UNESCO is an acronym that gets thrown around in guidebooks a lot without many people really knowing what it means. Sure, most UNESCO sites happen to be very pretty but the criteria for becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually down to its natural or cultural importance.
Did you know that some of the 936 sites include a 1910 shoe factory in Germany, a nuclear test site in the Marshall Islands, a steam pumping station in the Netherlands and a rather ugly and gloomy looking coal-mining factory in Wales? Certainly not the prettiest of places to visit. Others of course include outstanding National Parks, coral reefs, pyramids and palaces, but UNESCO isn’t about beauty. Which is why Mendoza is up for debate as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its canal and tree system. And it wouldn’t be the first set of drains to make it on the list – there are six listed already. But for now at least, Argentina has only eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites – all of which are quite astounding in their beauty…
Iguazu National Park
One of the most obvious sites to be elected, the thundering waterfall in the middle of the Iguazu jungle which separates Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is one of the most awe inspiring waterfalls in the world. 80ms high and more than 3kms wide, its rapturous beauty and deafening roars of tones of falling water is enough to give you heart palpitations but the site was actually selected by UNESCO for its 2000 species of vascular plants and rich wildlife. But don’t miss out on the falls while you are looking at the plant life.
Ischigualisto-Talampaya National Parks
These two National Parks spanning over almost 3000kms of desert in North West Argentina have the most complete fossil history of the 45 million year long Triassic period (which was some 245 million years ago). Although parched completely dry now, this used to be a basin of rivers, lakes and swamps and hundreds of plant, animal, fish and dinosaur fossils have been found here. However most people come to visit for the strange rock formations.
Parque Los Glaciares
One of the ‘must-see’s’ of Argentina, this National Park will blow your mind. Pure, unadulterated rugged beauty with wild barren landscapes, towering mountains, dense forests and most enchanting of all – soaring walls of blue ice in some of the world’s only advancing glaciers. Lago Argentina is the most accessible spot to see the glaciers with Perito Moreno as the top attraction. Standing in front of a 250km field of ice and witnessing the crunching explosions of ice tumbling into the milky glacial lake is an experience to remember…
This is an oasis of wildlife on the coast of Southern Argentina. Although one of the most important tourist sites in Argentina, you still feel in the middle of nothing here as you have the peninsula very much to yourself – that is sharing it with few other tourists, you will of course be sharing it with hundreds of sea lions, seals, penguins, dolphins, a billion birds and the king of the peninsula: the killer whales which pay a visit between June and December.
Cueva de las Manos
These caves are located down in a deep canyon and the rock art inside is one of the most important sites of early hunter-gatherer tribes in South America. Rocks covered in stencil art of handprints and drawings of animals and hunting scenes may have been child’s play when the native artists did them originally, but their existence some 12,000 years later make these cave paintings pretty impressive stuff.
Jesuit ruins – Cordoba and Misiones
Jesuit ruins in Argentina make up two UNESCO sites – one in Cordoba and the other in Misiones. The Jesuit block in Cordoba has a university, church, college and five estancias (farming estates) from the 17th and 18th century and is still very much in tact. However the sites in the eastern Misiones state are much more ‘ruins’ of these constructions made by the Guarani’s around the same time, and have a more Jungle Book feel as they are set in the heart of the Argentine tropical forest.
Quebrada de Huamahuaca
UNESCO picked this as a site for its cultural importance as a trade route, but Huamahuaca is more of a tourist attraction for its multi-colored hillsides, odd rock shapes, cactus dotted landscape and vibrant little villages with traditional adobe churches and cobblestoned streets. If you get up to these altiplano hillsides make sure to try the local Torrontes and llama steak.
By Amanda Barnes
Published in the April/May 2012 edition of Wine Republic