Get ready to learn about some of the world's most absolutely gorgeous, culturally iconic, and naturally phenomenal sites, spots considered to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are places throughout the world that show 'outstanding universal value', the foundation that created them hoping to protect world culture and natural heritage. These sites lay the framework for international cooperation in 'preserving and protecting cultural treasures and natural areas throughout the world', and are broken up into three main types: natural, cultural, and mixed.
World Heritage Sites which show extraordinary ecological or biological evolutionary processes, natural phenomena, and/or rare habitats are considered to be natural sites. Cultural sites, on the other hand, represent historic buildings and town sites, architectural wonders, and monumental sculptures. Some sites show an element of both, however, and are considered to be mixed.
There are hundreds of UNESCO sites throughout the entire world, but this list below is our main choice for the top sites to see within North America. Visiting any one of these spots will be breathtaking and unforgettable, so let us help you plan it!
- Banff National Park
Around the southwest corner of Alberta, Canada, you will find one of the most awe-inspiring natural scenes in the country, Banff National Park. Here, deep within the Rocky Mountains, you can explore over 2,500 square miles of a scenic wilderness area, this spot established first in 1887 (UNESCO site 1984). Bordering British Columbia, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is specifically noted for its diverse plant and animal population and ongoing geological processes (heavy limestone and shale deposits).
- Taos Pueblo
Taos, New Mexico
Welcome to one of our personal favorite North American UNESCO sites, the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, U.S. This iconic adobe settlement is located off a branch of the Rio Grande, right near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The world Tao loosely translated from Tiwa, the title of the native tribe that first settled here. This branch of the Sante Fe trail was once a highly important trading center, the sun-dried mud-brick homes so spectacular in architecture they almost outshine the nearby Wheeler peak, the highest of all in New Mexico.
- Redwood National Forest
This highly popular United States national park is a California goldmine, naturally speaking, of course. Here at the Redwood National Forest, you will find countless preserved virgin/old-growth groves of ancient redwoods, the entire area holding over 1,700 square miles of wilderness, 40 miles of golden Pacific coastline, and even the world’s tallest tree (367 ft)! The land contains a myriad of wildlife, several endangered species, and over 160 million years of natural history to boot. This is a seriously iconic UNESCO site in the U.S!
- La Fortaleza
San Juan, Puerto Rico
La Fortaleza, a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site located in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is one of the most historic on our list. This spot saw it’s heyday in the 1600s when Roman Emperor Charles V ordered the building of this fortress to defend the harbor (first built in 1540). Today this spot is still the home to the local governor, considered to be the world’s oldest executive mansion still under active use.
- Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen- Itza
Chichen-Itza is one of the most historic and iconic prehispanic cities in Mexico, a clear winner for a spot on our list of must-see North American UNESCO sites. This Mayan-Toltec ruins city is just about 4 square miles in area total, taking up a small spot in south-central Yucatan. This was a major water source in the arid region, with several much-needed wells here in the limestone sinkholes. It is interesting to know before going that Chi translated into mouths, Chen into wells. Itza was the official name of the Mayan tribe which settled here. The entire site was made into an official UNESCO spot in 1988.
Monticello and the University of Virginia
Another important UNESCO World Heritage Site that is pretty close to home for most of us here in the U.S is Monticello, the historic home of Thomas Jefferson himself. Monticello, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, is an iconically designed Neoclassical home, located just 2 miles away from the downtown district. This spot was constructed and finished between 1768 and 1809, today considered being one of the finest examples of early classic revival-style architecture in the United States. The building itself will boast 3 stories, a gorgeous brick and frame structure, and 35 different rooms, each designed in a different basic shape.
Mexico City, México
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Aztec Canals and floating gardens of Xochimilco, a district of Mexico City. This is the spot where, in the past, local cultures established a pre-colonial town full of chinampas, or floating gardens, and used them to cultivate their land, people, and region in general. Branch and reed rafts were created to harvest, and some of the food went as far as the Tenochtitlan Canal. This spot was officially reserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.