Let’s Explore the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba
There are many Cuban historical and world heritage sites throughout this island on the Caribbean Sea.
Not only its culture and history make it a unique travel destination but also the incomparable richness of its UNESCO world heritage sites. Join me as I explore 9 of them!
What Is a Unesco World Heritage Site?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved the convention to protect the world heritage in 1972. Since then 193 countries have ratified the convention and the World Heritage List has around 1007 sites (and counting) on its records.
Having this label means that the site in this country is of extreme importance for the whole of mankind. UNESCO defines a world heritage site as a place of: “outstanding universal value to humanity.”
This is the list of world heritage sites in Cuba.
1. Old Havana and Its Fortification System
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 12 mi (20 km)
Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) entered UNESCO’s world heritage site list in 1982 because of its unique architecture. It tops our list of Cuban historical sites because it holds 13 sights to contemplate.
|Arms square||La plaza de armas|
|Galician center||El centro gallego|
|La cabaña fortress||La fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña|
|Morro castle||El castillo del morro|
|National capitol||El capitolio nacional|
|Paseo del prado||Paseo del prado|
|Saint Christopher’s Cathedral||La catedral de San Cristóbal|
|Saint Francis of Assisi Square||La plaza de San Francisco de Asís|
|San Salvador de la Punta fortress||El castillo de San Salvador de la Punta|
|The Castle of the Royal Army||El castillo de la Real Fuerza|
|The Great Theater of Havana||El gran teatro de La Habana|
|The Museum of the Revolution||El museo de la revolución|
When strolling through La Habana Vieja you might feel like you traveled 5 centuries into the past because the Spanish founded this city in 1519, making it one of the oldest Cuban historical sites.
PRO TIP: If you feel like exploring outside the 2 sq mi that Old Havana has to offer, you can find bold art in the streets of Havana.
2. Trinidad and the Valley of the Sugar Mills
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 212 mi (342 km)
Trinidad and the valley of the sugar mills (Trinidad y el valle de los ingenios) is our second UNESCO world heritage site in Cuba. UNESCO admitted it to the list in 1988.
Trinidad is a colonial city in central Cuba and the Spanish established this city in 1514. In 2019 UNESCO declared it as a UNESCO Creative City because of the handcrafts that it produces.
You can visit 10 sights if you go to Trinidad de Cuba:
|Ancón beach||Playa Ancón|
|Colonial Architecture Museum||El museo de arquitectura colonial|
|Guamuhaya Archeology Museum||El museo de arqueología Guamuhaya|
|History Museum||El museo de historia|
|La Boca beach||Playa La boca|
|Our Lady of Charity Church||Iglesia parroquial de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad|
|Romantic Museum||El museo romántico|
|Santa Ana Church||La iglesia de Santa Ana|
|Topes de Collantes Natural Park||Parque natural Topes de Collantes|
|Trinidad’s Trova House||La Casa de la Trova de Trinidad|
You can ride a 1919 steam machine from Trinidad (if you have two and a half hours) to check the sugar mills or take the regular train. This 97-square-mile (250-square-kilometer) valley also has a lot to offer.
Here you can visit:
|Buena Vista||Buena vista|
|Guanichango house||La casa Guanichango|
|Jabira waterfall||La cascada de Jabira|
|Manaca-Iznaga tower||La torre Manaca-Iznaga|
|Mirador del Valle||Mirador del Valle|
|The Sugar Museum||El museo del azúcar|
PRO TIP: Cubans also call this valley El valle de San Luis.
3. San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 552 mi (889 km)
The third UNESCO world heritage site in Cuba is the San Pedro de la Roca Castle, which entered the list in 1997. This castle is unique because the Italian engineer, Bautista Antonelli, designed it to repel a ship attack in Santiago de Cuba.
This castle has been standing since 1638 and while it almost crumbled down twice because of two earthquakes, Spanish engineer, Juan Martín Cermeño remodeled it in 1766.
Within the castle, you can find a museum, called Museo del Castillo del Morro San Pedro de la Roca in which you can find several melee weapons and firearms on display, as well as historical documents. Throughout five rooms you can find all the castle’s history. This museum opens every day from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and the entrance fee is 0.17 USD (4 Cuban pesos).
4. Desembarco Del Granma National Park
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 539 mi (868 km)
El parque nacional Desembarco del Granma entered the UNESCO world heritage site in Cuba on December 1st 1999. This is a park in the municipality of Niquero. What makes this park so special is its 512 different species of plants, from which twelve are only within the park.
You can find very unique animals such as, the Cuban night lizard (La lagartija nocturna cubana), the Cuban Amazon parrot (La amazona cubana), the Cuban flower bat (El murciélago de flores cubano), and the West Indian manatee (El manatí del caribe).
This park owes its name to Fidel and Raúl Castro’s yacht (El Guarma), which took them from Cuba to Mexico in 1956, alongside Ernesto “El Che” Guevara to incite the Cuban revolution, making it a Cuban historical site.
In this park, you can hike, ride horses, sail on boats, or even dive, besides looking for many different species of wildlife.
PRO TIP: Desembarco del Guarma literally means “Landing of the Guarma.”
5. Viñales Valley
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 113 mi (183 km)
El valle de Viñales (Viñales Valley) became the fifth UNESCO world heritage site in December 1999. Viñales Valley is an amazing place because it has mogotes—an isolated, highly steeped hill, palma corcho (literally cork palm)—which Cubans declared a national monument. This is a world heritage site in Cuba to visit, for sure.
If you explore deeper, you’ll find many caverns, such as:
- The Indian’s Cave (La cueva del indio).
- Saint Michael’s Cave (La cueva de San Miguel).
- Saint Thomas’ Great Cavern (La gran caverna de Santo Tomás).
One more amazing thing here is the prehistoric mural (El mural de la prehistoria), which isn’t prehistoric really but owes its name to the drawings it displays.
Leovigildo González Morillo, a muralist, started painting the 393-foot (120-meter) mural in 1961 and finished in 1965, he wanted to portray the process of evolution in Viñales Valley, so you’ll find dinosaurs, snails, reptiles, and human beings painted in the mural.
6. Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-east of Cuba
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 584 mi (941 km) to Guantanamo, but it varies for each coffee plantation.
The Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-east of Cuba (El paisaje arqueológico de los primeros cafetales en el sureste de Cuba) is a highly important Cuban historical site because it is managed to develop successful agriculture in difficult terrain. It became the sixth UNESCO world heritage site in the year 2000. This made the list.
There are 171 coffee plantations from the 19th and 20th centuries, which together add up 81,400 ha. divided into 7 different locations:
|El Cobre||1,300 ha|
|El Salvador||8,000 ha|
|Niceto Pérez||8,700 ha|
|Dos Palmas Contramaestre||19,500 ha|
|La Gran Piedra||25,200 ha|
7. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 576 mi (928 km)
El parque nacional Alejandro de Humboldt made the UNESCO world heritage site in Cuba list in 2001. The astonishing fact about this place is that 2% of the species of flora in the world is in this park, as well as unique fauna, some of which are endangered species. You can hike and camp in this park and you can visit the following places:
|Alto de Iberia||Alto de Iberia|
|El Toldo||El toldo|
|Farallones de Moa||Farallones de Moa|
|Fugaz waterfall||La cascada fugaz|
|Jaguaní head||La cabeza de Jaguaní|
|La Melba||La Melba|
|La Vela stone||Piedra La Vela|
|Loma del mulo||Loma del mulo|
8. Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 151 mi (244 km)
El centro histórico urbano de Cienfuegos is our penultimate UNESCO world heritage site in Cuba. This one made the list in 2005.
Cienfuegos is in southern Cuba, and French (not Spanish) colonists, coming from Bordeaux, Louisiana, Philadelphia, and Guarico, established the city in 1819. Around the city, you can find sugar cane, mango, and coffee plantations, but the urbanism and neoclassical architecture of the city is what calls the attention of its visitors. In its historical center you can find:
|Arch of Triumph||El arco de triunfo|
|Cienfuegos botanical garden||El jardín botánico de Cienfuegos|
|Cienfuegos Cathedral||La Catedral de Cienfuegos|
|Cienfuegos University||La Universidad de Cienfuegos|
|Reina Cemetery||El cementerio de Reina|
|The Fortress of Our Lady of the Angels of Jagua||La Fortaleza de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua|
|The park dedicated to José Martí||El Parque dedicado a José Martí|
|Tomás Acea cemetery||El Cementerio Tomás Acea|
|Tomás Terry theater||El Teatro Tomás Terry|
FUN FACT: Cienfuegos literally means “one hundred fires.”
9. Historic Center of Camagüey
- Distance from José Martí international airport: 340 mi (548 km)
Even if it’s the last on the list, El centro histórico de Camagüey, is one of the coolest Cuba’s world heritage sites. This UNESCO world heritage site in Cuba made the list in 2008.
This is one of the first seven cities that the Spanish established in Cuba, on February 2nd 1514. This city is not a regular one, alongside its 54 ha. you’ll be able to find different architectural styles: neoclassical, eclectic, neocolonial, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau as well.
Besides finding astonishing buildings and great universities in Camagüey, you’ll find big jars (tinajones), since droughts happen often in Camagüey, so locals have tons of jars to store the rain in them, and you can find them in streets and parks.
Legend says that if you drink from the tinajón you’ll stay to live in Camagüey, or at least be able to go back. 60 miles (100 km) to the north of Camagüey you can find Santa Lucía beach (La playa Santa Lucía) with white sand and crystal-clear waters to swim in.
PRO TIP: While we use it seldom, the umlaut is highly important in Spanish. When you want to achieve a “ke”, “ki” or “ge” “gi” sound you need to put a “u.” That’s why the word “que” sounds “ke.” In the word Camagüey we actively pronounce the u.
Visit Cuba Speaking Spanish, chico
UNESCO world heritage sites in Cuba are amazing places, from the famous Old Havana, passing through Cienfuegos, Camagüey all the way to the Coffee Plantations in South-East Cuba. Will you dare to explore the 9 Cuba UNESCO world heritage sites?
Learn some Spanish before visiting Cuba to talk to Cubans in their own language (and even their own slang), they’ll appreciate it, your trip and experience will be more immersive and you’ll open the door to a whole continent of Spanish speakers, without mentioning the other 53 million people that already speak Spanish in the US. Sign up for a free Spanish class today and start crafting that tool kit to travel to Cuba (or anywhere else in Latin America) today!
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