UNESCO Global Geoparks: The Ultimate Guide!

UNESCO Global Geoparks, these geological wonderlands are more than just picturesque vistas – they’re vibrant hubs of heritage, conservation, and sustainable tourism!

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into the realm of UNESCO Global Geoparks, exploring their significance, characteristics, and the remarkable contributions they make to our world. So, let’s dive in!
Cover image is of Huangshan UNESCO Global Geopark

What is a UNESCO Global Geopark?

UNESCO Global Geoparks are protected areas that showcase the earth’s natural beauty, history, and science.

To get more into what a Geopark is past just its official definition you could Imagine a place where the ancient story of Earth’s history is painted across the terrain – a living museum that tells tales of ancient volcanoes, shifting tectonic plates, and the evolution of life itself. That’s precisely what UNESCO Global Geoparks are. These geologically rich regions are not only stunning landscapes but also treasure troves of scientific knowledge and cultural heritage.

Huangshan UNESCO Global Geopark
Huangshan UNESCO Global Geopark (China)

How many UNESCO Global Geoparks are there?

Today, across the globe, there are 195 UNESCO Global Geoparks that span 48 countries and many cultures. From the towering peaks of the European Alps to the serene beauty of Asian landscapes, these Geoparks form a tapestry of our planet’s diversity. Each geopark is a piece of the puzzle, contributing its unique geological, cultural, and ecological insights into the world.

Which country has the most UNESCO Global Geoparks?

China has the most UNESCO Global Geoparks, with a total of 41 parks scattered throughout the country.

With the staggering count of 41 Geoparks, China leads the pack in the endeavour to preserve and celebrate our Earth’s geological heritage. This vibrant nation’s commitment to Geoparks underscores the global significance of these spaces in fostering education, conservation, and sustainable tourism.

Zhangjiajie UNESCO Global Geopark
Zhangjiajie UNESCO Global Geopark (China)

What are the different types of UNESCO Global Geoparks?

UNESCO Global Geoparks aren’t just a one-size-fits-all concept. They come in a variety of flavors, each with its own distinct charm and character, with this in mind UNESCO Global Geoparks can be categorized into six main types:

  • Volcanic Geoparks – showcasing volcanic landforms, rocks, and minerals.
  • Mountain Geoparks – featuring mountain ranges, valleys, and glaciers.
  • Karst Geoparks – displaying karst topography, caves, and underground rivers.
  • Coastal Geoparks – highlighting coastal erosion, archipelagos, and marine life.
  • Desert Geoparks – demonstrating desert landscapes, oases, and sand dunes.
  • Mixed Geoparks – combining elements from multiple categories.

What are the criteria for becoming a UNESCO Global Geopark?

Becoming a UNESCO Global Geopark is no walk in the park. It requires meeting a rigorous set of criteria that encompass geological, cultural, educational, and community engagement aspects. Here’s a peek into the criteria that can help elevate a region to the esteemed status of a UNESCO Global Geopark:

  • Representativity – the site must represent a unique or exceptional example of the earth’s geological history or processes.
  • Authenticity – the site must retain its natural integrity and authenticity.
  • Universality – the site must have a special value to humanity and demonstrate a significant contribution to the understanding of the earth’s history or processes.
  • Integrity – the site must be legally protected and managed to ensure long-term conservation.
  • Sustainability – the site must demonstrate a commitment to sustainable development through education, research, and community engagement.

What are the differences between a UNESCO Global Geopark and a national park?

National parks and UNESCO Global Geoparks might seem similar at first glance, but they have distinct focuses. While national parks often emphasize biodiversity and natural beauty, UNESCO Global Geoparks are all about the Earth’s geological heritage. They’re like outdoor museums that showcase the planet’s history written in stone, inviting us to explore and learn about the processes that shaped our world.

That being said it is quite common for UNESCO Global Geoparks to be found within national parks and vice versa. A famous example would be “Zhangjiajie National Forest Park” which is not only a Geopark but also a forest park and a national park!

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park or Zhangjiajie UNESCO Global Geopark
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park or Zhangjiajie UNESCO Global Geopark (China)

What are the responsibilities of a UNESCO Global Geopark?

The responsibilities of a UNESCO Global Geopark extend far beyond showcasing stunning landscapes. They encompass:

  • Conservation – ensuring the long-term protection of the site’s geological features and processes for future generations.
  • Research – facilitating scientific research and monitoring to enhance knowledge and understanding of the site’s natural assets.
  • Education – providing educational programs and activities to raise public awareness and appreciation of the site’s natural values.
  • Community Engagement – involving local communities in the management process and promoting sustainable development practices.

How are UNESCO Global Geoparks managed?

The management of UNESCO Global Geoparks is a collaborative effort that involves local communities, experts, authorities, and various stakeholders. This collective approach ensures that the geopark’s conservation, education, and sustainable development goals are achieved harmoniously.

Djerdap UNESCO Global Geopark
Djerdap UNESCO Global Geopark (Serbia)

How do UNESCO Global Geoparks contribute to sustaining the environment?

By designating areas of outstanding natural beauty and significance as UNESCO Global Geoparks, these sites receive international recognition and protection. This status helps safeguard against threats such as habitat destruction, and unsustainable resource exploitation.

And as we mentioned previously, UNESCO Global Geoparks promote sustainable development practices, such as ecotourism, education, and community engagement, which help reduce human impact on the environment!

What are some challenges that may face UNESCO Global Geoparks?

While UNESCO Global Geoparks offer incredible opportunities, they also face challenges:

  • Funding Constraints – managing and conserving these sites requires significant financial resources, which can be difficult to secure.
  • Human Impact – pressures from human activities, such as agriculture, urbanization, and mass tourism, can threaten the site’s natural values.
  • Climate Change – rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increased extreme weather events can damage or alter the site’s geological features and processes.
  • Conflicting Interests – balancing conservation objectives with local economic development and social needs can create conflicts among stakeholders.
  • Public Awareness – Ensuring that the significance of Geoparks is understood by the public.
M'Goun UNESCO Global Geopark
M’Goun UNESCO Global Geopark (Morocco)
Image attribution

How do UNESCO Global Geoparks contribute to tourism?

UNESCO Global Geoparks offer unique and enriching travel experiences for visitors, providing opportunities to discover and appreciate the earth’s natural wonders. Responsible tourism in these areas supports local economies, creates jobs, and raises awareness about the importance of conservation and sustainable development.

Visitors to many Geoparks can enjoy a variety of activities, such as guided walks, hiking, birdwatching, and educational workshops, while still contributing to the protection of these extraordinary places.

What are some of the most famous UNESCO Global Geoparks in the world?

While there are 195 UNESCO Global Geoparks in the world, to finish off this article I thought it would be nice to show you just a few of the amazing Geoparks of the world!

  • Zhangye UNESCO Global Geopark (China)
  • Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (China)
  • Jeju Island UNESCO Global Geopark (South Korea)
  • Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark (China)
  • Hakusan Tedorigawa UNESCO Global Geopark (Japan)


UNESCO Global Geoparks are more than destinations; they’re proof of our planet’s remarkable history and the harmonious coexistence of nature and culture. As these Geoparks continue to bridge the gap between science, heritage, and sustainable tourism, they remind us that we’re custodians of Earth’s wonders – entrusted with their preservation and the stories they tell. So next time you plan a trip, consider visiting a UNESCO Global Geopark and immersing yourself in the natural beauty and wonder that our planet has to offer!

Zhangye UNESCO Global Geopark
Zhangye UNESCO Global Geopark (China)
Image attribution

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