When people think of the Caribbean, crystal blue water and warm white sands often come to mind. The natural wonders of the Caribbean are breathtaking, but there are a number of wonders that came to be through the toil of human hands. Humans have lived in the islands and coastlines of the Caribbean for thousands of years, occasionally leaving behind remnants of civilizations we may not have known had it not been for the art of its residents. Today we think of theme parks and architecturally stylish hotels as being modern wonders but there are some amazing monuments to human creativity all over the Caribbean. Here are just 7 man-made wonders of the Caribbean that represent the joys, the faith, the struggles, and the commerce of these long departed people.
The Mayan Ruins of the Mexican Caribbean
The ruins of Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have received the accolade of being declared one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The remains of the sprawling city provide a lasting tribute to the lost Mayan civilization that inhabited the area between 400 and 1400 a.d. The example is one of several such amazing sites that have been discovered in Mexico and Guatemala, and undoubtedly there are more yet to be discovered deep under the jungle canopy. The Pyramid of Kukulkan is the most prominent and well-known of the structures at Chichen Itza, but the site also contains a marketplace, grand plaza, an ossuary and ball court. There are also smaller ruins at Tulum. Inhabited until the 16th century, this smaller but impressive walled port city is exceedingly well-preserved. The legacy of a people who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared is etched in every stone, nestled within the beauty of the Caribbean coast, just 80 miles south of Cancun.
The Basilica at Higuey, Dominican Republic
When a painting of the Virgin Mary disappeared from the home of two settlers from Spain in 1502, and reappeared in an orange bush, they probably had no inkling that on that very spot a sacred area would be established that to this day motivates numerous pilgrims to go to the site to leave offerings and ask favors of Our Lady of Altagracia. The Basilica de Higuey is a fairly new structure, built in 1971 on that sacred spot, and marked by a massive 248-foot central arch. This arch and other architectural details are illuminated at night, where glowing blues and golds light up the sky. Within is the self same picture of the virgin that inspires visitors and worshipers alike. A million Catholic pilgrims make their way to the feast day at Higuey every Jan 21.
The Panama Canal
Linking the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, the Pamana Canal is a monument to human ingenuity. It took 30 years to build being completed in 1880 and along the way exacted an incredible toll of 22,000 men’s lives. It replaced the historical voyage around Cape Horn, cutting by more than half the distance to most destinations. It remains, over 100 hundreds later, a key conduit between the two oceans. Nearly 15,000 ships pass through the 48-mile canal each year, on the way navigating through two sets of locks and 17 artificial lakes.
Old Havana, Cuba
Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), Cuba, was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982 as an area of cultural and historical significance. The old center retains a lingering ambiance of the gold-laden swashbucklers who used this port as a stopping point. The original city, founded in 1519, boasts Baroque and Neoclassical monuments that are scattered among the private dwellings decorated in classic stucco and wrought iron. Wander through the old Spanish fortresses of Castillo del Morro, La Cabana, or San Salvador de la Punta. Be sure to visit the Cathedral of San Cristobal, or walk along the famous Melecon seafront promenade and sea wall on the north side of the city. Don’t miss the La Bodeguita del Medio bar where Ernest Hemmingway drank a little inspiration from time to time.
Brimstone Hill Fortress, St. Kitts
One of the best preserved historical fortresses in the Americas, Brimstone Hill Fortress was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The fortress was built between the 1690s and 1790s atop an immense volcanic promontory some 800 feet high. It rests amid the cane fields and rain forests of St. Kitts and is often referred to as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies”. The cannons still perch like sentinels of days gone by, the fortress still retains the flavor of its original purpose. With the panoramic sweeping views of the Caribbean and the nearby Montserrat, Nevis , Saba, St. Martin, and St. Barts, it is understandably one of the island’s most popular tourist destinations.
Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti
Hatians, determined to protect their new nation, built the remarkable Citadelle Laferrière atop the 3000-foot Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain. It commands stunning views all the way to Cuba, 90 miles away across the Caribbean and enjoys the accolade of being the Western Hemisphere’s largest fortress. This symbol of Haitian national pride and UNESCO World Heritage site was built between 1805 and 1820, and within its 130-foot walls are 365 cannons standing as testaments to its original purpose. Piles of cannonballs still sit in stacks at the base of the fortress walls. Known also as Citadelle Henri Christophe, the famed King Herni is buried within its walls, with a commemorative plaque marking the site. It’s located in the northern part of the country, a peaceful region that allows access to tourists, who can hire guides in the town of Milot to visit the fort. Remarkably, and a massive testament to its construction, it survived the 2010 Earthquake which devastated Haiti.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Old San Juan, the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico, is also its capital. Cross the bridge onto this narrow island city and you’ll go back several centuries to a time when the narrow streets were paved in cobblestone, massive walls fortified cities, and the buildings bloomed with color. Located in the city are the picture-postcard Fort San Felipe del Morro, sitting atop a 100 foot bluff sporting a lighthouse, and La Fortaleza , the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the New World. Both are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Nearby are the palace of Ponce de Leon, built on 1521, and the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista where his tomb resides. A free tourist trolley serves the city.