Lonely Planet Writer

Here's 8 alternative World Heritage Sites to plan a trip to for World Heritage Day

Have you already exhausted the 8 wonders of the world? Fear not, to celebrate World Heritage Day, here are the 8 alternative World Heritage Sites for you to visit that will help you avoid crowds and take a diversion off the beaten track.

Instead of bumping into tourists at Machu Picchu…meet some monkeys at Manú National Park

The largest national park in Peru, Manú National Park is home to thousands of species of animals, birds and insects and more than 20,000 species of flora. UNESCO calls it a “globally renowned haven of terrestrial biodiversity”, due in part to the huge variations in altitude, meaning you can explore grasslands, cloud forests and lowland rain forests. Its remote location and large-scale protection means it’s one of the most pristine areas of the Peruvian rainforest.

Tourists on a rafting expedition on Alto Madre de Dios river in Manu National Park.
Tourists on a rafting expedition on Alto Madre de Dios river in Manu National Park. Image by Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet

Instead of finding the Pyramids of Giza…lose yourself in Islamic Cairo.

Islamic Cairo is the name commonly given to the core of medieval Cairo. From the tenth to the 14th century this was the centre of the Islamic world and is still home to a huge, bustling centre of worship, trade, and commuting. It’s also under threat from neglect and decay, as it’s one of the most overcrowded and poor areas of Cairo. It will take you several days to explore the winding alleyways and admire the stunning examples of Islamic architecture, the graves of Egypt’s last King and the world’s oldest university.

A stunning example of architecture in 'Islamic' Cairo.
A stunning example of architecture in ‘Islamic’ Cairo. Image by StvnL / CC BY 2.0

Instead of trekking the Great Wall… hike through Mount Sanqingshan National Park

Full of looming rock formations, exceptional scenic views and an ever-changing landscape,  Sānqīng Shān also has a spiritual legacy and has been a sacred place of Taoism retreat for centuries.  Explore the park over one or two days via suspended walkways and exposed trails built into the cliff face at an average altitude of 1600m.

The misty mountains of Sanqingshan.
The misty mountains of Sanqingshan. Image by Antoine 49 / CC BY 2.0

Instead of photo-bombing at the Taj Mahal…find inner peace at Sarnath

The ancient city of Sarnath has long been an important pilgrimage site to Buddhists. The deer park is where the Buddha first taught the Dharma and remains an open animal park to this day. Inside the monastery ruins, the impressive Dhamekh Stupa marks the spot where he preached his first sermon while the surrounding ruins of Mulagandhakuti Vihara is said to be where he spent his first rainy season in meditation. Best of all, the town is peaceful and relatively green, making it an ideal base to visit Varanasi without being too overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle.

The Dharmekh Stupa.
The Dharmekh Stupa. Image by pavel karafiát / CC BY 2.0

Instead of invading Mont Saint Michel, France….explore the medieval town of Provins

A visit to Provins is like a step back into the Middle Ages, full of 58 protected buildings and monuments stretching back as far as the 13th Century. Explore dungeons filled with ancient graffitti, or try your hand at some medieval trades. Previously famous for its medieval Champagne Fairs, now the souvenir of choice stems from its famous rose cultivation so try the town’s famous rose petal jam, rose honey or rose candy.

Provins is known as the town of medieval fairs.
Provins is known as the town of medieval fairs. Image by Tory / CC BY 2.0

Instead of queueing at Angkor Wat…take a trip to Prasat Preah Vihear

While particularly well-preserved, the real draw of this northern Angkorian temple is the view. Perched on top of the Dangrek Mountains 625m above sea level, you’ll get an amazing view of the lowlands below and on a clear day a peek over at Thailand. The ride up the steep mountain by moto taxi is an exhilarating experience in itself. The site was previously deemed unsafe for tourists due to a border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand but has been declared safe to visit since August 2015.

Temple of Preah Vihear
Temple of Preah Vihear Image by UNESCO

Instead of snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef….spot the whale sharks on Ningaloo Coast

Ningaloo Coast has long been known as Australia’s ‘other’ great reef but it’s renowned as one of Oceania’s best diving and snorkelling sites. The Marine Park protects the entirety of the 300km Reef as well as being home to more than 500 species of fish. More isolated than the Great Barrier Reef, it has the unique attraction of being bordered by red sand desert and also has the benefit of being able to swim and snorkel just off the shore. Accommodation is very limited so you’ll need to plan well in advance.

Aerial view of Yardie Creek.
Aerial view of Yardie Creek. Image by Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation

Instead of the peaks of the Grand Canyon…go underground at the Mammoth Cave National Park

With some 400 miles of surveyed passageways, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest cave system. The ranger-guided tours will bring you through vast interior cathedrals, undulating rock formations and even bottomless pits. They’ll also give you details of the system’s fascinating history, which includes a previous life as a tuberculosis hospital. Once you get out into the fresh air again, there are trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

A peek inside Mammoth Cave National Park .
A peek inside Mammoth Cave National Park . Image by Kentucky Tourism