to visit. The WHS comprises a contiguous area of seven protected zones. I did a half-day visit from Liberia to “Horizontes Forestry Experiment Station”. I had also wanted to add a stay near “Rincon de la Vieja National Park” (probably the most touristy part), but a rescheduling of my flight back to Europe forced me to cut my stay short.

Horizontes was a late discovery during my preparations. It needed pre-booking for Covid reasons as well, however the process wasn’t as smooth as with other parks in Costa Rica. Payment could only be done by bank transfer in USD (15) or colones, for which my bank asked a 50 EUR fee. Fortunately, Wise did it much cheaper.

This former cattle ranch has been turned into a cultivation site for native forest species and their associated forest ecosystems. It lies almost directly behind Liberia airport. Only the final 4km is on a dirt road with some rough patches (it needs a high clearance vehicle). I received a warm welcome and it was explained to me that there are several trails that I was free to walk. They are signposted with coloured arrows, it just felt like hiking in The Netherlands again! I was asked if I came for birding – apparently that is the only reason tourists show up here once in a while.

This park protects a Pacific dry forest ecosystem. Tropical dry forests are rare and threatened around the world – the only other 2 WHS that hold them are Kakadu NP and Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng. It surely felt and looked like Australia; I had arrived a little after 8 am in the already blistering heat and I saw the remains of some wildfires on the way out there.

I walked the Green trail, Sendero El Guaracho, and the loop in the Arboretum. The difference between them is that the trees in the Arboretum have shields with their species name on them, while those on the Green trail only have numbers without explanation. I don’t have a great interest in trees so it wasn’t too exciting. The trails are on easy terrain but the heat quickly gets to you. I started looking for birds and did manage to score a black-headed trogon.

I spent around 2.5 hours at the site. The trails are short and easy - except for the lack of shade. However it felt good to be outside of Costa Rica's manicured, tourist friendly parks (having visited Manuel Antonio NP the day before, which is the worst example of that case). On the way out I encountered a large spiny tail iguana on the road – I guess lizards at least enjoy this kind of environment and the dry leaves on the ground.

Els - 18 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (Vantcj1) 20 April 2021

Yes, AC Guanacaste is a site which would require some days for a fuller appreciation. Additionally, March/April is the latest part of the dry season so it will be really be hot and dry in this part of the country (the hottest and driest of them all), though an upside is the blooming of trees like cortez amarillo, roble de sabana and others. A lot of water, sunblock and additional cover, are also a must, though it will still be unpleasantly hot, even for people from the Central Valley, like me.
The rainy season, which usually doesn't start there until late May (this year is an exception, it is already starting) may provide better conditions, greener landscapes and abundant water in stational creeks/rivers.
Personally, I haven't been to Horizontes Experimental Station so the idea of the Arboretum seemed a good one with the lack of available time, but it seems it isn't as good, though may be more enjoyable for birdwatchers.
I am of the idea-having visited 3 of the several protected areas- that the best option is to combine a lower and a higher location, respectively Santa Rosa National Park and Rincón de la Vieja National Park. The lower will provide a more typical dry forest and access to a marine sector, a higher location will provide better landscapes, more luscious rivers and more importantly, the chance to see the transition between dry and wet pre-montane forests.
In the case of Santa Rosa, I've been there 3 times: 2 to the Historical Sector (besides the FTLS Casona Santa Rosa, which now mostly lacks authenticity due to an intentional fire in 2001... still worth some minutes through its corrals, the Indio Desnudo trail is a great chance to see the typical dry forest...all times there I have seen several animals) and 1 to the former Murciélago sector, which is now closed. Additionally, the marine sector is interesting: Naranjo beach is great, landscape-wise (even for people who're not interesting in swimming) and I've heard that tours to Nancite beach can be done during turtle hatching season. The Murciélago islands can be accessed by sea (so $$), but I know of friends who have hiked there and really had great experiences, these islands have a great on-land and marine biodiversity, I haven't been there, but hope to go some time.
Rincón de la Vieja is probably my second most favorite Costa Rican national park, after Talamanca's Chirripó: I went twice in the 90s, so a lot has changed (back then it was possible to go camping, the trail up to the volcano is currently closed due to its activity). Las Pailas sector is mostly interesting for the abundance of volcanic features, and has great rivers, La Cangreja waterfall was my favorite, however, the most interesting thing was the hike to the volcano, because the transition of life zones was very clear, you could easily spot animals (me and my mother were even followed some kms by a feline, of course nothing happened) and many species of orchids. We also back then marginally visited Santa María sector (another volcano, though inactive, it seemed very forested from a distance), only to the thermal waters. This sector's description shows that is really is the best option to see the transition to wetter forests, plus additional waterfalls, volcanic features, orchids and birdlife. Santa María sector is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions (Las Pailas, as the main sector, is open), but most probably will be reopened as soon as possible.
Regarding Guanacaste National Park, I haven't ever gone and I understand that access to any of its biological stations might be possible to not only scientists, but has to be requested well in advance. It seems that it may be very interesting (it also has some archaeological remains, it has both lowlands and highlands, so all life zones), but to me keeps on being a pending task.
Lastly, Guanacaste Conservation Area has one unified webpage, I think it's a great source of information/updates:

Zoe 18 April 2021

Huai Kha Khaeng only by car. Once you get to the ranger station there isn't much to do in terms of hiking afaik, although you can freely go into the park area by yourself by following the jeep trails. Lots of lizards roaming around, too. Enjoy the heat. :)

Els Slots 18 April 2021

Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng is also pretty difficult I believe. Kakadu may be the easiest, with a car.

Michael Ayers 18 April 2021

Guanacaste is one of those Sites that is a little difficult to organize. In theory, I have been there twice, but I am still only 90% sure that I stood on the core zone.

I should be visiting Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng within a week. Perhaps someone else would volunteer to go to Kakadu soon, so we can cover all three dry forest Sites during this month :-)

Blog TWHS Visits

Corcovado NP

Corcovado currently is the only entry on the Tentative List of Costa Rica. There seem to be no plans to bring it forward (again), after the 2004 withdrawal caused by a negative IUCN advice. At the time it was dismissed with not much further explanation than “too small”, too small even for its mammals to survive in the near future. It could not match similar sites (Darien, Talamanca) that were already inscribed. Although I can see the point, I still found it the most worthwhile destination of my Costa Rica trip.

I based myself for 3 nights in Drake Bay, the most common access point on the Osa Peninsula. It is off the beaten tourist track, but not that remote. The area around Drake Bay itself is already really nice, I did a late afternoon birding tour there and hiked part of the Drake Bay Trail (a 20km long coastal path) on my own. I could have easily stayed one or two nights longer, tying in a trip to Isla del Cano for example.

For my Corcovado visit I booked a day tour to the Sirena station of the National Park at the cost of 85 USD. You may only visit the park accompanied by an official guide. At 6 a.m. two boats with some 25 tourists each set from the coast of Drake Bay, already a minor adventure in itself as the place has no jetty. So you have to wade from and to the boats. I shared a guide with a couple from Alaska and a guy from Spain, so it was a pleasantly small group. We hardly met the other groups while in the park, we only did so at the centrally located ranger station which has a small shop, a place to refill your waterbottle and toilets.

After an hour’s boat ride we landed at low tide at Corcovado. There is a very large tidal difference and we had to walk 200 meters over pebbles and the remains of molten lava to get on shore. We had to report to the ranger post first. What now is the park used to be inhabited and it was agricultural land. It only became a protected area in 1975.

Corcovado is best known for the presence of a large number of mammal species that are easy to spot. In the bushes right next to the beach we quickly discovered a small deer, a Red brocket. We left the beach for the forest at the mouth of a river, an idyllic spot. This is were the guide found us the flagship species of Corcovado: the Bairds tapir. These animals are most active early in the morning, now around 8 o'clock they were resting. We found two: a mother with a 6 months old calf. They were in the undergrowth and we tried to find an angle to take good pictures without disturbing them.

That effort proved to be unnecessary in the end, as after a few minutes they started walking out into the open on their own. They ate some leaves, peed in the river and then disappeared from sight. Although we were only 5 meters away, they went about their business undisturbed. While we were waiting for the tapirs to move, one of the tour mates suddenly spotted another creature walking over a tree trunk. I immediately recognized it as a tayra, a marten-like species. The guide was also completely perplexed that we saw it in broad daylight. These were certainly the 15 best mammalwatching minutes of this trip!

We spent 4.5 hours in Corcovado and walked a couple of the trails around Sirena. Monkeys are easily seen here, but I had already covered all four Costa Rican species without much effort in the days before. Only the Geoffroy's spider monkey can be observed here better than elsewhere. We found a group relaxing on the tree branches. Furthermore we saw three more tapirs resting in a mud bath, an agouti, mantled howler monkeys, Central American squirrel monkeys and some birds including a spectacular woodpecker. And a group of white-nosed coatis ran down the path. Our efforts to spot a sloth were unsuccesful. We did see a boa constrictor though, sleeping in a tree. It did not show its head, but its fat body alone already was impressive.

So mammalwise it was a succesful tour. It may be because of the park’s relatively small size and island-like biological isolation that the animals can’t move away from the park trails and are accustomed to the presence of people.

Els - 11 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (vantcj1) 12 April 2021

Loved this comment. Yes, it is pretty much a place where you see a lot of wildlife easily (of course with the valuable help from a guide), which is not the most usual thing in a wet tropical forest. I had as much luck as you when I went there (to both Sirena and San Pedrillo sectors) in late 2016.
Regarding a WH nomination, as you indicated, it seems totally dead at this point. IUCN's review was ultra harsh on this site (I don't say it for being a Costa Rican, I say it because I have elements to compare to other natural sites, even inscribed) and the government simply chose not to follow thru.
The day you did the hike from Bahía Drake along the coastline, you discussed how much you saw -outside the NP- also a lot of the species that you saw in the park. To me, it is a point to go from this TL to a new one that incorporates the Piedras Blancas NP, the Golfo Dulce FR, the Pejeperro and Pejeperrito wetlands and parts of the Térraba-Sierpe National wetland, maybe Caño island and marine areas, as a probable nomination of most or the whole Osa Conservation Area, which I think might be much stronger, for its ecological continuity and very high biodiversity.
That would have complications according to Costa Rican legislation (Forest Reserves and the Térraba-Sierpe wetland are mostly on private soil, though very preserved, the rest of areas are public and wouldn't pose a problem).
After traveling around the country for decades, I have some ideas of sites that may have OUV, but a Osa Conservation Area nomination is for me a strong contender.

Els Slots 12 April 2021

At 42,500 ha it would be much larger that the smallest natural WHS in our connection . So "small" is not really a good reason.

Jay T 11 April 2021

That’s good background on where Costa Rica is with its tentative list. There are some other natural sites that are pretty small — I wonder what IUCN would have considered appropriate for Corcovado and its surrounding environs. I’m glad you had such success finding animals on your tour!

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