In this month’s feature in our eco-tourism series, we will discuss the World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). With an overall goal of recognizing those places which are worth protecting for the future, world heritage sites have much in common with eco-tourism, which also seeks to preserve and protect the places we visit.

Heritage can be defined as what we have inherited from the past, what is present today, and what we leave behind for future generations. World Heritage Sites can be natural or cultural, and provide inspiration to the people of the world. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, there are 878 properties on UNESCO’s list. These include 679 cultural, 174 natural and 25 mixed  properties in 145 States Parties (countries which have adhered to the World Heritage Convention). As of November 2007, 185 States Parties had ratified the World Heritage Convention. With sites as diverse as the glaciers of Argentina, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the city of Valetta in Malta, to Robben Island in South Africa, world heritage has many different faces. World Heritage Sites belong to everyone on earth, not just the people who live nearby. UNESCO tries to preserve and protect these sites which have such value to the humanity of the entire world.

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According to UNESCO’s website, their mission is to: encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage; encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List; encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites; help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training; provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger; support States Parties’ public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation; encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage; and encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Mexico has 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In Yucatán, the Pre-Hispanic City of Chichén Itzá and the Pre-Hispanic Town of Uxmal appear on the list, and there are also sites in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, Palenque, Teotihuacan, Sian Ka’an, Guanajuato, Morelia, El Tajin, Zacatecas, Sierra de San Francisco, El Vizcaino, Popocatepetl, Querétaro, Guadalajara, Casas Grandes, Tlacotalpan, Xochicalco, Campeche, Calakmul, Gulf of California, Tequila, and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere. Visit for the complete list.

Sadly, some of the sites on the world list are in danger. According to UNESCO’s website, armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and unchecked tourist development are serious threats. There are 30 sites which are on the endangered list (none in Mexico). The Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in India, the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, and Samarra Archaeological City in Iraq are some of these sites.

It is worth remembering as we visit not only World Heritage Sites, but everywhere we travel, that the decisions we make today affect what future generations will inherit tomorrow.


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