The distinction of World Heritage Site is one of the most prestigious worldwide from the tourist point of view. This title conferred by UNESCO highlights places of outstanding cultural or natural importance “for the common heritage of mankind”. In the world there are more than 1,100 places that meet these characteristics and in Spain there are 49, from the Alhambra in Granada to the cathedral in Burgos.

Across the pond, specifically in Central America , there are 20 sites recognized by UNESCO that are worth visiting at least once in your life. In this sense, Tourism of Central America makes a selection of five essential places. 

Colonial cities , natural and archaeological wonders or manifestations of their own culture are part of this list; from La Antigua in Guatemala or the ruins of León Viejo in Nicaragua to the Belize Reef Reserve or the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras. All of them have an incomparable cultural or natural wealth that makes them a must-see on any trip to Central America. These five sites are a small representation of it.

La Antigua, a magical colonial city in Guatemala

The old Guatemala).

La Antigua (Guatemala). Tourism of Central America.

In this Guatemalan city, founded on March 10, 1543, time stopped and was trapped between the thick walls of its temples , monasteries and colonial houses . Declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 1979, La Antigua still preserves restored buildings from the 16th century and can be explored on foot through its cobbled streets. 

Not to be missed are the Palace of the General Captains , the Convent and Arch of Santa Catalina , the Plaza Mayor, the Jade Museum or the Old Guatemala Cathedral. The city is also rich in handicrafts such as typical fabrics, ceramics, silver and gold products, as well as in the production of traditional sweets.

Belize Barrier Reef, the largest in the Northern Hemisphere

The Belize Barrier Reef.

The Barrier Reef of Belize. Tourism of Central America.

Belize is blessed with an immense diversity of marine habitats; More than 100 species of coral , hundreds of species of fish, and an abundant variety of marine life can be found near the reef . In 1996, UNESCO granted it the status of a World Heritage Site for being the largest barrier reef in the northern and western hemisphere, covering 185 miles of turquoise waters of Belize, as well as for providing a crucial balance within the Mesoamerican marine system, due to to its complex development and its intricate habitats. 

The waters off the coast are a sanctuary for water sports enthusiasts, while the reef is ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling , as well as vital to the country’s fishing industry. The amazing Great Blue Hole , the result of an underwater cave that collapsed centuries ago, is part of the Barrier Reef Reserve System.

The Belize Barrier Reef.

The Barrier Reef of Belize.  (Tourism of Central America).

Joya de Cerén archaeological site, the ‘Pompeii of America’ 

Joya de Cerén archaeological site (El Salvador), known as

Joya de Cerén archaeological site (El Salvador), known as “The Pompeii of America”. Tourism of Central America.

The Joya de Cerén Archaeological Park safeguards the memory of a pre-Hispanic town with an exceptional character and offers a journey through the history and mysticism of the Mayan culture of Central America. Located in the municipality of San Juan Opico, 36 kilometers from San Salvador, and declared a World Heritage Site in 1993, it provides details of the daily life of a Mayan farming town 1400 years ago (7th century). 

Known as the Pompeii of America , the incredible state of conservation of this site —recognized as the most important in Mesoamerica— allows its visitors to stage the daily life of the indigenous settlements before the Spanish conquest. In it you can see elements such as a bed, the food storage area, the sauna bath (known as temazcal) and the house of the shaman or religious leader, who could have been a woman.

Travel to the Panamanian past in Portobelo and San Lorenzo 

Portobelo and San Lorenzo (Panama).

San Lorenzo (Panama). Tourism of Central America.

In the 16th century, the Spanish conquerors needed a road between the two oceans that would connect Spain with the lands of Bolivia and Peru. The Chagres River assumed that function and soon its mouth was threatened by pirate and buccaneer attacks, forcing the construction of the San Lorenzo fortifications to defend it. 

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980, they are in an excellent state of conservation and you can visit a moat dating from 1760, the walls, the cannons and the moat. For its part, Portobelo, one hour from Panama City, is a small historic town whose bay is dominated by the Iron Castle of San Felipe de Sotomayor , considered the most important fortification in this Caribbean city.

Portobello (Panama).

Portobelo, Panama. Getty Images/iStockphoto.

The incomparable natural beauty of Cocos Island National Park

Cocos Island (Costa Rica).

Coco Island (Costa Rica). Tourism of Central America.

Since the end of the 16th century, Cocos Island —located in the Costa Rican Pacific Ocean and declared a World Heritage Site in 1997— was a place of refuge, rest and supply for piratescorsairs and whalers who traveled the Pacific coast of Spanish America.

Currently, this area of ​​Costa Rica is perfect for diving, thanks to the large number of rock formations that constitute a unique habitat for an abundance of fish, sharks (hammerhead and white fin), dolphins, manta rays, molluscs, among others. . In addition, the coast of the island has cliffs up to 183 meters high and contains countless underwater caves. Wafer and Chatham, to the north of the island, are the main bays with the only two sandy beaches in this spectacular park.

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