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Once-in-a-Lifetime Moments: Extraordinary Sights Rustic Students See in the Americas and Africa
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Once-in-a-Lifetime Moments: Extraordinary Sights Rustic Students See in the Americas and Africa

There are certain places around the world that frequently appear in history books and travel brochures – and for good reason. These locations are so significant many of them are designated as World Heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Next year will mark 50 years since the organization began naming and recognizing these sites that now span across 167 countries.

Each location that’s been nominated and approved has been deemed to have “outstanding value to humanity” for its cultural and/or natural significance. In our recent blog on Best Selfie Moments, we listed the Heritage sites Rustic students visit in Asia and Australia.

Now here is a look at the Heritage locations Rustic students see in the Americas and Africa.

The Americas

Ecuador

The program Wild Galapagos: Eco-Service in the Galapagos and Ecuador includes travel to two well-known World Heritage locations:

City of Quito

This city is the capital of Ecuador, and its well-preserved historic center is on the World Heritage list. The program includes a stop at the famous Panecillo Hill that has a monument of the Virgin Mary that is visible from most of the city. The students also stop at the Middle of the World Monument, also called the Monument of the Equator – Monumento a La Mitad del Mundo. The monument is meant to mark the equator, though data includes the actual line may be a few hundred feet north of the marked line.

Mt. Chimborazo can be viewed in the distance from Quito, Ecuador.

Galápagos Islands

It is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to visit these islands that inspired Charles Darwin to come up with the theory of evolution. There are 19 islands that include species ranging from iguanas to sea lions to the Galápagos penguins, which are the only wild penguin species to live on the equator. The first known visit to the islands occurred in the early 1500s and today about 25,000 people live there.

Wildlife is abundant on the Galápagos Islands. Copyright: Rustic Pathways

Peru

The Sacred Valley Service and Andes to Amazon programs both include stops at these sites:

City of Cusco

Cusco is the old Incan capital located high in the Andes Mountains. It’s unknown how the city was built with the large stones that must have been transported to the city site. The Spaniards took note of the intricate stonework when they arrived, but then they proceeded to plunder the city, stripping it of many of its historical artifacts.

Cusco at night

Explore the unique city of Cusco and shop for souvenirs. Copyright: © 2011 Rustic Pathways

Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu may be the best-known location in Peru. This Incan citadel is located in the midst of a tropical mountain forest. There are about 200 structures at the site, which is divided between a lower and upper part that was designed to separate farming from the residential areas with a large square between them. Many mysteries remain about the site, including what role it may have played in the Inca’s understanding of astronomy. It was abandoned when the Spaniards conquered the Inca Empire.

Machu Picchu 2021, Photo: Jonah Gross

Dominican Republic

Colonial City of Santo Domingo

All of the Rustic Pathways programs in the Dominican Republic visit this special World Heritage site. The walled-in Colonial City of Santo Domingo was the first European settlement in the Americas. It has the Americas’ first cathedral, hospital and university. Students are able to tour this historic location while traveling on the summer programs Mountain Air and Island Service, Marine Life and Coastal Restoration, Public Health in the Caribbean, and Life in the Bateyes, along with the spring break program Spring to the Dominican Republic.

Rustic students visit the sights in historic Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic

United States

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Students visit this park on Hawaii’s Big Island during the Hawaii Service program. The park includes the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. One of the highlights of the service program is a hike down into the Kīlauea Iki Crater, along the steam vents and through the Thurston Lava Tube, which is a 500-year old subterranean cave formed by ancient flowing lava.

Rustic students saw the sulfur banks & lava tubes, and hiked down into a crater at Hawaii Volcano National Park. Copyright: Rustic Pathways 2021

African Treasures

Morocco

The Moroccan Wanderer program includes stops at three different World Heritage sites:

Medina of Marrakech

Marrakech is an old Islamic capital originating from the 11th century. It has several architectural wonders including ramparts, gates, the Koutoubia mosque, and palaces. Students can enjoy the historic buildings, along with a 1000-year-old market where they can watch snake charmers and peruse through Moroccan treasures.

Jamaâ El-Fna sunset

Explore the buzzing marketing square of Jamaâ El-Fna and try local delicacies. Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

This centuries-old fortified village has Moroccan earthen-clay architecture. This village was along one of the main trans-Saharan trade routes. The site has a defensive wall, corner towers, a number of community buildings, and a public square.

Ait Benhaddou

Take a trip down the Road of One Thousand Kasbahs to Ait Benhaddou. Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways

Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)

The funky beach town of Essaouira includes a white-walled historic area or medina. Historians believe the region has been occupied since prehistoric times, though the present town was built in the mid-1700s. It has served as a major international seaport and is known for being a multicultural center since diverse ethnic groups have lived in the area since its founding, including the Amazighs, Arabs, Africans, and Europeans.

Essaouira, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Shop for souvenirs in the European-influenced white walled city of Essaouira. Copyright: © 2011 Rustic Pathways

United Republic of Tanzania

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Students visit this spectacular World Heritage site during the Culture and the Crater program in Tanzania. This area includes the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera, which is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. The region has tremendous biodiversity, including the presence of some globally threatened species like the black rhino. Other animals include zebras, lions and gazelles. The animals coexist with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing.

Decades of archeological research in the area has found evidence for biological evolution spanning over nearly four million years.

Animals graze near the crater at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Kilimanjaro National Park

Students participating in the African Environmental Conservation program visit this large park that includes Mt. Kilimanjaro. This mountain is the highest one in Africa and is also the largest free standing volcanic mass in the world.

Its isolation above the surrounding plains is one of its notable features. The area is also known for its five main vegetation zones  – lower slopes, montane forest, heath and moorland, alpine desert and summit.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; Copyright: Rustic Pathways

A visit to Kilimanjaro – or any other of these locations – is made more special by the interactions students have with local villagers, who can show how these sites affect their daily lives. This happens in conjunction with service projects, adventure activities and other moments when students can make lasting connections.

For more information on these and other 2022 programs, please visit our program page.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer