The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO, has identified the most valuable cultural and natural sites around the world. UNESCO says that the World Heritage sites, which are totaled at over a thousand, “belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.” Mexico contains 33 World Heritage sites including a mix of natural and cultural sites. These are just five of the heritage sites Mexico has to offer. The full list and more can be found on UNESCO’s website.
1. Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco
Mexico City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and has a rich history. The city was built on top of the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Mexico City’s museums and monuments pay tribute to its Aztec roots and displays some of the ancient city’s original stone architecture. The Palacio Nacional is home to the offices of the president as well as Diego Rivera’s mural, “History of Mexico.” Rivera’s famous painting can be seen vibrantly on the staircase walls. The floating gardens of Xochimilco are just over 17 miles south of Mexico City. Traditional agricultural techniques are still in practice today in the canals and island gardens.
2. Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza Chichen-Itza is an ancient Mayan city located in the Yucatán Peninsula. This was the location of ritual games and human sacrifices. Chichen-Itza also houses the famous Kukulkan Temple, also known as El Castillo. The temple is built as a pyramid with 365 steps, one for each day of the year. During an equinox the sun casts a special shadow on the pyramid’s steps that give the appearance of the Mayan serpent god briefly descending the stairs.
3. Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaíno El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve in the Baja California Peninsula is a main breeding site for the Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale. The World Wildlife Fund removed this species of gray whale from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1994. The recovery of this whale population is due in part by whale sanctuaries like El Vizcaíno. The whales breed in the winter between December and March and the protected area with shallow waters and warm temperatures is ideal for newborn calves. El Vizcaíno is also home to other marine life such as Bottlenose Dolphins, California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals as well as turtles and fish.
4. Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche
This cultural and natural heritage site is located in the Yucatán Peninsula in the midst of the Tierras Bajas tropical forest, the second largest tropical forest in the Americas. Calakmul is another ancient Mayan city that still holds the remains of palaces, burials, and artistic murals. The forest holds diverse species of primates and wildcats that are also reflected in the Mayan art and pottery.
5. Earliest 16th Century Monasteries on the Slopes of Popocatépetl
The 14 monasteries were built near the Popocatépetl volcano by missionaries in the 16th century. They were used to convert indigenous populations to Christianity and many of these converted artists contributed to the monasteries’ beauty. Architecturally, the monasteries tried to incorporate aspects of indigenous culture and practices with large open spaces to hold ceremonies outside. The monasteries are excellently preserved and mass is still held in them today.