UNESCO World Heritage Sites in North America
English Harbour is located at the bottom of a protected bay. It has always been a natural hurricane haven for ships, so it was an obvious choice for the British to built a naval dockyard in the 18th and 19th century. Many of the old buildings in Nelson's Dockyard were carefully restored and are still in use today as the marina is fully functional, though today it's just yachts that fill up the harbour. We guess, it must be one of the most historical marinas in the world. UNESCO finally enlisted it in 2016 as Antigua and Barbuda's only World Heritage Site.
© Sarah Hishan
The old part of Québec City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the only remaining walled city in North America other than in Mexico. Walk through any of the four gates that surround the original town and feel transported into another time and place. Located high on a bluff overlooking the Saint Lawrence river, Vieux Québec is best enjoyed by foot. Alive with history, Basse-ville contains the 17th century Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church and at its heart, Place Royale. The historical market square is surrounded by restored 17th and 18th century buildings, housing chic boutiques and quaint restaurants for you to explore. After taking in the many museums and getting lost in the narrow lanes of the Old Town, enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride to rest your tired feet while continuing your Belle Province tour. Don't forget to visit the impressive parliament building located just outside the city's walls and the 22 bronze statues of men and women who played an important role in the province's history.
Cienfuegos is a cool harbour town. Though it is semi famous for its French architecture, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it doesn't have the cuteness of Trinidad or the grandeur of Havana. Luckily this means the tourist hordes skip this easy going town, letting those who are interested in the "real Cuba" explore the place in peace. The back streets behind the historical centre of Parque José Martí have real character and charm. Here people hang out and gather on their front steps and porches and there are small shops selling, well, not much. The beautiful waterside setting can be enjoyed along the Malecón, which leads on to the spacious neighbourhood of Punta Gorda. Come here to savor Cuba and Cubans.
You probably have some cliche idea of how Havana should be: Decayed colonial buildings, grand old American cars cruising down tree lined broad boulevards, old fat cigar smoking men resting in the shade, young beautiful Latinos chilling on balconies with salsa music pumping in the background. And yes, it is just like that - and more. The old historical centre, La Habana Vieja, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been done up finely to the delight of the many tour groups. Away from the tourist pleasing historical centre, every street looks - and feels - like a movie set. Dilapidated houses with old American car (wrecks) parked out front, kids playing baseball outside empty-shelved government shops, a complete lack of billboard adverts but, in their place, worn walls painted with colourful revolutionary slogans (Socialismo o muerte = Socialism or die) and images of national heroes like Che Guevara and José Martí. Funnily enough, you hardly ever see a picture of the Castro brothers.
Tiny Trinidad defines charm. Cobblestoned streets, pretty pastel-coloured colonial houses, and a cute palm fringed town square; it is no wonder Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and every traveller's darling. Some past sugar baron villas have been restored and turned into museums, while the streets leading up to Plaza Mayor are filled with small restaurants, art galleries and casa particulares. At the outskirts of town, green hills arise and the warm Caribbean ocean is only a bicycle ride away. Despite the bus loads of tourists visiting every day being dragged around the few central squares with the accompanying town touts in tow, the atmosphere remains relaxed and slow. The further you venture from the historical centre, the more potholed the cobblestoned streets become and the more lively the street scene gets. Here the houses remain prettily pastel coloured but they are more derelict and with plenty of old folks hanging out simply watching the world go by.
The green lush valley at Viñales, Valle de Viñales, is truly unique and a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the remarkable landscape. Tobacco, coffee, sugarcane, banana and pineapple are grown on flat red soil farmland at the foot of big limestone knolls, so called mogotes, which rise dramatically into the air. Palm thatched barns dot the otherwise green carpet of fields and plantations, which are connected by a network of trails only passable on horseback or foot. There several caves in the area that can be visited, both tourist caves (Cuevas de San Miguel and Cuevas del Indio) and on your own (Cueva de la Vaca, Cueva de Palmerito). To reach some of the more far fetch sights in the valley, a local guide will be useful. Otherwise, local farmers are friendly and happy to point you in the right direction.
The capital of Curaçao is the biggest (if only) city in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Its four historical neighbourhoods are rather unusual in the Caribbean: their typical Dutch architecture has earned them a UNESCO World Heritage status. Yet the city hasn't fully tapped into this renowned status. In any of these neighbourhoods, perfectly well restored houses sit next to crumbling buildings. But this is far from being disappointing, it just illustrates Curaçao's economical situation and prevents the feeling of being in an artificial, tourist-perfect world. Each neighbourhood has its on personality: the hyper touristic Punda, the quickly gentrifying Dutch hipster ghetto of Pietermaai, the lively Otrobanda and historic Scharloo. Outside these neighbourhoods, Willemstad is more a mix of suburbs, oil plant and unremarkable beaches. The overall vibe, however, is one of cool attitude and fun.
This is Dominica's most famous oddity – a boiling lake. The murky lake sits in a cauldron and when active is bubbling due to emitting gases from the molten lava deep underground. The lake can only be reached by a trek that takes about 6 hours return. It's not an easy trek, but very rewarding with lush rainforest, amazing views over the natonal park, steamy mini geysors, and, of course, the second largest boiling lake in the world (the largest is in New Zealand). The trek goes through a lot of elevation and though there are steps of wooden beams, it can get very muddy and slippery. Some parts need to be scrambled (with hands and feet), creeks need to be crossed several times, and the last section up to the crater rim can be hard to find unless you have a guide or have downloaded a gpx file to your gps device. The trek should not be started after 11 am and begins at Titou Gorge.
Dominica is blessed with several amazing waterfalls. The waterfall at Emerald Pool is among the most beautiful ones. The water cascade gentle over the top of a grotto into a cool crisp natural pool, which is perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. To get to it, you need to follow a trail for about 10 minutes through the lush rainforest in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage site itself. If you're unlucky with the timing, you might have to share the pool with a busload of cruise tourists.
Probably the most stunning waterfalls on Dominica. Trafalgar Falls consist of two separate waterfalls cascading down a 60 m high sheer rock face covered in jungle. There is a viewing platform, which is easy accessible, from where both waterfalls can be seen. If you want to get up close, you need to climb the big slippery boulders at the bottom. The lower and more gentle waterfall of the two, the one to the right, has a deep pool at the base which is nice for a chilled dip. As a bonus, there is a creek and several natural jungle pools of hot spring water below the platform, which are perfect for a soak.