When you’re about to travel to a country for the first time, what’s one of the few things you just have to do? You’ll probably take the time to come up with a list of places you must visit. The list will probably include places where you can shop and eat, museums, natural attractions, and even theme parks! But if there’s one kind of tourist attraction that you should not miss when you’re traveling, it’s a World Heritage Site.
World Heritage Sites are landmarks declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as culturally, scientifically, or historically significant, among other reasons. Being declared as a World Heritage Site means that a landmark also receives legal protection, which is important in its preservation.
Does that mean most of the world’s popular tourist attractions have a shot of being named a World Heritage Site? Unfortunately, choosing which landmarks get the distinction is easier said than done and actually requires a tedious process.
How can a landmark become a World Heritage Site?
If you think that the whole process begins and ends with UNESCO, you’re about to learn differently. It actually begins with a country looking to nominate landmarks in its territory. But not just any country can submit proposals! Only those that have signed the World Heritage Convention are qualified.
The first step is known as the Tentative List, which is a compilation of cultural and heritage sites that a country must submit. Currently, the Philippines has 19 landmarks on our Tentative List, which includes the Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves and Mt. Pulag Natural Park.
The country must then pick landmarks included on the Tentative List to be nominated. If it’s not on the Tentative List, it can’t be included in the Nomination File! The nominees are evaluated by two Advisory Boards before the World Heritage Committee makes the final decision.
The World Heritage Committee meets once a year to discuss the nominees. A nominee, aside from having “outstanding universal value”, must also meet at least one of the ten selection criteria to be included in the World Heritage List.
The World Heritage Sites of the Philippines
If you’re trying to figure where you should go to find World Heritage Sites, you don’t have look any further than our own beautiful country! If there’s something that we Filipinos should be proud of, it’s that our country is home to nine World Heritage Sites.
These sites are classified under two categories: cultural and natural.
Cultural World Heritage Sites
1. The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin
The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin, or simply known as the San Agustin Church, is one of the four churches grouped by UNESCO as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. These churches, which were all built during the Spanish colonial era, were declared as World Heritage Sites back in 1993.
Believe it or not, the San Agustin Church you know now is not the original structure of the church. Initially made of bamboo and nipa, the original structure was destroyed after a fire. A second church was built, this time made of wood, but it also burned down. Finally, the construction for a stone church began in 1586 and ended in 1607, when it was formally opened to the public.
It can be said that the San Agustin Church stood the test of time and war as it’s the only church inside Intramuros that remained standing after World War II, which heavily damaged the walled city.
2. Church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva
Named after the patron saint of the parish, the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva is the second of the four churches collectively known as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Completed in 1797, the church also served as a defensive fort for the town of Miag-ao during the Spanish era.
3. Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion
Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur
Also known as the Santa Maria Church, the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion is the third church under the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It is also one of the two churches in the Ilocos Region that has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An interesting tidbit about this church is the legend the surrounds its construction. According to local stories, the image of the Virgin Mary that was originally enshrined in a different church kept disappearing, only for people to find it perched on a Guava tree that stood where the Santa Maria Church is presently located.
4. Saint Augustine Church
Paoay, Ilocos Norte
The fourth World Heritage Site classified under the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, the Saint Augustine Church is one of the oldest churches in the country.
The construction of the church, also known as the Paoay Church, began in 1694. Made up largely of coral stones and bricks, the Paoay Church was heavily damaged by two earthquakes but was eventually restored.
5. Historic City of Vigan
Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Without a doubt, no trip to Ilocos Sur will be complete without a visit to one of the most popular historical and cultural sites in the country, Vigan. Included in the list of World Heritage Sites in 1999, the Historic City of Vigan was hailed for its well-preserved Spanish colonial town, meeting two of the ten selection criteria needed for a site to be declared as a World Heritage Site.
Established in the 16th century, Vigan is also one of the seven wonder cities declared by the New7Wonders Foundation in 2015.
6. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras
After meeting three of the ten selection criteria, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras made its way to the World Heritage Sites list in 1995.
Five of the country’s rice terraces, all located in the province of Ifugao, make up the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras: the Nagacadan rice terraces in Kiangan, Hungduan rice terraces, Mayoyao rice terraces, as well as two located in Banaue, the rice terraces of Batad and Bangaan.
Natural World Heritage Sites
1. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary
San Isidro, Davao Oriental
Having been declared as a World Heritage Sites only two years ago, the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is the latest landmark of the Philippines to make it to the list.
Popular for being home to a total of 1,380 species, 341 of those are endemic to the Philippines, meaning they are native to the country. But if you think it doesn’t get any cooler than that, you’re about to be proven wrong! Out of those 341 species, eight can only be found nowhere else but in Mount Hamiguitan.
2. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Home to limestone karst landscapes and the 8.2 kilometer-long underground river, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, along with the Historic City of Vigan.
Meeting two of the ten selection criteria, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is the first national park in the Philippines that is managed by a local government unit.
3. Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park
Central Sulu Sea
The Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park is probably most famously known for its coral reef, making it one of the must visit places especially among divers. But did you know that the world famous coral reef is not the only spectacular sight you’ll find in Tubbataha?
Declared as a World Heritage Site in 1993 along with the four churches that make up the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park met three of the ten selection criteria. Want to see coral islands, lagoons, and a spectacular marine life that includes nearly 500 species of fish as well as seabirds? There’s no other place you should go to but Tubbataha!