What is a UNESCO Geopark? Understanding tourism

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(Last updated on: 19/10/2020)

You may have seen the term UNESCO Geopark floating around on your travels. You may have even been to a UNESCO Geopark. But what actually is one of these and why were they created? In this article, I explain all…

What is a UNESCO Geopark?

Who are UNESCO?

When it comes to understanding what a UNESCO Geopark is, it is worth looking at what UNESCO is.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In the organisation’s own words, they are committed to “the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”.

UNESCO is based in Paris, and has 193 member states. It sponsors various projects, related to science, culture, education, technology, literacy and more.

UNESCO has various designated World Heritage Sites. These are landmark sites that have historical, cultural or scientific significance. Often they double as popular tourist attractions. There are currently over 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites; Quito in Ecuador was the first to be named in 1978, and the list includes forest, lakes, volcanoes, entire cities and more.

As an organisation, UNESCO does a lot to preserve important parts of different cultures. For those who love to travel, the chance to see incredible monuments and areas at the best is often thanks to UNESCO.

What is a UNESCO Geopark?

With the official title of UNESCO Global Geoparks, these are outstanding geological sites.

The new label was created in November of 2015, and supports the work of the Global Geoparks Network. GGN aim to conserve the earth’s geological heritage and promote sustainable research/development in the local communities.

UNSECO describe Geoparks as: single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.

Video footage from a UNESCO Geopark.

There are now more than 145 UNESCO Geoparks worldwide. They can be found in 41 countries across 5 continents. The sites give local people a sense of pride in their region, and often serve to create jobs and training courses in the area which are incredible beneficial to the community. These opportunities are generated thanks to the rise in geotourism. 

What is Geotourism?

Geotourism is described by National Geographic as tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place—its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents.

In a basic sense, geotourism means that visiting a geological site is the most important part of the trip. That’s why a visit to a UNESCO Geopark is an example of participating in geotourism.

There are many benefits to geotourism. As mentioned above, it supports the local community economically – by utilising their workforce, products, supplies and services. It also educates visitors, and allows residents to discover or rediscover their own heritage by sharing it with others. The incredible experiences that geotourists have when visiting new locations become stories that they will remember (and share) forever – in turn, this attracts further tourists to these incredible destinations.

What is the criteria for a UNESCO Geopark to be awarded the title?

There is a set of criteria that must be met for a geopark to be given the title and included in UNSECO’s list:

  • the existence of a management plan designed to foster socio-economic development that is sustainable (most likely to be based on agritourism and geotourism)
  • demonstrate methods for conserving and enhancing geological heritage and provide means for teaching geoscientific disciplines and broader environmental issues
  • joint-proposals submitted by public authorities, local communities and private interests acting together, which demonstrate the best practices with respect to Earth heritage conservation and its integration into sustainable development strategies

These criteria are evaluated on an ongoing basis. The Geoparks Committee host an International Conference on Geoparks every two years; the geoparks and their adherence with the criteria at that time are discussed.

These conferences were first held in different cities around the world – Beijing, Osnabrück, Langkawi. The conferences are now held at a different UNSECO Geopark each year: Stonehammer in New Brunswick and Adamello Brenta in Trentina, Italy, have hosted in the past.

List of UNESCO Geoparks

Here is a list of all of the areas that have been awarded Geopark status:

Austria

  • Ore of the Alps
  • Styrian Eisenwurzen 
  • Karawanken / Karavanke (Austria and Slovenia)

Belgium

  • Famenne-Ardenne

Brazil

  • Araripe 

Canada

  • Percé 
  • Stonehammer 
  • Tumbler Ridge 

Chile

  • Kütralkura 

China

  • Alxa Desert 
  • Arxan
  • Dali-Cangshan 
  • Danxiashan 
  • Dunhuang 
  • Fangshan 
  • Funiushan
  • Guangwushan-Nuoshuihe 
  • Hexigten 
  • Hong Kong
  • Huanggang Dabieshan 
  • Huangshan 
  • Jingpohu 
  • Jiuhuashan 
  • Keketuohai 
  • Leiqiong 
  • Leye Fengshan 
  • Longhushan 
  • Lushan 
  • Mount Kunlun 
  • Ningde 
  • Qinling Zhongnanshan 
  • Sanqingshan 
  • Shennongjia 
  • Shilin 
  • Songshan 
  • Taining 
  • Taishan 
  • Tianzhushan 
  • Wangwushan-Daimeishan 
  • Wudalianchi 
  • Xingwen 
  • Yandangshan 
  • Yanqing 
  • Yimengshan 
  • Yuntaishan 
  • Zhangjiajie 
  • Zhijindong Cave 
  • Zigong 

Croatia

  • Papuk 
  • Vis Archipelago 

Cyprus

  • Troodos 

Czechia

  • Bohemian Paradise

Denmark

  • Odsherred

Ecuador

  • Imbabura

Finland

  • Rokua 

France

  • Beaujolais 
  • Causses du Quercy 
  • Chablais 
  • Haute-Provence 
  • Luberon 
  • Massif des Bauges 
  • Monts d’Ardèche 

Germany

  • Bergstraße-Odenwald 
  • Harz, Braunschweiger Land 
  • Swabian Alb 
  • TERRA.vita 
  • Vulkaneifel 
  • Muskauer Faltenbogen / Łuk Mużakowa (Germany and Poland)

Greece

  • Chelmos Vouraikos 
  • Lesvos Island 
  • Psiloritis 
  • Sitia 
  • Vikos – Aoos 

Hungary

  • Bakony-Balaton 
  • Novohrad-Nógrád (Hungary and Slovakia)

Iceland

  • Katla 
  • Reykjanes 

Indonesia

  • Batur 
  • Ciletuh – Palabuhanratu 
  • Gunung Sewu 
  • Rinjani-Lombok 

Iran (Islamic Republic of)

  • Qeshm Island 

Ireland

  • Burren & Cliffs of Moher
  • Copper Coast 
  • Marble Arch Caves (Ireland & United Kingdom)

Italy

  • Adamello-Brenta 
  • Alpi Apuani 
  • Beigua 
  • Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni 
  • Madonie
  • Parco Geominerario della Sardegna
  • Pollino 
  • Sesia Val Grande 
  • Rocca di Cerere 
  • Tuscan Mining Park 

Japan

  • Aso 
  • Itoigawa 
  • Izu Peninsula 
  • Mt. Apoi 
  • Muroto 
  • Oki Islands 
  • San’in Kaigan 
  • Toya – Usu 
  • Unzen Volcanic Area 

Malaysia

  • Langkawi 

Mexico

  • Comarca Minera, Hidalgo 
  • Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca 

Morocco

  • M’Goun 

Netherlands

  • De Hondsrug 

Norway

  • Gea Norvegica 
  • Magma 
  • Trollfjell 

Peru

  • Colca y Volcanes de Andagua 

Poland

  • Muskauer Faltenbogen / Łuk Mużakowa (Germany and Poland)

Portugal

  • Açores 
  • Arouca 
  • Naturtejo da Meseta Meridional 
  • Terras de Cavaleiros 

Republic of Korea

Romania

  • Haţeg 

Slovakia

  • Novohrad-Nógrád (Hungary and Slovakia)

Slovenia

  • Idrija 
  • Karawanken / Karavanke (Austria and Slovenia)

Spain

  • Basque Coast
  • Cabo de Gata-Níjar 
  • Central Catalonia 
  • Conca de Tremp-Montsec 
  • Courel Mountains 
  • El Hierro 
  • Lanzarote and Chinijo Islands 
  • Las Loras 
  • Molina & Alto Tajo 
  • Sierra Norte de Sevilla 
  • Sierras Subbéticas 
  • Sobrarbe-Pirineos 
  • Villuercas Ibores Jara 

Tanzania

  • Ngorongoro Lengai 

Thailand

  • Satun 

Turkey

  • Kula Volcanic 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

  • English Riviera 
  • Fforest Fawr 
  • GeoMôn 
  • North Pennines AONB 
  • North-West Highlands 
  • Shetland 
  • Marble Arch Caves (Ireland & United Kingdom)

Uruguay

  • Grutas del Palacio 

Vietnam

  • Dong Van Karst Plateau 
  • Non nuoc Cao Bang 

Why should you visit a UNESCO Geopark?

If you are interested in nature and scenery, visiting a UNESCO Geopark is a great idea. Many geoparks lie not far from bustling cities, so they offer a lovely escape from high-rises and busy cobbled streets. Fresh air, fantastic photo opportunities and breathtaking views are just some of the reasons to visit a geopark.

Visiting a UNESCO Geopark is also a great way to give back to the local community. As discussed earlier, they provide a much-needed boost to many local economies. Tourists’ money helps to protect and preserve these incredible geological sites, by funding the management and conservation efforts. So by enjoying them, you are helping to ensure that they can also be enjoyed by others for generations to come.

As UNESCO themselves say, Geoparks are “about reconnecting human society at all levels to the planet we all call home and to celebrate how our planet and its 4,600 million year long history has shaped every aspect of our lives and our societies”. 

5 of the best UNESCO Geoparks

While you can see the full list of geoparks above, there are so many to choose from. They are all beautiful and have different things to offer; if you are trying to decide which UNESCO Geopark (or parks!) to add to your bucket list, here are 4 of the best…

Jeju Island

maze land jeju

There is so much to see on the beautiful Jeju island. With hiking trails, stunning beaches, museums, caves, theme parks and more, Jeju is perfect for a few days of exploring or a much longer stay. The scenery is incredible and you’ll never get bored on the island.

Psiloritis 

Image source: Zorbas

In Crete you’ll find Mount Ida, also known as Psiloritis which is the name of UNESCO Geopark itself. Technically it is the park where the mountain (Greece’s highest) is found. Mount Ida itself is beautiful, with stunning views and brilliant hikes as well as caves to explore under bright blue skies. If you are an adventure-lover, this is a great geopark for you!

Yellow Mountains

yellow mountains Huangshan

The Yellow Mountains, also known as Huangshan is a beautiful mountainous area in Anhui province in China. These mountains offer picturesque scenery and are especially famous for the ‘sea of clouds’.

Reykjanes 

This Icelandic peninsula is one of the best areas in the country. Offering the chance to see the famous Northern Lights, it is the only place in the world where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible above sea level. It has diversity in its volcanic and geothermal activity. The peninsula has museums to explore, restaurants to eat in and photographs to be taken.

Qeshm Island 

Image source: Tehran Times

Iran’s largest island, Qeshm is home to beaches, castles and stunning valleys that all serve to attract tourists. With a population of just over 100,000 people, the local economy gets a great boost from being a UNESCO Geopark and drawing in those interested in geotourism. It is an amazing island with so many natural beauty spots to discover.

UNESCO Geopark: To conclude

As you have learnt, there are many areas that have been awarded UNESCO Geopark status around the world- from Iceland to China and everywhere in between! UNESCO Geoparks are a great way to protect and preserve an area and is a great example of sustainable tourism.

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ABOUT

Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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