UNESCO World Heritage Sites are landmarks or areas that have cultural, historical, scientific, or another form of significance. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) legally protects these locations through international treaties.
The three different types of UNESCO World Heritage sites are cultural, natural, and mixed; the sites can include anything from archaeological sites to historic buildings.
Panama is home to five awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including three natural sites and two cultural sites. If you’re planning a trip to Panama, visiting one of these spots can provide you with an unbeatable and truly special experience.
Here are all five of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Panama to visit.
Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Panama
1. Coiba National Park and Special Marine Protection Zone
The most recent site in Panama to be protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is Coiba National Park and Special Marine Protection Zone, which was inducted in 2005. Coiba National Park is comprised of Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands, and the surrounding marine protection zone. The park serves as a sanctuary for a wide variety of endangered animals and as a natural laboratory for scientific research for the study of rare and threatened species.
2. Darién National Park
Darién National Park has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1981. Located near the Panama-Colombia border, the park acts as a land bridge that joins North and South America together. It’s home to an incredibly diverse variety of animal species, which thrive in the park’s many unique habitats—from sandy beaches to tropical forests. You can find 169 mammals and 530 bird species in the park, including a variety of endangered species, such as the brown-headed spider monkey and the giant anteater.
3. La Amistad National Park
La Amistad National Park is home to the Cordillera de Talamanca (Talamanca Mountain Range), which is one of the tallest mountain ranges in all of Central America. Boasting an impressive variety of biological and cultural diversity, the park is also home to four indigenous tribes, vibrant flora and fauna from both North and South America, and roughly 215 different mammals. When you pay a visit to this stunning park, you’ll get to experience magnificent landscapes consisting of glacial lakes, valleys, and rivers.
Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Panama
4. Portobelo-San Lorenzo Caribbean Fortifications
Built during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Portobelo-San Lorenzo Caribbean Fortifications became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. This impressive cultural site is a military fortification constructed by the Spanish Empire along the Caribbean coastline in Panama’s Colón province. Its original purpose was to protect trade access to Panama City, which served as an important trade center. Although the forts have been reduced to ruins after continuous pirate attacks and the passage of time, they retain their cultural significance.
5. Panamá Viejo Archaeological Site and Historic District of Panamá
Dating back to the 16th century, the Panamá Viejo Archaeological Site and Historic District of Panamá is the oldest continually occupied European settlement located along the Pacific coast. Before pirates burned down the settlement in 1671, it originally served as a colonial outpost and as a seat of the Royal Court of Justice.
Following its destruction, the town was rebuilt, and it became known as the Historic District of Panama. Today, the original street plan and architecture of the town has been preserved, maintaining the stunning presence of Spanish, American, and French influences.
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