Currently across the globe, there are 1007 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites. These are places that are deemed to have cultural or natural significance and so should be preserved for future generations. As there are 10 different criterias to be met before a site can be listed, it is a tremendous honor for each and not surprisingly, being listed brings about extra media attention plus thousands if not millions of tourists each year. This bodes well for the local economy provided that sustainable tourism is practiced. With this in mind, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in developing countries can apply for a preservation grant to help with the maintenance and upkeep. So how many of these wondrous sites are in the Caribbean to be enjoyed and explored? Well there are nineteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean across 10 islands – 14 with the cultural designation and 5 with the natural designation. Cuba dominates with 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Below is the full list.
1. Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison (Cultural, 2011)
Using a serpentine lay-out instead of a grid, historic Bridgetown and nearby Garrison show off the many colonial 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings of the well-preserved town. As one of the earliest towns with a fortified port in the Caribbean network, it became a major passage way for trade of sugar and enslaved persons destined for the Americas.
2. Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda (Cultural, 2000)
The earliest settlement in the New World, St. George and its fortifications was founded in 1612. Here, visitors can see the development of artillery and the English military from the 17th to the 20th century. In August of 1612 it was settled by 60 settlers, a governor and a preacher.
3. Old Havana and its Fortification System (Cultural, 1982)
Havana, once the main Caribbean ship-building center, has now become home to over 2 million people. Here an eclectic mix of wrought-iron gates, private homes and Baroque monuments form the old city center. Inner courtyards and balconies mark the influence of the Spanish who settled the land in 1519.
4. Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios (Cultural, 1988)
In the 16th century Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios were built to give honor to the Holy Trinity. When the sugar trade became a booming business and the inhabitants were wealthy in the 18th and 19th centuries, places like the beautiful Palacio Brunet and Palacio Cantero were built.
5. San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba (Cultural, 1997)
San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago was originally built to protect the port of Santiago. The fortified buildings built on the rocks were meant to be a defense against rivaling adversaries. The bastions, magazines, batteries and forts are now a well-preserved complete example of Spanish-American military architecture based on Italian and Renaissance design principles.
6. Desembarco del Granma National Park (Natural, 1999)
See limestone cliffs and terraces formed by tectonic plate shifts in the Desembarco del Granma National Park. Here waterfalls plummet over the limestone. The high cliffs are some of the most impressive cliffs in the western Atlantic. The seascape offers caves, canyons, and giant sinkholes on the pristine multi-leveled limestone terraces.
7. Viñales Valley (Cultural, 1999)
Surrounded by mountains, Vinales Valley hides away centuries old civilizations where farming tobacco is still done by hand. Tobacco is dried on wooden racks. The farmers use several different ethnic languages, heard in their music and crafts. The Pan de Azucar is a reminder of where slaves learned different trades.
8. Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba (Cultural, 2000)
For a look into agriculture, economic and social history of the Caribbean, visit the Archeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the south-east of Cuba. Here people can tour the remains of the 19th century coffee plantation. A clearer understanding of the farming methods is visible on this site.
9. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (Natural, 2001)
With Complex geology and varied topography, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is one of the most biologically diverse island sites on earth. Here, plant species have adapted to harsh conditions such as trade winds and toxic rocks by evolving into new species of plants. This site is one of the best preserved forested mountain ecosystems in the Caribbean.
10. Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos (Cultural, 2005)
Once a colonial town settled by the French but founded by Spanish, the Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos is situated in the heart of sugar cane country. Sugar cane, coffee, mangos and tobacco are grown here. Cienfuegos was also the first place to use hygiene and order in its urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.
11. Historic Centre of Camagüey (Cultural, 2008)
The Historic Centre of Camaguey allows visitors to see a colonial town laid-out in large and smaller squares, irregular blocks and snake-like alleys. European influence is evident in the traditional construction techniques used by the builders. Neo-colonial, art deco, eclectic and rational styles are showcased in the city center property.
12. Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour (Cultural, 1997)
With Spanish, Portuguese and Netherlands influence, Willemstad bloomed from a trading settlement to a modern town. See the four distinct historic districts separated by water and the natural harbor where it all began. Within the districts are complicated alleys and open lay-out streets and gorgeous English architecture.
13. Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Natural, 1997)
Morne Trios Pitons National Park has it all. Volcanic fire, boiling lakes, hot springs, deep valleys and freshwater lakes are just a few reasons this is a combination of natural features that scientist love to explore. 50 fumaroles and huge biodiversity add to the lure of this tropical wonderland that is nearly 7,000 ha.
14. Colonial City of Santo Domingo (Cultural, 1990)
What does any good town in the New World need? Well, a hospital, a university for higher learning, and a cathedral to worship in. That’s what Santo Domingo received when it was founded and laid out on a grid system in 1498. Modern planners adopted the grid system in the New World.
15. National History Park – Citadel, Sans Souci, Ramiers (Cultural, 1982)
Slaves who gained their freedom built monuments that mark the independence of Haiti in the National History Park. Here the Citadel, Ramiers and Sans Souci stand to remind all Haitians that their freedom was hard-fought and won back in 1804. The palace ruins are currently being restored.
SAINT KITTS & NEVIS:
16. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park (Cultural, 1999)
Built using slave labor and British design, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park stands as a well-preserved reminder of the slave trade and the expansion of European colonies into the New World. 17th and 18th century military architecture are on display in this beautiful national park.
17. Pitons Management Area (Natural, 2004)
A geothermal field and ridge link two volcanoes in Pitons Management Area. Sulphur-seeping fumeroles and hot springs dot the field. With coral reefs in the marine area and Gros and Petit Piton hiding numerous plants and animals and eight rare tree species, this is a nature-lovers paradise.
18. Central Suriname Nature Reserve (Natural, 2000)
Guiana Cock-of-the-Rock, giant armadillos and giant river otters can all be found in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. Montane and lowland forest and over a million ha of primary forest allow a high diversity of plant and animal species to flourish. There are 5,000 vascular plants and 400 bird species.
19. Historic Inner City of Paramaribo (Cultural, 2002)
A Dutch colonial town in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Historic Inner City of Paramaribo still has its original street plan. Dutch architecture and local materials formed new architectural styles. Located on the northern coast of South America, Paramibo is a unique blend of the Netherlands and indigenous cultures.
UPDATE 1: It was brought to my attention that that there are actually 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean as I failed to include: La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico and the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.
20. La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico (Cultural, 1983)
Built between the 15th and 19th centuries, the defensive structures now awarded with World Heritage Status were used to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They are thought to be a fine display of European military architecture adapted to harbour sites on the American continent.
21. Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Natural, 1996)
World Heritage Status was awarded to this area as is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere including offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. Threatened species including the American marine crocodile, manatees and marine turtles make use of the system’s seven sites for their habitat.
UPDATE 2: As of July 2015, there are now 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean spread across 12 destinations. Jamaica with Blue and John Crow Mountains joins the exclusive club.
22. Blue and John Crow Mountains (Natural, 2015)
The site encompasses a rugged and extensively forested mountainous region in the south-east of Jamaica, which provided refuge first for the indigenous Tainos fleeing slavery and then for Maroons (former enslaved peoples). Focused on sustainable tourism, the area now has accommodation facilities, tours, bird watching, hiking trails, camp sites etc.
Top photo: Cuba: Capital Building in Havana.