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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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!

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #743: Stone Spheres

This is a kind of WHS visit that I always especially look forward to: remnants of an ancient culture. The Stone Spheres of the Diquís are mysterious stone balls, created by a Precolumbian Costa Rican civilization. With the help of Esteban I tried to get access to a second location in addition to the main site (Finca 6), but although I applied a month before it was not granted (the other 3 locations are not equipped to handle visitors during Covid times was the explanation). So I just focused on Finca 6, which lies in an area dominated by banana and palm oil plantations. The road there is signposted by a simple “Museum” sign.

The pre-trip efforts at least resulted in giving me free access (not something that I was after) and a guided tour of the museum and the archaeological site. The museum is small, but shows that in addition to stone spheres, the Diquís also left ceramics and stone figurines.

Then we walked onto the site of the excavations. A trail takes you past the main points of what was once a settlement of about 500 inhabitants. It only takes a few minutes for the first sphere to come into sight. Before we could get closer, something happened that is also typical for this place: a load of bananas passed by! The land in this area has been used by the United Fruit Company (now: Chiquita) as a banana plantation since the 1930s. They use a system of overhead lines across the terrain along which the heavy bunches of bananas are pulled by a man. You can hear them coming from afar, it is as if you have to cross a tramway railtrack.

The settlement was conveniently built near a river and it is crossed by several streams. The Diquís took stones from the river to build their village, although the larger stones for the spheres were taken from further away.

Most of the stone spheres found here at Finca 6 have been preserved because they were buried for centuries under thick layers of sediment. They were up to 1.5m deep in the ground. Some specimens have been damaged by the sun and also by agricultural machinery from the banana plantation. That is why most of them have now been reburied and only their tops show above the grass line.

The first stone spheres that we see belonged to the homes of high-ranking residents. The houses were built on a platform, with a ramp made of river stones and then a stone sphere each on either side of the entrance. The spheres were larger or smaller, depending on the prestige of the resident. Spheres were also placed on public grounds. These probably had a role in ceremonies. There are three in a row in the center of the Finca 6 site which are said to have astronomical connotations.

At the end of the route there are two more groups of spheres that have been brought here from other places in the area. They had simply been in people's homes or in their gardens for a long time. Here they are now protected, although they suffer from the sun and varying temperatures. You can clearly see how they were made: cut from a large stone and then sanded.

In the afternoon I tried to find two of the other locations, although I knew they would be closed. Batambal lies almost next to the main road 34 between Uvita and Palmar Norte. There is a small signpost coming from the south. About 1.5 km of dirt road follows, through a neighbourhood where the inhabitants looked at me suspicuously. It ends at a field and a gate. The second location was Grijalba-2: I got close to that one too, but ended up at a farm. There are 3 dirt roads next to each other where the marker is on the map. Here are no signposts. The ‘best’ location apart from Finca 6 seems to be El Silencio, as there the biggest sphere lies buried.

Els - 4 April 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez (vantcj1) 5 April 2021

Well, it seems that you enjoyed the visit, even when we couldn't get the approval for the visit to other sites. A pleasure to have been of help to get the collaboration of the site manager and the presence of the site educator, so that you obtained the best perspective of this particular site and the overall sites' OUV. Though the initial colonization of Osa municipality by the banana company (in the 1930s and 1940s) was extremely detrimental to the preservation of the original sites and so their original alignments, it is also an important component of heritage there, as your review shows and as many buildings at Palmar Sur attest.

Blog WHS Visits

WHS #742: Talamanca Range

“The rugged terrain, difficult access and the formal protection status have kept human impacts at bay”, the OUV statement for the Talamanca Range states proudly. That means that a proper visit of this WHS, although it covers over 7% of Costa Rica, is not so easy (for a glimpse of it you can drive Route 2, Carretera Interamericana Sur, from San José to San Isidro General and look to the left). It encompasses eight contiguous protected areas including one in Panama, as shown on this map. I first targeted Chirripó NP, however it turned out that access is almost exclusively geared to trekkers trying to reach the peak of Chirripó mountain. Esteban found me one alternative, with a local rural tourism assocation in San Jeronimo, which may be worth looking into for a future WH traveller.  

Eventually I settled for the safe bet of Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte National Park. This lies near the pleasant town of Orosi, 2 hours south of San José. Covid limitations to the number of daily visitors required me to reserve a spot beforehand for a specific day to visit, but otherwise the park is easily accessible. It lies at the northern edge of the Talamanca range and is mostly known for its rain forest habitat. Consequentially it is also one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica.

I arrived there at the opening hour of 8 am. On the advice of the Swiss owners of my guest house, I left the car at the park reception and continued on foot. The accessible part of the park consists of a 5-kilometer long asphalt road, with 5 short hiking trails on either side. You can drive your car up and down, but because the forest is so dense the best views and best birding are actually from the main road. Large mammals such as jaguars and tapirs will not show themselves so close to civilization though. During the full 3 hours of my visit I encountered no other tourists - I only met the park maintenance guy twice....

It was easy to walk on the paved road, which goes slightly uphill. The weather was lovely, about 25 degrees Celsius, but also partly cloudy so that the sun wasn’t too hot. I heard many birds but saw only few. Little brown and green birds in a green forest are always very difficult to spot. After about 2 km of hiking I reached the entrance to the first trail. This is a 1200 meter long, flat forest path qualified as “easy”. It ends at the bank of a river. From the river you also have a more open view of the wooded mountains (see third photo).

Afterwards I walked another 2 kilometers on the paved road to the start of the next trail. There are actually two of them together there, the path splits halfway. It went down quite steeply at the start - this one has been qualified as “medium" -, fortunately it was a dry day so it was not slippery. At the crossing I choose the route to the waterfall. This leads up to a viewpoint from where you can see one vertically falling off a mountain wall. I also paused here for a bit and spotted a squirrel – my first Costa Rican mammal!

As a conclusion I find that the huge scale of this mountain range and its vast forests do not allow for more than a superficial impression. You probably won’t encounter that puma, that quetzal, that specific type of orchid. Its conservation importance is undoubted though, it being a land bridge between South and North America for fauna and flora species, and of course for the preservation of this huge stretch of natural forests.

Els - 28 March 2021

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Jay T 29 March 2021

Those are some good insights for seeing the Talamanca Range -- thanks, Els and Esteban!

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 29 March 2021

Yes, I agree that visiting this WHS will take some time to get the best experience of it. For example, Chirripó would require at least 3 days hiking: one up for Base Crestones, one up to the summit...maybe some other attractions and 1 down...but 4 days would be best, in case you wanted to visit places like Ditkevi lagoon, the Morrenas, or Sabana de los Leones (which is on the way from San Jerónimo). In the case of La Amistad proper (Altamira sector), and Barbilla, you can do that maybe in 2 days, but if one wanted to go to Kamuk in La Amistad, from Tres Colinas station...that would be 5 days. Tapantí-Macizo de la Muerte is definitely the option of choice (not the greatest one, though, as most of the park is non-accesible wilderness) when time is limited, plus allowing to fit in Orosi and Ujarrás FTLS.
I hope to get back to Chirripó maybe next year, combining the routes from San Gerardo and San Jerónimo...and sometime do the Kamuk hike in La Amistad.

Blog TWHS Visits

Guayabo National Monument

Costa Rica’s Tentative List has only one entry, so for the second time I will review one of its FTWHS as they are the country’s best cultural sites. The Guayabo National Monument is its most important archaeological park. It comprises a settlement created by one of the local pre-Columbian chiefdoms; it flourished between 1000 - 1400 AD. Guayabo has been designated as International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark for its extensive roadways and water supply system.

I arrived by car from the north, from San José via road #230. It’s only 80km but it will take easily 2 hours because of the winding roads and pedestrians/cyclists on the road. The Guayabo National Monument is well signposted almost directly after you leave San José. 95% of the route is covered by an excellent asphalt road, but at the end there is an unpaved stretch of five kilometers. It’s not too bad, but I was happy that I rented a car with high clearance. On the way out by the way I took the southern loop (via route #415) and that one is fully paved.

Guayabo is quite a popular attraction with the locals, of which several dozens showed up on the Sunday that I visited. Payment at the entrance is by credit card only (5 USD for foreigners). The site is located in a nice patch of rainforest and I enjoyed being in the tropical nature again.

On the way to the partly excavated ruins of the settlement you’ll encounter water works and a stone with petroglyphs. The stone is carved on both sides, with an image of a lizard on one side and that of a jaguar on the other. The water network had open and closed aqueducts, canals and storage tanks. Some of these waterways are still functioning and provide clean spring water. In the central area you can see that the water flows into ponds near the residences.

The ruins lie in a large clearing in the forest. The city here is said to have had 2,000 inhabitants (a number of 10,000 is also often mentioned but that seems like a lot, it may relate to the wider area). The people lived in large communal wooden houses with thatched roofs. These stood on circular stone plateaus, and that is all that is left. The trail takes you along a number of those plateaus. It ends at another strong piece of infrastructural architecture: a long and wide stone road that enters the city. The best view of it all can be had from the Mirador that overlooks the site - there you see how the road runs straight into the city. At its start lie two square plateaus, which may have been watchtowers for the defense of the city. The city is further enclosed by a dense rainforest.

After walking the same part of the route for the third time, I turned to the exit. That way I found out that the central excavation area actually is very close to the ticket office, there is a 400m long trail for the disabled that takes you directly to the ruins. With my longer loop though I spent an hour and a half on site.

Guayabo was rejected from becoming a WHS in 1984 - citing "its current state" and offering the option to renominate when further excavations "produce results of exceptional universal interest". Although it’s no rival to Machu Picchu or the Mexican archaeological sites, it’s not bad either and can match for example the Qhapaq Nan serial sites such as Ingapirca. I especially enjoyed the ingeniously constructed water network and the old road.

Els - 24 March 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 29 March 2021

Well, it's great to see that you enjoyed it. Yes, the best way is to go to the lookout point first and then down to the archaeological site. Plus, Turrialba is rich in other cultural things of interest, like the coffee-town of Aquiares (my favorite in the country), railroad history in Turrialba and Peralta, cheese-production in Santa Cruz, churches like the one in La Pastora, Aquiares or San Antonio, etc. On the other hand, I see no interest from the government to even update the country's TList, so I have the impression that its pretty improbable (for the moment), the country will ever put this site forward again.

Blog TWHS Visits

San José

At every new country that I visit, I always try to stay at least one full day in its capital. I definitely won’t say that with visiting a capital you can ‘tick’ a whole country (I am looking at you, 193 chasers, who claim Botswana and Namibia after having set foot only in Gaborone and Windhoek!) – but I also believe that you miss out on something when you don’t visit a country’s capital. Even when that capital city in itself is not ranked that high by others, I do enjoy observing how the country sees itself / presents itself. Any National Museum is a great place to do so, as well as a city park, a seat of parliament or a major religious building.

Costa Rica’s capital San José is a typical one that gets skipped easily – “it’s not a bad place to get things done that can’t be done elsewhere” is among the more positive praise. Fortunately I was in the hands of fellow WH Traveller, Costa Rican native ánd architect Esteban. He guided me around for a full day. We started in the morning by walking from one architectural highlight to another in the mostly low-rise residential and business areas just outside the city center.

The thing with San José is that it has never been that rich in the past, it suffered from serious earthquakes and a lot of demolitions for the sake of modernity. The latter is still going on til today, creating parking lots is the new craze. The buildings we stopped at included schools, private residences, former factories and the railway station. Styles range from the neoclassical to the “Hollywood colonial style”, the eclectic and brutalist. We literally saw dozens of them, but they would be hard to find for an outsider as they are so scattered around.

San José has no WHS but it had two TWHS in the past: the National Monument and the National Theatre. Both disappeared from the T List quietly after having been rejected in 1980 without any reason given.

The National Monument is a dramatic bronze statue that commemorates Costa Rica’s victory in the War of 1856-57 – a war against the invaiding forces of ‘filibuster’ William Walker who wanted to create English-speaking, slave-holding colonies in Central America under his own control. This war, that cost the lives of 10,000 Costa Ricans, also gave the country its nation hero (Juan Santamaría, who sacrificed himself – San José airport is named after him). The statue shows all parties involved (women representing each Central American nation and the fleeing William Walker). It’s a part of history of which few people will have heard globally, but it defines independent Central America. The monument lies at the center of a pleasant little city park.

The National Theatre opened in 1897, during an economic boom caused by coffee exports. It was funded by levying a tax on coffee. It is considered the finest historic building in San José and is known for its lavishly furnished interior. Unfortunately we didn’t get beyond the lobby, as the building can only be visited on a guided tour for which we were too early. Still it was the most opulent building that we saw on our day around San José.

San José has three major historical museums – the National Museum, the Gold Museum and the Jade Museum. We visited the first two, and I’d like to focus on the National Museum as this is where the idea of Costa Rica presenting itself can be felt the strongest.

The National Museum is almost symbolically housed in former army barracks, which ceased to be necessary when the Costa Rican army was abolished in 1948. Two of its towers (one with a lot of bullet holes) still stand as do the dungeons where prisoners were kept. The first hall of the museum is a butterfly garden, certainly the first one that I have seen in a National Museum around the world! After that you enter the open air central plaza of the barracks, it is here where a number of stone spheres have been brought from the Diquis area. The more conventional exhibition rooms tell the story of the country from the indigenous chiefdoms via the coffee and banana booms to the welfare state of the 20th century.

Els - 21 March 2021

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Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 29 March 2021

It was a great pleasure to guide you through the city, Els! In the end, I made the count and we saw like 59 of the 90 heritage-declaredbuildings in the municipality of San José (and many more who would be worthy of an addition to that list). I just regret we couldn't fit the chance to see the buildings from the Carmen church to the Post office, and the area around the Merced church-former Fire station-San Juan de Dios hospital-former Chapuí asylum. But it was great. I think the best experience for someone visiting would be to give 1 day for a tour of the city and another one for the cited museums (plus maybe the National Art Museum and a tour of the Theater).

Els Slots 22 March 2021

Thanks Jay T. I will review some of the FTWHS as well, as they are still among the most interesting cultural sites of the country.

Jay T 21 March 2021

Sounds like you got to see a lot in San Jose thanks to Esteban! I look forward to the reviews on Costa Rican sites; it’s a country I really should visit some day since it is so close.

Michael Ayers 21 March 2021

Esteban sounds like Una Guia Bien!

Blog Countries

Tips for travelling during a pandemic

Some say travelling during a pandemic is unethical. If that’s you, please read no further. However if travelling is the thing you live for, you have to find ways to keep feeding that addiction. It is perfectly possible to do so without breaking any laws or without endangering anybody’s life more than when you would have stayed at home. Almost a year after my trip to the Central African Republic got Covid-cancelled, I managed to do 3 longer trips and am to embark on another one next week. I also did multiple day and weekend trips in 4 different countries.

Find below my Top Tips for Travelling during a pandemic – may it at least be a historical record of the strange things I did to keep on travelling during Covid-19. already in the summer of 2020 had a highly efficient entry system based on testing

Seize the moment

Pandemics come and go in waves. The trick is to seize the right moment for travelling – start scouting for destinations when the country you live in is high on the wave. Make a shortlist of about 3 suitable destinations that are likely to be open without too many restrictions (these are often the countries that heavily rely on tourism for their economy; another good bet is former colonies/overseas departments).

When the wave is on its way down be prepared to book and leave within a month or so. When you expect a longer low period, book multiple trips in short succession. Don’t leave it too long between booking and departure as rules on either side of the border may change suddenly and you have to do your homework all over again.

Germany was the star of tracking&tracing, even wanted you to write down your contact details while sitting alone with a cappuccino

Pick one country

Last September I did a trip to Nice, Corsica and Sardinia. Three regions, two countries. That was not the greatest idea, as I had to deal with three different and constantly changing sets of Covid regulations and entry limitations. That means a lot of Googling in the evening hours and readjusting your itinerary! If you pick just one country you’ll have less complications and less worries when on the road. Federal countries (think of Germany, Mexico, USA) often have different rules per state, so then the trick is to pick one state. Oh, and check whether that one country has ample ways of getting in and out, also via neighbouring countries – not just that one weekly flight to Paris.

Do research the practical limitations

You don’t want to just travel, you have to visit places such as WHS and TWHS as well. It is important to check whether sites are open at all. Some also may have special entrance restrictions such as a limited number of visitors per day or require pre-booking online. In my experience facebook pages of sites are often more up to date than generic websites. Expat websites can be a good source to see which way things are heading at your destination, as they will present you the local grapevine in English. Tripadvisor forums specific to a country can also be a good bet.

Did some public transport in Curacao, though you keep hoping that not too many people will join you in the bus

Stick to the generic measures and rules

Social distancing and staying outdoors as much as possible are the easiest to follow generic anti-virus measures. That means avoiding being in confined spaces with lots of unknown people, such as using public transport or joining group tours. Nature focused destinations also are more appropriate than cultural city trips. Familiarize yourself with what the local rules are, both in theory and in practice. 

And just do it. Not that much has changed and travel can be as pleasant as it was before. There are a couple more things to consider beforehand, but in return you will be at less crowded places.

Els - 14 March 2021

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Nan 15 March 2021

I have two weeks off prior to Easter... Resturlaub (leftover vacation days) from 2020. And no travel plans.

My takeaway from the year:

* Dont save travel days. Spend them when opportunities present themselves.

* No need and no point to plan further ahead than a few weeks/a month. Flight prices remain low in any case.

* Seize the moment when an opportunity presents itself. I hitched a plane to Norway short notice when the country opened up in summer. And left one week before it closed down again.

* Agreeing with Jarek: Always book with the airline. Expedia never refunded me and there was simply no way of reaching them.

I still hope that in summer the situation will clear up a bit. Right now, I am a bit at a loss what destinations are possible at all.

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 14 March 2021

The biggest problem for me are cancelled flight. Had already several cases (in 2020 domestic flight in Brazil, Ryanair European flights, flights to Cuba, in 2021 - they also cancelled my journey to Canada in May - yes, I bet that pandemia would end earlier). My experience so far is like this. It is much better to buy tickets directly through airline than a via an agent who after a cancellation is difficult to contact. Well an airline is also difficult to contact but at least any arrangments with them are valid.

Michael Ayers 14 March 2021

And, expect to encounter unusual events at some point.

For example, before I entered Togo I installed that country's tracking app on my Android tablet, as required. Though the connection was not obvious at the time, that app caused the tablet's USB port to stop functioning for anything, except charging, which was a big inconvenience. Doing a Hard Reset did not solve the issue, nor did uninstalling the app when I left the country. Two months later I needed to transit through Togo again, so I had to install that app once more. Upon departure, when I uninstalled that app for a second time, the port miraculously started working normally again. Go figure.

It also helps if you have already recovered from covid-19. ;-)

Blog Connections

Epic Subtitles

The connection Epic Subtitles collects WHS where the main title of the site is accompanied by a grandiose / epic / flowery subtitle. These additional, descriptive titles must be beyond simple statements of what or where the WHS are. They also exclude standard phrases like "Historic centre of ", "Cultural Landscape". Adding these kind of subtitles to nominations seems to have really taken off in the 2010s. There is a bit of a fishy smell around the WHS that use them, like they’re trying to make things look better than they really are.

Looking at the list of 22 connected sites, the subtitles come in 3 kinds: (A) they bring focus, (B) they make a claim or (C) they blatantly overdo it.

The ones bringing focus

A common form is to add a subtitle that hints on the OUV of the site, especially where it isn’t immediately clear that there is one: “Le Havre - the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret”, or: “Provins Town of Medieval Fairs” for example. Q: What’s so special about Le Havre, it seems like a nondescript large city with few historic buildings? A: The City was Rebuilt after WWII by design of Auguste Perret.

Kujataa. Norse and Inuit Farming at the Edge of the Ice Cap” even needed a double explanation. It combines “Kujataa” (what is it?, where is it?, never heard of) with “Norse and Inuit Farming” (oh, it’s in the far north and they can even farm there) and “at the Edge of the Ice Cap” (which sounds like a terrific effort to make something edible grow there).

The claims

Lumbini (“Birthplace of the Lord Buddha”) probably started the trend of adding Epic Subtitles in 1997. Bethlehem (“Birthplace of Jesus”) of course followed. You’d expect a “Mecca, Birthplace of Muhammad” also, but that city seems to be too holy to the Islamic scholars of Saudi Arabia to be put forward. Instead, we have to make do with “Historic Jeddah - the Gate to Makkah”.

The grandiose

The best epic subtitles are the grandiose, the boastful. The fairly modest  "Samarkand – Crossroads of Culture" was changed upon inscription from Uzbekistan’s own proposal “Samarkand – The place of crossing and synthesis of world cultures”.

Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines - Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” also is a classic. Noone knew about Battir before, so first it has been added that it is actually “Southern Jerusalem” and second it apparently is representative for a whole nation that thrives on olives and vines.  

The best one I think is “Chiribiquete National Park - Maloca (“home”) of the Jaguar” – although it’s not the only home of the jaguar of course and the beast surely isn’t responsible for the rock art of this WHS.

TWHS with Epic Subtitles

It doesn’t end here of course. The accumulated Tentative Lists have more of them. The same Danish script writers that invented “Kujataa. Norse and Inuit Farming at the Edge of the Ice Cap” came up with “The Maritime Heritage of Dragør Old Town and Harbour - A ‘skipper-town’ from the era of the great tall ships in the 18th and 19th centuries”. There is the bold 2021 candidate “Nice or The invention of Tourism”. And who wouldn’t want to visit “Milne Bay Seascape (Pacific Jewels of Marine Biodiversity)”?

Els - 7 March 2021

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Jay T 7 March 2021

Well at least Chiribiquete was modest enough to not put forward the name it has been given by locals: “Great Home of the Animals”!

Blog Connections

No Road Access

Sometimes I get slightly panicky when I think of the complexity of reaching the WHS that I still have to ‘tick’. What if my health lets me down and I physically cannot make it to them because you have to walk in on foot? To get an overview of where those challenges exist, we have the connection No Road Access. This is a list of WHS where the core zone cannot be reached by road (either paved or unpaved). It of course excludes island-only sites.

First steps on the road to Sagarmatha NP

My experience with hiking into 3 of them

12 sites are currently in this connection, of which I (properly) have visited 3. Personally I do like hiking and 2 of these 3 are among my best WHS visits ever. It’s unfortunate however that they involved quite some climbing while I am only able to train on flat lands in the Netherlands!

Day hikes got me into Madriu (Andorra) and Rwenzori (Uganda). The first is a relatively easy walk of 45 minutes. Rwenzori takes more stamina, especially the first ridge almost killed me. Far more elaborate is the way into Sagarmatha NP (Nepal), although I did not find the hike itself that demanding. The path is in good condition and there are a lot of amenities along it.

Having arrived within the Madriu core zone

Ways to get to the other 9

I need to rely on the reviews from others and the AB evaluations to get insight in the hardship of the other 9. Walk-in only, like the 3 above, are:

  • Chiribiquete National Park: the core zone is fully off limits to tourists and there are no roads either; I guess the scientists have to walk in (there were illegal airstrips on some tepuis during the heydays of the illegal drugs production though).
  • Darien National Park: Jarek has described the process really well: “That part can be done only on foot. The track is well marked but during rainy season it can be difficult to walk (huge mud and occasional streams). Although it is around 3 km it took around 1,5 hours to reached Park border (there are signposts) and around 2 hours to get to Rancho Frio which is located inside Darien National Park.”              

Only by boat can be reached:

  • Central Amazon Conservation Complex: 3 hours in a boat are necessary to reach the park entrance of Jau. The 2nd location, Anavilhanas, is closer but also boat only.
  • Lena Pillars: from the review by Martina, who visited with a boat tour: “Overall it takes four hours to reach the small stretch of the vast national park that is actually open to tourists.”
  • Los Katios National Park: by boat via the Atrato river.   
  • Nahanni National Park: mainly by float plane or canoe/kayak (although hiking is also possible)
  • Pantanal: the core zone is only accessible by boat.        

On the way to the gate of Rwenzori NP

The final 2 are special cases. The only reviewer of Putorana Plateau so far did visit by helicopter. IUCN says: “The nominated property is only readily accessible by helicopter from an airport near to Norilsk, located about 200 km north-west from its western border, or by boat along the lakes, but navigation on the only water course (Norilka River) leading to the Lama Lake is difficult.”            

And finally we have Lorentz National Park. It includes ”small settlements of indigenous peoples several of which are serviced by missionary airstrips. These small settlements (some 50 in all) are accessible by foot-trails”. However, there is mining closeby. And the AB evaluation states “Only one road enters the park and that is on the north-east edge to Lake Habbema.” So it is accessible by road after all – I will scrap it from the connection list.              .

Do you know of additional WHS that have No Road Access?

Els - 28 February 2021

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Els Slots 1 March 2021

Bloodvein lies clearly in the core zone, and it can be accessed by road since 2017 - so I guess it doesn't count for the connection.

Can Sarica 28 February 2021

Pimachiowin aki, a WHS as big as Albania, may be considered in this regard. You can only go to a village on the edge (Bloodvein) by car but rest is canoe/kayak, hiking or plane only.

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 28 February 2021

And Great Himalayan National Park accessible by path on foot (at least I did so while entering core zone). Maybe local authorities will build some kind of road from Gushaini (there were some efforts to do so but probably only as far as the nearest village)

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 28 February 2021

Rio Platano in Honduras has only access by boat or plane. According to the LP guidebook there are flights to Palacios (just outside the park) or Brus Laguna (inside the park), although I am not sure about its frequency. More combined access by land (bumpy road) ends at Batalla. There are boats to different destinations inside core zone of Rio Platano

Els Slots 28 February 2021

Tsingy does have road access, of the Lorentz (sad) kind: "Finally, an oil exploration road was
built 30 km. into the Reserve in 1984 and this is now used as a regular route for foot travel and cattle transport through the Reserve. "

Michael Ayers 28 February 2021

I think we should probably also be able to add Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar. I have not actually been there (yet) but i I am fairly sure that "roads" will only take one close to the park boundary, and to get to any of the interesting places in the core zone will require a good deal of hiking. And based on previous experience with Malagasy roads, those that lead to the Park are probably closer to footpaths than standard dirt roads.

Also, with respect to Rwenzori, it may depend on how strict we want to be about Core Zone access. The second park entrance is right at the end of the Mubuku Road. From there, everything is by foot, but the trails are relatively easy, at least at the start.

Els Slots 28 February 2021

I've added Rio Abiseo and Puerto Princessa, as access to both is by boat only (or a horrendous hike).

Michael Ayers 28 February 2021

Regarding Lorentz, it is my understanding that the Indonesian government has begun its "Trans-Papuan Highway" project in recent years, which is actually a series of longer roads around western New Guinea. From what I have read recently, there may already be a new road connecting the Lake Habbema area in the highlands with a river port town near the south coast of the island. It may be the case that part of this road passes through the Park itself, though I am not really sure about that. If it does it is probably bad news for Lorentz, since usually wherever roads go, destruction soon follows. And this may be another reason to remove this Site from the Connection.

Els Slots 28 February 2021

Regarding Mt. Athos I see a road at the northern shoreline. I've seen it written also that you can get as far as the border post (which you could pass I guess if you're a monk responsible for bringing supplies).

Els Slots 28 February 2021

Noel Kempff has a road too (only 4WD and in dry season): "From La Florida there is a track which runs 35 kilometers into the park where you will find the camping grounds of Los Fierros"

Els Slots 28 February 2021

I was also thinking about Manu (I entered by boat), but the official map clearly shows a road entering the tip of the NP. Will check the other Amazon sites too.

Liam Hetherington 28 February 2021

Mount Athos? It's hard to distinguish on Google Maps satellite view but while there are some tracks that cross the border I think these are trails rather than roads. Not that we would be allowed to use them. Access is via boat (and possession of a Y chromosome) only.

Zoë Sheng 28 February 2021

Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco
only by mule/donkey, yay!!

Also potentially Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River although I don't know if the core zone is large enough to include roads. To get to the river cruise one has to get on a boat for the last stretch and then wait AGAIN for the river ride.

I also wouldn't call access to East Rennell a "road" but alright it can be reached by car lol

Nan 28 February 2021

Wouldn't more places in the amazon count? At least if you restrict it to the core zone access? Manu, Rio Abesio, Noel Kempff?

Blog TWHS Visits

Buenos Aires 1880-1920

Few people will skip Buenos Aires while visiting Argentina, but the capital has remained largely under the radar on this website. It is part of the Buenos Aires – La Plata: Two capitals of the Culture of Modernity, Eclecticism and Immigration TWHS from 2018. The proposed site connects the eclectic late 19th, early 20th century architecture of both cities, “developed with unrestricted liberality” with the use of knowledge of immigrants.

Before writing up the TWHS description as part of our TWHS project, I had no idea how broad this proposal was. The list of ‘Selected Areas and Monuments’ names over 90 specific locations, so it would be hard to have been to Buenos Aires and not touched it. I visited the city in 2008; below I present four of the included neighbourhoods with their highlights from the focus period 1880-1920.

Opposites at the Civic Axis

The financial district of Buenos Aires is all about appearances: I noticed a lot of people walking down the streets dressed in chic business attire. But there was also that 10 year old boy trying to sell pens to customers in a restaurant. No wonder social protest belongs to this city. There’s always something going on at the Plaza de Mayo (1884). I stumbled upon a demonstration in favour of the release of 6 Paraguayans. Fences had been placed so that people could only move around to a limited extent, a mobile police unit was watching from a distance. A bit further away, a group of women with banners was already warming up for their protest for better health care.

Other notable components in this district include the stations of the first underground railway of Buenos Aires (1913).

Recoleta: the biggest tourist attraction is a cemetery

Recoleta is a beautiful neighborhood, one of the richest of Buenos Aires. Its main attraction is the La Recoleta cemetery (founded 1822, remodeled 1881). I wouldn't have been surprised if an entrance fee was charged to enter the grounds of the cemetery. A map at the entrance shows where the most famous graves are - all famous Argentinians unknown to me. The tombs, usually family mausolea, are located on straight streets like it's a small town. There is lots of marble, and classical Greek / Roman and Catholic sculpture; most materials used here were imported from Paris and Milan. The fact that some of the graves are in disrepair, with flowers growing on the roofs, broken windows and attached spider webs, adds extra atmosphere to the site. 

Other notable components in this district include the 'Monument of France to Argentina' (1910) and several residences.

A cycle tour will get you to the suburbs

I joined a 4 hour guided cycle tour to cover more ground. Beforehand I wondered how it would be to navigate the busy Buenos Aires traffic – but we just rode on the sidewalk. Our first stop was the memorial to the soldiers fallen during the Falklands War. A salient detail about this location is that it is exactly opposite "little Big Ben", the Torre Monumental (1916) - a gift from the city’s British residents when relations between the two countries were better. 

Via narrow paths and through city parks we rode to the harbour, Puerto Madero (1897).  Its old warehouses have been turned into restaurants and offices, the subject of 21st century renewal.

La Boca before the Age of Maradona

La Boca district is one of the oldest and most traditional parts of the city; it is mostly known as the cradle of Diego Maradona. Originally, Italian immigrants settled here. After the Second World War, more and more migrants from other countries arrived, and it became a poor working-class neighborhood. It still looks very Italian, with many Italian restaurants and men on the streets drinking and whistling to whoever comes by. At its edge lies the Buenos Aires Transporter Bridge (1908). It connects La Boca neighbourhood with the other side of the Matanza River.

Another notable component in this district is the 'Italo-Argentina Electricity Company Factory' (1916).

Els - 21 February 2021

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