35 Must-See UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico
Of the 139 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Latin America and the Caribbean, 35 are in Mexico!
A UNESCO World Heritage site is a landmark or area legally protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Their cultural, historical, or scientific significance are of outstanding value to humanity. World heritage sites are divided in three categories: cultural, natural, and mixed.As of July of 2021, there are 1,154 World Heritage Sites worldwide.
Keep reading to explore the wonders of Mexico’s 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
35 Incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Mexico
Let’s get started! I divided the list into the cultural, natural, and mixed sites in this beautiful country.
Mexico boasts a whopping 27 cultural UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are important thanks to the history they preserve.
1. Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila (Paisaje de agaves y antiguas instalaciones industriales de Tequila)
Located in Teuchtlán, between Tequila volcano and the deep valley of Rio Grande, this huge landscape full of blue agave, a native plant used to this day to make beverages and clothes.
This valley is mixes nature and industrialization, thanks to the urban settlements of Tequila, Arenal, and Amatitlan, as well as archeological vestiges of the people who lived in the area hundreds of years ago
2. Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System (Sistema hidráulico del acueducto del Padre Tembleque)
Located between the states of Mexico and Hidalgo, this aqueduct is a network of waterways, deposits, and aqueduct-bridges built to get as much water as possible for the settlements and towns of that time.
The name Padre Tembleque (Father Tembleque) comes from a Franciscan friar named Tembleque, who started with the initiative to build the structure.
The aqueduct was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2015. This hydraulic system built by local communities in the 16th century is a vestige of the engineering and architecture in Mexico during those times, which was a mixture of traditional Mesoamerican and European techniques.
Located in the state of Morelos, the archeological monuments of Xochicalco are one of the most important places to visit in the region.
Xochicalco was a fortified political, religious, and commercial center established between 650 AD and 900 AD. The conservation of the monuments in this city is of vital importance for a better understanding of the Mayan civilization.
Located in the city of Casas Grandes in the state of Chihuahua, Paquimé was an important commercial and cultural center of the Pueblo culture.
The amazing rock structures of Paquimé are one of several attractions in this archeological zone. The peak of the Pueblo civilization was between the 9th and 10th centuries. It’s incredible that to this day the architectural designs are in such great form. They give us an idea of how this civilization lived until its sudden disappearance during the Conquest times.
5. Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
Known in English as the Royal Inland Road of Mexico, this trail extends from Mexico City all the way to Texas and New Mexico.
The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro consists of 1,616 miles (2,600 km). 870 miles (1,400 km) of the road are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Those 870 miles contain 55 historical and cultural interesting places and another five Mexican World Heritage sites. The road helped with the creation of social, cultural, political, and religious connections between the Spanish and native cultures.
6. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Known as the UNAM, the central university campus of the Mexican National Autonomous University became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 because of its buildings, sport facilities, and open spaces.
The UNAM is an architectural masterpiece, built and designed by more than 60 architects, engineers, and artists. The campus is a unique example of 20th century modernist architecture. At the same time, it embodies local traditions and pre-Hispanic inheritance.
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7. Monasteries on Popocatepetl (Monasterios del Popocatépetl)
The monasteries and the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Our Lady of the Assumption) cathedral were part of the first phase of constructions built in Popocatepetl, Tlaxcala in 1524.
They served for the evangelization and colonization of the northern Mexican territories during times of the conquest. These buildings are an interesting mix of Spanish architecture with native elements integrated into them.
8. El Tajin
The pre-hispanic city of El Tajin is located in Veracruz, and was the most important political, cultural, and economic centre in north-east Mesoamerica from the 9th to the 13th century.
El Tajín became an influential city after the fall of the Teotihuacan empire. Iits cultural influences reached the Maya region and the high plateaus of central Mexico.
One of the most interesting aspects of this ancient city is its unique architecture, characterized by the elaborate carved reliefs on the columns and frieze. Its most important masterpiece is la Piramide de los Nichos (Pyramid of the Niches).
9. Franciscan Missions in the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro (Misiones franciscanas de Sierra Gorda de Querétaro)
Built during the 18th century, the Franciscan churches in Sierra Gorda, Querétaro were built during the last phase of Mexican evangelization by the Spanish.
One of the most outstanding characteristics of this place is how the rural towns around the churches have conserved their culture.
10. Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco (Centro histórico de México y Xochimilco)
Located over the ruins of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire, Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world.
Mexico City is a cultural, political, and economic center. It is home to multiple Aztec temples, the largest Cathedral in the Americas, and el Palacio de Bellas Artes (the beautiful arts palace).
Just 17 miles (28 km) to the south of the capital is Xochimilco, a series of waterways and artificial islands built by the Aztecs. Travel the channel by trajinera, a small boat that is used as a transport media in the channel.
11. Historic Center of Morelia (Centro historico de Morelia)
Morelia was built in the 16th century on a hill in Michoacan. The city mixes Spanish concepts with Mesoamerican architecture.
With more than 200 buildings, you’ll find history in every corner of this picturesque town. It’s built with pink stone native to the region and the birthplace of many important characters of the Mexican independence movement.
12. Historic Center of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Alban (Centro histórico de Oaxaca y sitio arqueológico de Monte Albán)
Monte Alban is an ancient place that was inhabited by Olmecs, Zapotecs, and Mixtecs over the span of fifteen centuries. It’s a masterpiece of architecture with embankments, dams, canals, pyramids, and artificial mounds carved out directly from the mountain.
On the other hand, a few miles from Monte Alban, the city of Oaxaca is the perfect example of colonial town planning and the Spanish influence at the time.
Both places are full of history and culture, so they are worthy of being labeled UN World Heritage sites in Mexico.
13. Historic Center of Puebla (Centro histórico de Puebla)
Located 62 miles to the east of Mexico City, near the Popocatepetl volcano is the beautiful city of Puebla, established in 1531.
This charming colonial city is home to buildings rich in history and culture, like the cathedral built between the 16th and 17th centuries, magnificent palaces, and houses covered in azulejos (tiles).
Visit the barrio barroco (baroque district) where you will find an amalgam of the new and the old, and the many architectural styles that have influenced the city.
14. Historic Centre of Zacatecas (Centro histórico de Zacatecas)
This fascinating colonial city was founded in 1546 by Spanish people who discovered a rich silver lode in the area. Zacatecas’ most important era was between the 16th and 17th century, where the city reached its height of prosperity.
Zacatecas is built on a steep hillside. Its stunning cathedral, built between 1730 and 1760, mixes European and native elements beautifully.
15. Historic Fortified Town of Campeche (La histórica ciudad fortificada de Campeche)
Located 705 miles (1,134 km) from Mexico City, the port city of Campeche is full of history and culture. This charming port city mixes the best of Mexico and the Caribbean. The city conserves its colonial fortification system of rampants and walls that were built to protect it from naval attacks.
16. Historic Monument Zone of Queretaro (La zona de monumentos históricos de Querétaro)
The old colonial city of Queretaro is 135 miles (218 km) from Mexico City. Queretaro was pacifically inhibited by Spanish, Otomis, Tarascos, and Chichimecas. The reflection of this coexistence shows in the buildings and spaces in this town.
17. Historic Monument Zone of Tlacotalpan (La zona de monumentos históricos de Tlacotalpán)
The port city of Tlacotalpan is in Veracruz, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Founded in the 16th century, this city conserves its original urban fabric, with wide streets, colonnaded houses, and antique trees that serve as ornaments in public spaces.
18. Historic Town of Guanajuato and Adjacent Mines (La ciudad histórica de Guanajuato y minas adyacentes)
Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, Guanajuato became one of the most important spots for silver extraction in Latin America in the 18th century.
Its subterranean streets and La boca del infierno (Inferno’s mouth), an impressive mining pit with a depth of 0.37 miles (600 mts) are still intact.
The town has beautiful baroque and neoclassical architectural elements that influenced other towns in the center of Mexico.
19. Cabañas Hospice (Hospicio Cabañas)
Located in Jalisco, Guadalajara, el hospicio Cabañas (Cabañas Hospice) was built in the early 19th century to provide care and shelter for orphans, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
The building is remarkably complex, with several unusual features. It’s known for its harmonious use of open and closed spaces, simple design, and large size.
20. Luis Barragán House and Studio (Casa- taller de Luis Barragán)
Located in Mexico City and built in 1948, this unique house and studio is a masterpiece by architect Luis Barragán.
The concrete building has three floors and a small garden. The most impressive characteristic of this site is how aesthetic currents and artistic elements converge naturally.
The ancient city of Palenque is a prime example of what was a Mayan sanctuary during the Maya golden age known as the “classic period”. Palenque reached its highest point between the 6th and 8th century and was influential in the communities around the Usumacinta river. Mayan cosmovision guided the way they decorated their magnificent and elegant buildings.
22. Chichen Itzá
Chichen Itzá is a sacred ancient Mayan city that was one of the most important economic, political, and cultural centers centuries ago in the Yucatán peninsula.
Chichen Itzá has a clear Mayan and Toltec influence in its buildings and monuments. This fusion of both civilizations makes this place one of the best examples on how the architectural and cultural elements changed with time and how it influenced one another.
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Teotihuacan translates to lugar donde fueron creados los dioses in Spanish, which means “place where the gods were created” and was built between the 1st and 7th centuries.
The place is known for its massive buildings—especially the Sun and Moon Pyramids and the temple of Quetzalcoatl—which were built in a geometrical and symbolic arrangement. Teotihuacan was a cultural and artistic center that influenced a great part of Mesoamerica in its height.
24. Pre-hispanic City of Uxmal (Ciudad prehispánica Uxmal)
Located in the Yucatan peninsula, Uxmal is a pre-Hispanic city founded circa 700 AD that was home to nearly 25,000 people.
All the buildings are a testament to the Maya knowledge of astronomy and architecture. This city is full of magnificent buildings and monuments like the Pirámide del Adivino (Pyramid of the Soothsayer). Its ceremonial sites, including Kahba, Labna, and Sayil are high points of Mayan arts and architecture.
25. Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla (Cuevas prehistóricas de Yagul y Mitla)
Located in the Tlacolula valley in Oaxaca, this archeological site is made up of Yagul and Mitla, as well as a series of prehistoric caves and rock shelters where human and architectural remains have been found alongside remains of rock art. Two of the most impressive discoveries in this area were 10,000-year-old seeds and fragments of wheat spikes.
26. Protective town of San Miguel and the Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco (Villa Protectora de San Miguel el Grande y Santuario de Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco)
Located in Guanajuato and founded by Spain in the 16th century, the city of San Miguel Allende illustrates the transition from Baroque to neoclassical architecture.
You can’t talk about San Miguel and not mention El Santuario de Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco. It’s one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the region, with a rich baroque art style and architectural style.
27. Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco (Pinturas Rupestres de la Sierra de San Francisco)
The reserve known as El Vizcaíno is in Baja California in the mountainous region known as la sierra de San Francisco. It was home to an ancient civilization, and the only proof of their existence are the rock paintings they left behind.
The rock paintings are well-conserved thanks to the dry weather and remote location. The paintings display humans and animals and show how humans related to their surroundings in those times.
There are 6 natural UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mexico. Each plays an important role in educating locals and tourists on native animals and plants in the region. They’re also places to preserve wildlife and plants.
28. Revillagigedo Archipelago (Archipiélago de Revillagigedo)
Formed by San Benedicto, Socorro and Clarion islands, and Roca Partida islet, the Archipielago de Revillagigedo (Revillagigedo archipelago) is in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a key habitat for several submarine plants and animals like giant stingrays, dolphins, sharks, and turtles. The four islands are actually the summit of a submerged mountain chain, and they’re perfect for diving and exploring.
29. El Pinacate and Gran Altar Desert Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de biosfera El Pinacate y el Gran Desierto de Altar)
Located in the Sonoran desert, this biosphere reserve contains the impressive Pinacate Shield volcano and el Desierto Gran Altar, with towering sand dunes. This reserve is home to a variety of plants and wildlife with interesting adaptations.
The wildlife in this area consists of 540 plant species, at least 44 kinds of mammals, over 200 types of birds, and 40+ kinds of reptiles and amphibians.
30. Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Islas y áreas protegidas del golfo de California)
This protected area in northeast Mexico contains 244 islands, islets, and coastal zones in the California gulf, collectively known as el mar de Cortés (Cortes sea).
These islands and territories are perfect for the study of the species and evolution of the oceans and coasts, with exceptional beauty and spectacular landscapes. These islands and protected areas are home to more than 695 plant species, 39% of the sea mammals, and 33% of the cetaceans of the world.
31. Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de biosfera de la mariposa monarca)
Located in the mountainous region northeast of Mexico City, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is home to a variety of native species of plants and wildlife. Every autumn, millions of monarch butterflies that migrate from North America nest in the reserve.
32. Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an is a Mexican biosphere reserve that UNESCO made a World Heritage site in 1987 because of its tropical forests, manglars, marshes, and marine zone.
Sian Ka’an is a word of Mayan origin that means origen del cielo in Spanish, and translates to “origin of the sky” in English. This biodiverse reserve is home to a rich selection of plants, at least 300 species of birds, and a great number of wildlife native to the region.
33. Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino (Santuario de ballenas El Vizcaíno)
Located in Baja California, this whale sanctuary comprises several ecosystems of exceptional value. They help the reproduction and protection of submarine animals like the grey and blue whales, the harbor and northern elephant seals, and the California sea lion. The most important places in this sanctuary are la laguna Ojo de Liebre (Hare’s eye lagoon) and la laguna San Ignacio (San Ignacio lagoon).
There are two “mixed” UNESCO Mexico sites. This means that both natural and cultural elements are present in these places.
In Campeche, the central-southern area of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, is the ancient Maya city of Calakmul, located deep in the tropical forest of the tierras bajas (lowlands).
The history of this place spans more than 12 centuries. But what amazes visitors and locals the most is how well it has been conserved, which offers a vision of how the Mayans lived there hundreds of years ago.
Calakmul is also home of an important biodiversity sanctuary, which is the third largest in Mesoamerica.
35. Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Valley (Valle de Tehuacán-Cuicatlán)
El Valle de Tehuacán-Cuicatlán (Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Valley) is the arid and semiarid zone with greatest biological diversity in North America. The valley is composed of three important places: Zapotitlan-Cuicatlan, San Juan Raya, and Purrón.
It’s also one of the principal centers of cactus diversification in the world. The columnar cactus forest is one of its highlights because it is one of the densest on the planet.
Learn Spanish to Enjoy World Heritage Sites like a Local
According to a study conducted by The Economist, a person can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000 extra just by knowing a foreign language. This means that if you are searching for vacantes (vacancies) in education or jobs in Latin America or the United States, you can use your Spanish knowledge to your advantage!
What’s more, learning Spanish will make your travel around all these 24 World Heritage Sites both easier and more meaningful. It is incredible how when you speak Spanish locals treat you with more confidence and familiarity thanks to the language barrier being broken.
What are you waiting for? Sign up for a free trial class today at Homeschool Spanish Academy to begin or restart your Spanish learning adventure.
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