There’s nothing quite like visiting an ancient site in the Caribbean. Locations catalogued on the UNESCO World Heritage List are inscribed for their “outstanding universal value.” This signifies the worldwide acknowledgement of the exceptional significance of a place. Historic sites are often ruggedly beautiful, charming, and full of celebrated history, and sometimes even incredible archeological findings. Put one of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the top of your 2022 bucket list!
Here are just a few of the most talked about historic sites to visit in the Caribbean.
Curacao | Willemstad
In 1997 the district of Willemstad was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Curacao offers marvelous sites (and sights!) and this unique port town—once a trading settlement established by the people of the Netherlands—is a superb example of a well-preserved community. This Dutch colonial trading settlement retains most of its original urban structure and 17th to 20th century architecture (1650-1900). Several monuments still stand throughout the vibrant, developed community.
Tours in Curacao abound but the historic Punda quarter is an ideal place to wander and bask in the essence of Curacao with its picture-perfect cobblestone streets and array of art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Jamaica | Blue Mountains
Of course, this beautiful land of “wood and water” would house a UNESCO World Heritage Site — the Blue and John Crow Mountains located in southeast Jamaica. Before the area became the coffee center it is today, the mountainous locale served as refuge for formerly enslaved peoples who resisted the European colonial system.
This area of Jamaica boasts some of the best natural attractions in Jamaica, providing a most tranquil and breathtaking sanctuary, with waterfalls, hidden swimming spots, peaceful trails, and endemic plant species, some not found anywhere else in the world.
Mexico | Calakmul
Too few places allow you to envision days of old so easily. Mexico’s ancient Maya City and the protected tropical forests of Calakmul is one such place where remnants of a bygone era remain amid a rich and exceptionally unspoiled ancient cultural landscape. Hidden deep in the heart of the jungle in southern Mexico, Calakmul is nearly 40 miles (60 km) from the nearest highway.
Well-preserved structures provide a vivid picture of life in an ancient Maya capital. The site is the third largest Mesoamerica biodiversity hotspot in the world, encompassing all subtropical and tropical ecosystems from central Mexico to the Panama Canal. It is also located at the core of the second largest expanse of tropical forests in America—only bested by the Amazon. Excavations at Calakmul and nearby areas have been just a rich as the sundry jungle with findings including elaborate jade masks, ear spools, and polychrome pottery vessels. Some epigraphic records reveal information that has not been found anywhere else in the Maya region.
St. Lucia | The Pitons of Soufriere
Photographs of this area do it little justice. You must witness this place in person! The St. Lucia Pitons are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known all over the world as one of the most dramatic coastal landscapes. They occupy an area of about 7,000 acres near the town of Soufriere, a quaint coastal city situated on the west side of the island.
The renowned Piton landmarks offer great hiking and climbing opportunities with stunning views from the summits. Marvel at vistas of Dominica, Martinique, Barbados, and Saint Vincent. Around the peaks, the area is teeming with vibrant marine life, perfect for diving and snorkeling. For the ultimate St. Lucia Piton experience, you can snorkel in between these twin peaks that rise majestically out of the sea.
Dominican Republic | Colonial City of Santo Domingo
This ancient city made the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990. Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic and one of the Caribbean's oldest cities. With a walled, cobblestoned foundation, the buildings here date way back to the early 16th century, including the cathedral, which was first built in the New World.
A mix of historic and modern buildings in a lively city make this remarkable site a sought-after bucket list destination. A great option for those who are looking for cultural Dominican Republic excursions and experiences, Santo Domingo is a magical place that features a cafe-lined plaza and museums with notable medieval and Renaissance art alongside 16th century architecture and age-old paths trekked by famous explorers. This seaside capital is among the best (and oldest) historic sites of the Caribbean.
Barbados | Bridgetown and its Garrison
More recently inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bridgetown is as legendary as it is beautiful. British colonial history permeates Bridgetown, and the Barbados capital exudes a distinctly English character and laid-back West Indian vibe.
History buffs will admire the splendid colonial buildings. And out of the many wondrous attractions in Barbados, few compare to the ones set just above downtown Bridgetown in the Barbados Garrison.
Home to the Barbados Defence Force, the Barbados Garrison offers up several historic attractions with outstanding universal value including an early 18th century fort; a Georgian-style mansion where American President George Washington stayed in 1751; the Barbados Museum; and the Barbados National Armoury which features a large collection of 17th century iron cannons.
For those who want to explore even more when visiting Barbados, 10 miles of tunnels run under the garrison, and tours can be booked for this unique experience.
Belize | Barrier Reef Reserve System
More than 500 species of fish live in the waters of Belize’s 185-mile-long Barrier Reef, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. The coastal area of Belize consists of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, hundreds of sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries.
Considered one of the world’s best snorkeling and diving destinations, the Belize Barrier Reef should make your 2022 travel bucket list if you love watersports. Snorkeling and diving are optimal here with several popular (and secret) spots to explore. Get your feet wet by snorkeling near the mangroves or hover over the coral heads to witness them bursting with colorful marine life. For experienced divers, the Blue Hole is the ultimate challenge. Nearly 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep, this naturally formed undersea sinkhole is known for excellent visibility to spot ethereal cave formations and reef sharks.
Learn more about the caribbean on islandroutes.com.
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