5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit on your tropical getaway

Soaking up the sun poolside is a highlight on any vacation – but visiting a tropical destination is also a great opportunity to explore new cultures and learn about a country’s history. World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) with over 1,200 sites across 167 countries.

Interested in soaking in some culture on your next vacation? We put together a list of just a few of our favourite UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the tropics that you’ll want to add to your bucket list.

Woman standing in front of ancient Mayan ruins Photo: @patteixeira
Discover Mayan mysteries at Chichén Itzá in Riviera Maya

There are 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico – and the Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins are undoubtedly one of the most famous. The city of Chichén Itzá dates back thousands of years and was once one of the most important Mayan cities between 600 A.D. and 1200 A.D. The well-preserved ancient site is home to numerous ruins like the Temple of Kukulcán, a pyramid that’s also known as El Castillo; the Great Ball Court, which is home to both the North Temple and the Temple of the Bearded Man; and the Temple of the Warriors. The site is also home to a beautiful cenote, the Cenote Segrado, and is just a short drive from the famous cenote of Ik Kil.

Where to stay: You can visit Riviera Maya’s most popular attractions by taking an excursion from top-rated luxury resort Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun. This adults only resort-within-a-resort offers full access to the larger Royalton Riviera Cancun facilities in addition to featuring exclusive areas like a restaurant, a beach with wait service and a sprawling pool.

Woman walking past a colonial castle Photo: @ninifeh
Travel back in time to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic

The capital of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, was founded in the late 15th century and is one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas. The Ciudad Colonial neighbourhood (also known as Zona Colonial or the Colonial Zone) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you explore famous historical sites like the Ozama Fortress, Alcázar de Colón and Calle Las Damas. The old city was founded by Bartholomew Columbus and became an important hub for Spanish explorers throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

Where to stay: When you stay at Royalton CHIC Punta Cana Resort and Spa, you can visit Santo Domingo on a day excursion. After strolling along the cobblestone streets of the Colonial Zone, you can head back to the resort and grab your favourite drink from the swim-up bar. In the evenings, indulge in a gourmet dining experience before rolling the dice at the on-site casino.

Pitons in the distance overlooking the ocean
Cruise past the majestic Pitons in Saint Lucia

Towering above the coast of Saint Lucia are the majestic twin peaks of the Pitons, one of the island’s most iconic attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. The volcanic spires of Petit Piton and Gros Piton are located on either side of Jalousie Bay overlooking the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea. While you can hike up Gros Piton with the assistance of a local guide, one of the best ways to see the Pitons is on a sunset catamaran cruise. While the Pitons aren’t volcanos, the spires’ volcanic activity has created numerous hot springs that you can enjoy a relaxing soak in.

Where to stay: Admire the island’s natural beauty from the lush grounds of Mystique St Lucia by Royalton. This all-suite luxury resort is located in the heart of Rodney Bay, with plenty of charming boutiques, restaurants and entertainment venues just a short walk or taxi ride away. For an extra-special stay, upgrade to one of the resort’s Beachfront Rooms where you can enjoy a morning coffee on your oceanview balcony every day.

Two classic car driving through the streets of Havana Photo: @nina_hase
Ride a classic car through the streets of Old Havana in Cuba

Cruise the streets of Old Havana in the back of a classic American convertible! The Cuban capital of Havana is known for its charming cobblestone streets, Baroque architecture and historic sites. The city was founded in 1519 and its historic centre (surrounded by the old fortified city walls) is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tour famous sites like the seaside Malecón boardwalk, Castillo del Moro, the National Capitol, the Presidential Palace and the Havana Cathedral.

Where to stay: Experience the best of Cuba at Grand Memories Varadero, a Sunwing favourite resort. This all inclusive oasis is located on one of the pristine white-sand beaches that the island is famous for, where you can lounge under a palapa or try out water sports like kayaking and windsurfing. In the evenings, head to the resort’s Cuban bar to sip on mojitos and soak in the local culture. Book a full-day excursion to Havana or combine your beach getaway with an overnight stay in the city.

Aerial view of a coffee farm in the mountains
Explore the lush Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica

In 2015, the Blue and John Crow Mountains became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jamaica for their rich biodiversity and the important role they played in providing refuge for Tainos and Maroons who escaped slavery during the colonial era. Covering over 100,000 acres on the island’s eastern tip, the mountains are rich in biodiversity and home to exotic species like giant swallowtail butterflies and Jamaican blackbirds. The mountains also offer an ideal environment for growing one of Jamaica’s most famous products – Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee!

Where to stay: Royalton White Sands Montego Bay provides the perfect home base from which to discover Jamaica’s natural beauty. After exploring the exotic trails of the Blue and John Crow Mountains, head back to this luxurious resort to soak up the warm Caribbean sun on a private island, cool off at the on-site water park or refuel with some tasty jerk chicken from the beachside Jerk Hut.

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