These wondrous UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Caribbean are waiting to be explored! Each of them has been deemed worthy of preservation for future generations because of its cultural significance.
Currently, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has given more than 1070 sites this status worldwide, and 23 of them are located in the Caribbean. Many more amazing locations in the Caribbean are under consideration.
These cultural and natural treasures are some of the best reasons to pack your bags and head to the Caribbean this year:
1. Historic City Center of Willemstad, Curacao
Gorgeous 17th-century Dutch houses line the harbor in Curacao’s historic capital city. Willemstad balances European charm with Caribbean beauty in what is now known as one of the loveliest cities in the entire Caribbean. UNESCO designated the historic city center and harbor a cultural World Heritage site in 1997.
For many years, Willemstad harbor was a naval base for the Netherlands. It later became an important trading hub, and has been influenced by many European countries, including Spain, England, and Portugal. Its four historic districts are separated by deep channels, connected by the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. Built in 1888, this bridge still swings open today to let boats pass through.
2. Old San Juan and La Fortaleza, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s famous capital city, San Juan, has a historic district that still maintains its original blue cobblestone streets. La Fortaleza, a Spanish fort built to protect San Juan from invaders, stands high on a rocky cliff, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Also known to locals as “El Morro”, this stone structure is still in great condition today.
Nowadays, El Morro it is open to the public as a museum. UNESCO designated both the historic city center and La Fortaleza a cultural World Heritage site in 1983.
Spanish-style houses, many of them with colorful doors, line the ancient cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. This part of the city is replete with museums, souvenir shops, and 17th century statues. You can also walk down Paseo de la Princesa, a restored 19th century esplanade. The Paseo will take you around the walls of the historic fort and up to the city’s highest point. Much of the walkway features breathtaking views of the ocean. If you go, be sure to leave enough time to explore– covering the entire historic city and La Fortaleza will take a day or two at the very least.
3. National History Park, Haiti
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982, the National History Park in Haiti is a must-see if you travel to the Caribbean. Newly-emancipated slaves built a massive stone castle called Citadelle Laferriere at the top of Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain. Today, this majestic structure continues to tower 3,000 feet over the lush green mountains and valleys. It stands as a testament of the perseverance of Haiti’s people, who fought to gain their freedom.
The Citadelle Laferriere is the largest stone fortress in the Americas. Built in the early 1800s to ward off French attacks, it contained large storehouses for food and an elaborate water system. In addition, it had impenetrable stone walls and a huge stockpile of cannons and artillery. It could accommodate and protect at least 5,000 people if need be. However, such a need never arose, since the French never attacked the Citadel after its construction.
Today, the Citadelle and the National History Park bring great pride to Haitians, and have even been featured on their postal stamps and currency.
4. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica
Gorgeous waterfalls, mysterious boiling lakes, and dense rainforest give this national park status as one of the most beautiful natural World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean. Morne Trois Pitons is like stepping back in time– it’s unspoiled, and largely undiscovered.
Named a World Heritage Site in 1997, the park features an unsurpassed number of natural wonders: giant ferns, a 1,342 meter high volcano, hot springs, and three freshwater lakes, to name a few. The park is so huge (about 6,857 hectares) that it takes up around 9 percent of Dominica’s entire land area. The rivers and creeks that tumble through the mountains and valleys form waterfalls on their way to the ocean below.
This unique park features all kinds of Caribbean flora and fauna. Since it is one of the largest intact forest areas in the Caribbean, many endemic and rare species live and flourish there, including the endangered Red-Necked Parrot, a native species of Dominica.
Interestingly, the park has served as a filming site for several movies, most notably Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
5. Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
The Belize Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s famous for its atolls, mangrove forests, cays, and lagoons. In addition, it’s home to thousands of threatened marine species.
Furthermore, the Belize Barrier Reef is the location of the mysterious Great Blue Hole, pictured above. Also called the Belize Blue Hole, this giant sinkhole is essentially a giant underwater cave filled with stalactites and other curiosities.
The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System includes seven protected areas. According to UNESCO, these areas are: Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve, Blue Hole Natural Monument, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, South Water Caye Marine Reserve, Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, Laughing Bird Caye National Park and Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. These areas came under World Heritage site protection in 1996.
Experienced divers can visit some of the more challenging sites in the reef, including the Great Blue Hole. However, Belize has an incredible number of accessible reef sites. Some are perfect even for beginning snorkelers!
It’s time to make your vacation dreams a reality! Which one of these astonishing World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean will you visit this year? Find the perfect accommodations for your stay here.