These 8 incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Latin America are rich in culture, history and intrigue–the most magical spots that America’s lower hemisphere offers…
1. Southern Patagonian Ice Field
While increasing interest has seen a wealth of hotels and facilities spring up throughout the area, its location, on the edge the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the second-largest body of ice on the planet, is what makes Los Glaciares National Park the region’s biggest draw.
Declared a Natural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1981, the park protects an area of some 47 plus glaciers traveling from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and flowing into the Argentino and Viedma lakes, creating a magnificent backdrop of ice tongues and turquoise lakes crowned by snow-capped mountains.
2. Iguazu National Park
Vastly larger than Niagara with its 275 different cataracts and three-mile spread, the mighty 266-foot Iguazú crashes thunderously into the Iguazú River, which runs between Brazil and Argentina. Sun and water vapor often create rainbows over the falls, which crown this beautiful landscape.
3. Easter Island
Lying 2,300 miles off the Chilean coast is Easter Island—the most isolated inhabited island on Earth, a historical and archaeological gem.
The longstanding mystery of its discovery and occupation is told by the thousands of ever-silent Moai, colossal figures carved from volcanic rock that decorate the landscape. Some of them stand in imposing rows while others have met a more unfortunate fate, knocked over and destroyed.
It appears the original settlers of this island were Polynesian, as is its native name, Rapa Nui. Although Dutch made landfall on Easter Day of 1722 (how the island gained its modern name), most of the population claims the ancestry of the original inhabitants, whose distinctive culture—the result of living in isolation from the outside world for centuries—is still reflected in the lifestyle today.
In the Bolivar District, on the country’s Caribbean coast, awaits one of Colombia’s most popular destinations, Cartagena.
The biggest draw is its Old City, a place that is at once both romantic and full of exhilarating legend, nestled within the confines of the largest fortress in the Americas.
Generously funded by the Spanish, the walls (Las Murallas) were erected for protection from the foreign buccaneers and pirates who perpetually pillaged the city and targeted the Spaniards’ treasure.
A fascinating maze of colonial, Republican, and Italian architectural treasures, where colossal churches overshadow plazas, monasteries, and palaces, and mansions flaunt their trademark overhanging balconies draped in bougainvillea, a stroll along the Old City’s cobbled streets reveals why it received its World Heritage Site title.
8 incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Latin America
5. Galápagos Islands
Ten million years ago, the volcanic peaks that make up the islands formed. Today, the islands host a range of prehistoric rarities that have changed the course of scientific history. Off Ecuador’s Pacific Coast, the 13 main islands, six minor islands, and scores of rocks and islets that comprise the archipelago boast the highest rate of endemic species in the world. In many cases–found only in one place. The archipelago is inhabited by a mind-blowing multitude of flora and wildlife that–untouched by the continental world–possess a unique lack of fear for human audiences and are known to welcome visitors into their natural paradise.
Flightless cormorants—the only of their kind that have lost the ability to fly, the world’s northernmost penguin, playful sea lions, the last existing marine lizards on Earth, and multitudes of giant tortoises responsible for the naming of the islands all abound. Many of these animals having evolved into different species from their continental relatives. And the topography is just as strikingly diverse: from marble, white sands and tunnels of lava; to peaks of rugged terrain and vibrant marine habitats. In fact, it was this very “living laboratory” that inspired the ground-breaking conclusions of English naturalist Charles Darwin who, after a 5-week visit in 1835, would share his theory of evolution as detailed in The Origin of Species.
The first in the world to be declared a World Heritage Site in 1978, this city—with its mountains, wonderful springlike climate, and several snowcapped volcanoes standing majestically in the distance—is undoubtedly one of South America’s most beautiful capitals.
Quito once served as the northern half of the Inca empire before it was deliberately destroyed by Inca General Rumiñahui, its rubble built up not soon after the Spanish successfully conquered the country in 1543. It is generally considered to be divided into three parts or districts.
7. Machu Picchu
Inarguably the holy grail of all Inca monuments, Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, remains the ancient Peruvians’ most brilliant legacy as well as the continent’s most famous archaeological site.
This spectacularly enigmatic maze of temples, terraced hills, and plazas was the mountain-top citadel of the Inca until the coming of the Europeans.
As one of Brazil’s great historical destinations, Salvador is filled with stunning displays of Portuguese architecture in the Baroque style: churches, homes, and forts. Its historical area, Pelourinho, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts the largest collection of Baroque colonial architecture in Latin America.
Staying true to its cultural roots 500-years-strong, Salvador remains a city of culture and tradition.