National Geographic Traveler
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November/December 2006

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World Heritage Destinations Rated
Text by Jonathan B. Tourtellot

In 1973, when the U.S. became the first country to sign the World Heritage Convention, the idea was for global recognition to encourage protection of the world's great natural and cultural sites. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) would administer the program, and nations could apply to have a site inscribed on a World Heritage List, if the site was protected and of "outstanding universal value." Tourism traffic wasn't even part of the equation.

It is now. If you look at the destination as a whole—the site plus its neighboring region—tourism management can protect it, or degrade it, often more than any other factor.

Get an illustrated version of this article as it was published in the November/December 2006 issue of National Geographic Traveler.
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World Heritage has been popular. It now totals 830 sites. To see how some of these places are doing, National Geographic Traveler and our National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, with George Washington University, conducted our third Destination Scorecard survey. A panel of 419 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship rated 94 World Heritage destinations.

A third of these places appeared in our first Scorecard, conducted late in 2003 and published in 2004. Most of their scores have moved only slightly, but a few showed dramatic changes. The Galápagos and the Belizean reef have plunged; St. Petersburg and Guanajuato have surged. In many places, tourist fees help maintain historic sites. But in others, like Angkor, tourism is spiralling out of control. And in the Galápagos, a tradition of deft, sensitive tourism that helped protect the islands for years is now in danger.

Although the U.S. was the first country to ratify the World Heritage Convention, the number of World Heritage sites in this country is low. Nominations are open for U.S. World Heritage sites until April 1, 2007. Learn more.

The scores that follow, listed by rank and based on a 1-to-100 scale, reflect the experts' opinions, with representative remarks. To ensure integrity, panelists commented anonymously. No destination rated 90 or more, nor did any fall below 20. All are still worth visiting. Thoughtfully.

Guide to the Scores:
Catastrophic: all criteria very negative, outlook grim.
26-45: In serious trouble.
46-65: In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives.
66-85: Minor difficulties.
86-95: Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.
96-100: Enhanced. 

Meet our Panelists

About the Survey

Click on a part of the world below to read a sample of our judges' comments. For more about each, visit the World Heritage List.
Africa (sub-Saharan)
Australia and New Zealand
Middle East and North Africa
North America and the Caribbean
South and Central America

The List, by Score:

87        Norway: "West Fjords"
81        France: Vézelay
81        Spain: Alhambra and medieval Granada
80        New Zealand: Te Wahipounamu
80        Mexico: Guanajuato
79        Spain: Historic Córdoba and mosque
78        United Kingdom: City of Bath
78        Portugal: Évora
77        Austria: Salzburg historic center
77        France: Versailles and environs
77        Canada: Historic district of Québec City
77        Italy: Siena
76        Belgium: Historic center of Bruges
76        Switzerland: Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region
76        France: Paris, banks of the Seine
75        France: Loire Valley
75        France: Historic center of Avignon
75        Italy: Assisi
75        Australia: Uluru (Ayers Rock) and environs
74        Japan: Ancient Kyoto
74        Germany: Upper Middle Rhine Valley
73        Norway: Bryggen, Bergen
73        Greece: Delphi and environs
73        Canada/USA: Waterton-Glacier parks
73        Poland: Krakow's historic center
72        Australia: Greater Blue Mountains Area
72        Italy: Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast)
71        Hungary: Budapest
71        Brazil: Pantanal
70        Italy: Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and islands
70        United Kingdom: Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon
69        USA: Historic San Juan, Puerto Rico
69        Israel: Masada
69        Chile: Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
69        Mexico: Oaxaca and Monte Albán
68        Croatia: Dubrovnik and environs
68        Latvia: Historic center of Riga
67        South Africa: Cape Floral Region, with Table Mountain
67        India: Ellora and Ajanta Caves, and Aurangabad
67        Russia: Historic center of Saint Petersburg
66        China: Qin Emperor Mausoleum, Xi'an
66        Spain: Toledo
66        Argentina: Península Valdés
66        Sri Lanka: Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla and environs
65        Czech Republic: Historic center of Prague
65        Syria: Aleppo
65        Germany: Cologne (Köln) cathedral and city
65        Italy: Florence
65        Turkey: Göreme and the rock sites of Cappadocia
64        Zambia: Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls (Zambian side only)
64        Australia: Great Barrier Reef
63        Morocco: Medina of Marrakech
63        Greece: Medieval city of Rhodes
63        USA: Pueblo de Taos and Taos, New Mexico
63        Croatia: Diocletian's Palace, Split, and surroundings
62        France: Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay
62        Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
61        Tanzania: Serengeti National Park and environs
61        Honduras: Copán and environs
61        Argentina/Brazil: Iguazú and environs
61        Portugal: Sintra
61        Brazil: Historic center of Salvador (Pelourinho)
61        Tunisia: Site of Carthage
60        China: Suzhou town and gardens
60        Saint Lucia: the Pitons and environs
59        Tanzania: Kilimanjaro
59        Bosnia and Herzegovina: Old Bridge area of Mostar
59        Jordan: Petra and environs
58        Mexico: Sian Ka'an and environs
58        Indonesia: Borobudur and environs
58        Egypt: Thebes/Luxor
57        Cuba: Old Havana and fortifications
57        Tanzania: Stone Town, Zanzibar
56        India: Agra and sights—Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri
56        United Kingdom: Stonehenge and environs
55        China: The Great Wall
54        Peru: Cuzco (1983), Machu Picchu, and the Sacred (Vilcanota) Valley
54        Jerusalem: Old city and its walls
53        Mexico: Chichén-Itzá
53        Greece: Acropolis, Athens and environs
53        Egypt: Islamic Cairo district
52        Dominican Republic: Colonial quarter of Santo Domingo
52        Peru: Nasca lines and environs
52        China: Lijiang and Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan
50        Egypt: Pyramids of Giza and environs
50        Vietnam: Ha Long Bay
48        Cambodia: Angkor and environs
48        Ethiopia: Rock-hewn churches, Lalibela
47        Belize: Barrier Reef
46        China/Tibet: Potala Palace, Lhasa, and environs
46        Italy: Venice and its lagoon
44        Ecuador: Galápagos Islands
41        Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo
39        Nepal: Kathmandu Valley

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