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About World Heritage
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What is World Heritage?

What do the Taj Mahal, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route have in common? They're all World Heritage sites—treasures of humanity prized by historians, ecologists, and art lovers, as well as by their own communities.

The world has recognized 890 unique places—natural, cultural, and mixed—as World Heritage sites through a convention coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Sites include:
  • Many national parks in the U.S. and Canada, like Yellowstone, Banff, and the Everglades
  • Well-known cultural attractions like Tikal, Machu Picchu, and Versailles
  • Important biosphere preserves like the Serengeti, Great Barrier Reef, and Mexico's Sian Ka'an bird sanctuary
  • Places of archeological, historical, or evolutionary significance, including the cave paintings of Lascaux, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned), and the Galapagos Islands, which helped inspire Darwin's theory of natural selection
UNESCO works to identify, protect, and preserve these cultural and natural sites around the world. Learn more about World Heritage by visiting whc.unesco.org.

Quick facts

  • There are currently 890 World Heritage sites in 186 countries.
  • There are three categories of World Heritage sites—cultural, natural, or mixed.
  • The World Heritage Convention was adopted by UNESCO in 1972. The United States was the first country to ratify the World Heritage Convention.
  • In 1978, the first 12 World Heritage sites were inscribed. They included Yellowstone National Park and the Galapagos Islands.
  • If a site is threatened, UNESCO helps create a plan—and often provides funding—to ensure the site’s preservation. There are currently 30 sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Yellowstone National Park: Geysers and bison and bears … oh my! Geothermal events and abundant wildlife combine for a single, spectacular experience.

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