10 Must-Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean

PHOTO: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (photo via Flickr/Dmitry K)
Lacey Pfalz
by Lacey Pfalz
Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Tue April 18, 2023

La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico

A popular Caribbean cruise port, Old San Juan is a beautiful and colorful city offering much to enjoy for cruisers. Yet its UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site, harkens all the way back to the beginnings of Europeans in the region, with the earliest constructions dating back to the 1500s. Puerto Rico was one of the first and one of the last seats of Spanish power in the Americas, and the military forts and sites that comprise this world heritage site demonstrates part of that power. It's also one of the most scenic forts in the Caribbean. 

Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the up-and-coming island of Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic. This lush, mountainous island is home to some of the last living Indigenous Caribbean peoples and this national park, which offers intagible scientific value. It's home to five different forest types, including a cloud forest, rugged mountains, volcanic hot springs, five volcanoes and the Boiling Lake, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Nature lovers will especially be excited about visiting such an interesting landscape. 

Historic Bridgetown, Barbados and its Garrison

While San Juan, Puerto Rico demonstrates Spanish colonialism in the Americas, Bridgetown, Barbados is perhaps one of the best examples of British colonialism. Its historic part of the city and its garrison date back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and offer a different glimpse into Caribbean history and historical city-planning (the Spanish, for example, built cities on grid systems, whereas the British did not, creating a very different layout for Bridgetown). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also easily accessible for cruisers, located right along the port area, making it one of the easiest to visit while on a cruise. 

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

A truly massive natural wonder that doesn't get as much recognition as its sister, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is the second-largest reef system in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises seven protected marine areas, making it a necessary must-visit for any serious scuba diver or aquatic animal lover. The reef system protects vulnerable species like the West Indian manatee, green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles as well as many migratory birds.  It also plays an integral role in the health of our planet's oceans. 

Historic Cartagena and its Port, Colombia

Historic Cartagena is becoming a more popular cruise port of late, and this city located upon the southern edge of the Caribbean offers a very interesting piece of world heritage. The city is the most fortified in South America and offers three distinct neighborhoods with different styles: San Pedro, modeled after Andalusian architecture from Spain; San Diego, where the merchant-class once lived; and Gethsemani, where the rest of the people lived, including artisans and slaves. This city, along with Havana and San Juan, was once an important part of Spanish trade and colonialism. The earliest buildings date to 1586, with expansions of the city's fortifications spanning centuries.

St. Mary's Biosphere Reserve and Brimstone Hill Fortress, St. Kitts

Brimstone Hill Fortress is located within the St. Mary's Biosphere Reserve on St. Kitts, another up-and-coming cruise port in the Caribbean boasting centuries of British colonial history. Its smaller sister island is famous as the birthplace of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, but St. Kitts offers just as much history. St. Mary's is home to cloud forests, mangrove forests and coral reefs, as well as endangered species such as the loggerhead turtle. It was also one of the first Caribbean biosphere reserves to encourage local participation in conservation efforts. Brimstone Hill Fortress, on the other hand, is a 17th and 18th-century military fort that serves as an example of British colonialism and African slavery, as it was built primarily by slaves. St. Kitts was the first island in the West Indies to be colonized by European powers, so the fortress was crucial for British power. 

Antigua Naval Dockyard and Related Archaeological Sites, Antigua

Those interested in naval history will most enjoy Antigua's naval dockyard and its other archaeological sites, which were built in the 1700s in the Georgian style. As a British colony, the dockyard was built to protect the empire's sugar industry and was built by enslaved peoples whose contribution is recognized at the site. It's a great site to visit for travelers heading to Antigua, either on a cruise ship or on a traditional vacation. 

Blue and John Crow Mountains, Jamaica

The Blue and John Crow Mountains of Jamaica hold both natural and historical importance, making this UNESCO World Heritage Site a great one for everyone to enjoy. The forested mountains are home to many plant and bird species found only in this area, while the region was also a refuge for indigenous Taino people fleeing slavery and for Maroons, former enslaved peoples, many of whom were from Africa. They established networks of trails and settlements, now called the Nanny Town Heritage Route. The Maroons continued their cultural practices of where they came from while also creating a strong bond with their natural world, especially with the mountains. 

Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour, Curaçao

The historic area of Willemstad in Curaçao is a great example of Dutch colonial architecture. The city began being constructed in 1634 and shows subsequent styles and influences from Spanish and British colonial styles. Fort Amsterdam was the first structure to be built, followed by Punda, the oldest historic district of the city and the only one to have been fortified. Later districts built in the 1700s include Pietermaai, Otrobanda and Scharloo. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers charmingly colored historic buildings, several forts and a different perspective on European colonialism in the Caribbean. 

Pitons Management Area, Saint Lucia

Located on scenic Saint Lucia, the only country in the world to be named after a woman, is the natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pitons Management Area. This large area protects two volcanoes, a geothermal field with hot springs, as well as a coral reef system. The forests are also home to eight rare tree species, as well as five species of endemic birds. The scenic volcanoes, named Gros Piton and Petit Piton, are the most photographed parts of Saint Lucia. The site also protects petroglyphs and artifacts created by the Carib people.

These attractions should be high on your Caribbean travel bucket list.

From historic forts to scenic Colonial-period cities and gorgeous natural wonders, the Caribbean is home to some amazing UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites that demonstrate the region's natural beauty and importance within the world's ecosystem and also teach travelers about Caribbean history, which is often typified by European colonialism and all that it brought with it, including piracy, African slavery and a distinct sense of multiculturalism that pervades many of the islands on this list.

Each of these sites offers something special for travelers to explore, whether they're visiting the destination on a cruise or a weeks-long excursion through the region. 

Topics From This Media to Explore

Get To Know Us Better

Agent At Home

Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

Subscribe For Free

Agent Specialization: Group Travel

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me
Agent At Home

Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

Subscribe For Free

Agent Specialization: Group Travel

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me