12 incredible UNESCO sites you’ve probably never heard of
By Laura Ma, for CNN
4:13 AM EDT, Mon July 10, 2017
Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia) —
12 incredible UNESCO sites you've probably never heard of: Surrounded by forests of beech, fir and spruce, a multi-level system of 16 lakes spills into waterfalls and pools in Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park. The lakes are known for their distinctive colors, which can be turquoise, green, blue or gray. No swimming is allowed in the pristine pools.
Courtesy Damir Fabijanić
Ilulissat Icefjord (Greenland) —
Sailing or kayaking Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord offers spectacular views of a calving glacier as it cascades into the fjord. Not just an incredible sight, the thunderous roar of ice breaking is a primal thrill.
Courtesy Andre Schonherr/Visit Greenland
Shirakami-Sanchi (Japan) —
The core of Shirakami-Sanchi in the mountains of northern Honshu is the last of the Siebold's beech forest that once dominated the slopes of northern Japan. The largest in East Asia, the untouched beech forest has very few visitors, partly due to permit requirements and lack of man-made facilities.
Lakes of Ounianga (Chad) —
The 18 interconnected lakes of Ounianga in the landlocked African nation of Chad are lined with palms, dunes and sandstone formations. Some of the lakes are covered with floating green reeds, offering an intense contrast against the blue water. Others are so salty the rocky shore is encrusted in white salt deposits.
Covering four national parks in Canada and Alaska, one of this UNESCO Heritage Site's biggest draws (literally) is Mount Logan in Kluane National Park. At 5,959 meters (16,404 feet), Canada's tallest mountain is a haven for hikers and campers.
Courtesy Christoph Schlatter
Socotra (Yemen) —
Among Socotra's unique plant life is the dragon blood tree, which oozes dark red sap when damaged, and the bottle tree, which looks like a massive elephant leg with pink flowers sprouting on top. Not yet discovered by the masses, Socotra has pristine white coastal dunes that are constantly reshaped by wind during the monsoon.
Reunion Island (France) —
Reunion Island is dominated by two volcanic peaks, the dormant Piton de Neiges and the highly active Piton de la Fournaise. Helicopter rides are among the best ways to see the French island's massive walls and three cliff-rimmed cirques.
RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images
Jiuzhaigou (China) —
Jiuzhaigou means "Valley of the Nine Villages." The park consists of crystal clear, electric blue, green and purple pools, terraced lakes and waterfalls surrounded by snowy mountains. The giant panda and elusive snow leopard, as well as endemic species such as the Tengmalm's owl, are among rare wildlife that lives in the forests.
Te Wahipounamu (South Island, New Zealand) —
Te Wahipounamu includes four national parks, from Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring to Fiordland and Westland. New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook at 3,755 meters (9,842 feet), is found in Te Wahipounamu. So are the country's largest glaciers, tallest forest, most rugged coastline and deepest fjords and lakes.
Ningaloo Coast (Australia) —
Divers and snorkelers can spot three species of turtles on the Ningaloo Coast. An estimated 10,000 turtle nests are found on the coast each year. Whale sharks are another marvel found off Australia's western shores during an annual gathering that draws 300 to 500 of the sea creatures. Many of Ningaloo's pristine snorkeling sites are accessible from the beach.
Courtesy Australia's Coral Coast
Skocjan Caves (Slovenia) —
The Skocjan Caves house one of the world's largest known underground river canyons, created by the Reka River. The system of limestone caverns includes four picturesque chasms, which can be up to 150 meters deep and 120 meters wide.
Borut Lozej/Archives PSJ
Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles) —
Uninhabited and virtually untouched by humans, the Aldabra Atoll consists of four islets around a large shallow lagoon, encircled by coral reefs. The raised coral atoll is the largest of its kind and one of the few not yet impacted by human influences.