UNESCO treasures of the Caribbean

By: Sarah Woods

April 15, 2015

With its jaw-dropping natural wonders, fascinating cultural heritage, and stunning archaeological and architectural sites, the treasures of the Caribbean are many and varied. Take a look at our guide to UNESCO in the Caribbean for the must-see locations.

UNESCO Treasures of the Caribbean | Nelson's Dockyard
Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua © Antigua Tourist Board

For almost six decades, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has promoted the recognition and preservation of some of the world’s most important places – a program that began during WWII when Europe looked ahead to the reconstruction work required once peace was attained. The cause gained momentum and expanded to offer universal scope.


Today, UNESCO is synonymous with unique world wonders and works out of fifty offices located across the globe. One of UNESCO’s most famous project areas is its World Heritage Sites: a mix of sites deemed significant for their cultural, historic and/or natural heritage. Worldwide, these include the Pyramids of Giza, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Peru’s Machu Picchu – and many, many more besides.

The Caribbean Region possesses a rich cultural and natural heritage with several sites of outstanding value, numerous examples of fine archaeological pre-Hispanic sites, many exceptionally well-preserved historical centres, and breathtaking natural sites with exquisite, bio-diverse landscapes. Working closely with neighbouring Latin America, the Caribbean region has 33 participating countries, in which a total of 131 properties are inscribed on the World Heritage List. Of these, 91 are properties of considerable cultural value and 36 are natural sites. Four are mixed properties recognized for their Outstanding Universal Value. A further 40 sites from 12 Caribbean destinations are under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Site status – a tentative list that includes the history-rich site of Nelson’s Dockyard in the storied old quarter of Antigua’s English Harbour. Named after Admiral Horatio Nelson, this charming site is undoubtedly Antigua’s most prized historic possession – a monument to the legends of the past yet still a thriving part of the island’s present as a year-round home for visiting yachts.

UNESCO Treasures of the Caribbean | The PitonsThe Pitons in St Lucia © St Lucia Tourist Board

Assured of their UNESCO World Heritage Site status are St Lucia’s famous twin volcanic peaks, The Pitons – a dramatic feature of the island’s terrain that rises out of lush, green folds of foliage to hold court 700-metres above turquoise waters. Spanning over 2,900-hectares, the site near the town of Soufriere bubbles with hot geothermal springs and spouting fumaroles and is carpeted by a variety of plant life that sustains 27 bird species, five of which are endemic.

UNESCO Treasures of the Caribbean | Bridgetown
The Mutual Life Building in Bridgetown, Barbados © Barbados Tourism Authority

In Barbados, it’s the fine architecture of historic Bridgetown that earned the island its glittering UNESCO crown. Offering an elegant array of handsome British colonial buildings, Bridgetown and its Garrison consists of a particularly well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th & 19th centuries. The serpentine design of the military garrison reflects the confidence of the trade-based English expansion of this picturesque fortified port town.

UNESCO Treasures of the Caribbean | St-George's
St George’s in Grenada © Grenada Board of Tourism

The distinctive character of the historic district of St George’s is Grenada’s own UNESCO hopeful – one of the treasures of the Caribbean and a tentative list inclusion for its beautiful harbour that curls in a lazy arc to offer spellbinding sea views. Together with the town’s robust fortified system, the historic district has received UNESCO funding for recent conservation project works. Now the entire island has its fingers crossed that 2015/16 will see it awarded a World Heritage Site star, and the international acclaim it deserves.

UNESCO Treasures of the Caribbean | La Brea Pitch Lake
La Brea Pitch Lake,Trinidad and Tobago © Siempreverde22/Thinkstock/iStock

Trinidad and Tobago also have an eye on the UNESCO awards at the Banwari Trace Archaeological Site, La Brea Pitch Lake and the extraordinary Main Ridge Forest. As the backbone of the island, the spiny peaks of Main Ridge jut skywards in sharp peaks across two-thirds of the surface of Tobago, with forest cover that spans almost 4,000-hectares. Doused in heavy rainfall in a bleak, cold and windy spot, the Main Ridge Forest is comprised of prolific evergreens that are home to numerous species of mammals and reptiles together with 210 species of birds. As one of the world’s oldest protected forests, the Main Ridge is famous for a rare, endemic species of ocellated gecko not found anywhere else on earth.


Virgin Atlantic operates flights to the Caribbean from London Gatwick, making it easy to book your sunny cultural escape.


Have you discovered any of these outstanding treasures of the Caribbean? Which sites do you think should be granted UNESCO status? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.


Sarah Woods

Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.

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