Blog Connections

Unusual Entry Requirements

In February I visited the Font de Gaume Cave in the Vézère Valley. The number of visitors per day here is strictly regulated and they handle this in an old school way: on a strict in person first come first serve basis. They have painted numbers on the benches outside the entrance (unprotected against wind and rain), where you are supposed to sit. You cannot hold a seat for another person. So if you are willing to get up early, physically able to sit on a hard bench for at least 1.5 hours and brave the weather - you will get the privilege to buy a ticket.

And of course there are WHS with health and environment related restrictions. Or sites that have limited access to followers of a specific religion or gender. We do have a connection for the more serious cases of unusual entry requirements though: WHS which, either permanently or on occasion, require intending visitors to pass "tests" before entry is granted. Sometimes they ask you to do real odd things:

Bahá’i Gardens in Haifa (Israel)

In the Bahá’i Gardens visitors are allowed only to descend the terraces and not to ascend them, an act reserved to Bahai worshippers alone. The visitors are accompanied by guides who make sure the visitors follow this rule. This ‘rule’ is confirmed by reports of visitors and some websites, but I could not find it on the official website of the gardens. It may also have to do something with segregating the tourists from the worshippers and allowing them only to use the upper entrance.        

Altamira Cave (Spain)

Most original caves with prehistoric paintings in France and Spain have been closed to visitors due to conservation measures. Since a few years however, the Altamira Cave offers entrance to 5 visitors a week. They are selected by a lottery, which takes place every Friday at the Altamira museum. Between 9.30 and 10.30 a.m. you can fill out a form with your name and details, and toss it into the lottery box. There have been rumours that this opportunity would be discontinued, but the Altamira website shows the names of lucky winners until March 2020.

Saiho-ji Temple, Kyoto (Japan)

The oddest of all for sure is the Saiho-ji, a Zen Temple in Ancient Kyoto. It is also known as the Moss Temple, and for the looks of its garden the number of visitors increased significantly. Already since 1977 a system has been in place to only allow reservation by postcard. How to do this is explained wonderfully at this website. It involves Japanese etiquette to the max (“The ofuku hagaki is a set of two postcards one of which will be used by Saihoji to reply”). 

However, once you’re in the fun continues: you will be strongly requested to copy a Zen Buddhist sutra in the reception hall before entering the garden. This takes as long as it takes you to master this. You should bring your own brush-pen for this (or you can buy one at the spot).

Have you experienced any similarly unusual requests before gaining entry to a WHS?

Els - 29 March 2020

Leave a comment


Els Slots 4 April 2020

@Zoe: there is a separate connection for those kind of measures, "Biosecurity rules for tourists"

Zoe 4 April 2020

Visiting the Wake atoll required massive disinfecting of the boats, I'm guessing similar to visit some other places, Wrangel?

Caspar Dechmann 2 April 2020

@Durian: thanks, that is very interesting. I thought there was little logic in the selection. Do you have any article about the process or about the original list?

Durian 1 April 2020

@Casper, during the nomination the idea of WHS was still not clear with many temples' head priests. So many famous temples declined to participate, one of them was Daitokuji!

Caspar Dechmann 30 March 2020

I offen wondered about the selection of the Kyoto temples: it is really too big a bunch to be only the “crème de la crème” but they clearly left some of the best out! I miss most the important villa, which was probably my favorite Site in Kyoto but also temples like the Daikaku-ji!

Tsunami 30 March 2020

I looked at the website Els mentioned above, and it says, “Also from June 1, 2019 all visitors must be over 12 years of age.” This is probably because they don’t want young children to inadvertently go off the designated stepping stones and to step on the ever-important living moss. It was the same at Katsura Imperial Villa. But my mother, over 80 of age at that time, inevitably slipped off a stepping stone and trampled on the moss. If they don’t want this to happen, they should also ban people over 80.
BTW, why the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Katsura Imperial Villa are nowhere to be seen on the WH list is anybody’s guess. Perhaps it’s the same reason why Ise Jingu, the single most sacred place in Japan, is not on the list.

Caspar Dechmann 29 March 2020

I visited the Saiho-ji Temple in 2013. I still remember that the reservation process was very laborious and expensive but the garden is certainly special enough to make it worth. You had to arrive at an exact time as part of a group who could enter the garden in this time window. After a while we were asked into a temple hall with rows of little desks. Then we were given a Japanese text, some kind of paper, ink and pen and we should copy the text. The text was very long but it was getting more and more fun to figure out how to use the pen correctly to get the right kind of lines for our letters. After 20 minutes or so a monk came and said it was enough, we might enter the garden. At that point I was in kind of concentration flow and rather disappointed that they didn't let us finish the task. But on the other hand it gave us more time in the gardens and you can be sure that I used it up to the last minute after the big effort of the application. Very much recommended!

Tsunami 29 March 2020

Although the entry requirement at Saiho-ji may feel unusual for foreigners, it is not at all for the Japanese and is completely normal. The O/hin-Huku/zurück-Hagaki/karte has existed in Japan ever since I was born there.
I remember back in 2009 when I took my mother to Katsura-Rikyu (Katsura Imperial Villa) in Kyoto as one of her last trips in her life. Katsura-Rikyu is known to have the single most beautiful and important garden in Japan, and my father once said to me, “You have to go there at least once in a lifetime.” So I was determined to take my mother there, as she (or I) had not been there before, and went through all the procedures religiously. So when I was in Japan in 2008, I bought an ohuku hagaki and additional stamps and brought them back to Los Angeles where I lived at the time and sent it to the Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo when I knew the date of our visit. Lo and behold, the return card arrived back in LA without incident. Nowadays, however, I believe you can make an appointment online for Katsura.

Nan 29 March 2020

Mount Athos and the Diamonitirion come to mind.

Jay T 29 March 2020

I’m not sure if this counts, since the entry requirements are for the entire island, and not just the World Heritage Site, but Easter Island in Chile is now requiring travelers to have an official invitation of entry before they can board flights to the island. In order to get the invitation, travelers must fill out an online form ( acknowledging they have a return ticket and approved lodging for all nights of their trip. Once the form is approved, the invitation will be sent to the traveler’s e-mail address, and must be shown to the gate agents at the airport.