List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

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Colombia has one of the richest cultural and natural heritages on the planet. So it’s not surprising that many of its sites are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

In this post, we present each of Colombia’s World Heritage sites, as well as the practices and knowledge included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage.

From the fortifications of Cartagena de Indias to the Chiribiquete Natural Park, and from the Inca trails of Nariño to the landscapes of the coffee region, Colombia will never cease to amaze and astound us.

Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

Carnival in Barranquilla

World heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

It’s an incredible event that takes place in the city of Barranquilla every year, and is considered one of the biggest carnivals in the world. Imagine colorful costumes, music, dancing and a festive atmosphere for a month, culminating in four days of festivities!

The Carnaval de Barranquilla is a melting pot of indigenous, African and European traditions, blending to create a unique celebration. The carnival originated in the city in the 19th century and became an official celebration in 1918.

In 2003, UNESCO recognized the cultural importance of the Barranquilla Carnival by inscribing it on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition is very important, as it underlines the essential role played by Carnival in preserving local traditions.

UNESCO’s recognition shows just how important it is to preserve and promote cultural traditions worldwide. So, if you have the opportunity to visit Barranquilla during Carnival, don’t hesitate for a second!

Carnaval de Negros y Blancos

Unesco intangible cultural heritage

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

If you’re looking for an incredible experience in Colombia, don’t miss the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos, which takes place every year in the town of San Juan de Pasto. This colorful and lively festival is a must for all lovers of culture and tradition.

The Carnaval de Negros y Blancos is a celebration of the region’s cultural diversity . It takes place every year on January 4 for four days. Parades and floats often pay tribute to indigenous roots, the land, nature and the “pacha mama”.

During “Black Day”, participants paint their faces black and wear colorful costumes to represent the African slaves who worked on the region’s plantations. On “White Day”, people throw flour and chalk at each other, creating a white cloud in the city streets.

The Carnaval de Negros y Blancos was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in 2009. This celebration is a magnificent example of the richness and diversity of Colombian culture.

The Vallenato

Unesco-listed heritage of Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

Vallenato is a music from Colombia’s Caribbean coast that is considered one of the country’s most important cultural treasures.

A blend of African, Spanish and indigenous rhythms, Vallenato has evolved over the centuries to become one of Colombia’s most emblematic musical styles. This music is often played with an accordion, a caja (a drum) and a guacharaca (a wooden percussion instrument).

Vallenato often tells stories of love, nature and life in rural Colombia. The lyrics are mostly poetic and moving, sung with passion and energy.

Vallenato was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in 2015. This music is a symbol of Colombian identity and is celebrated every year at the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata, held in April in Valledupar.

If you travel in Colombia, especially along the Caribbean coast, you’re bound to hear Vallenato at full volume in cabs, buses and stores

The knowledge of the jaguar shamans of Yuruparí

Cultural heritage of Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

The knowledge of the jaguar shamans of Yuruparí is a cultural treasure of Colombia inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage since 2011.

The Yuruparí jaguar shamans are guardians of culture and nature in the Amazon regions of Colombia. They have in-depth knowledge of the plants and animals of the rainforest, and use this wisdom to heal illness and maintain ecological balance.

Their practice is based on respect and communication with the spirits of nature. Shamans use medicinal plants to heal physical and spiritual illnesses, and to make contact with nature spirits. They also use song, dance and ritual to celebrate life and nature.

The knowledge of the Yuruparí jaguar shamans is included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage in recognition of its role in preserving biodiversity and indigenous culture. The practice of shamanism is threatened by deforestation, loss of biodiversity and modernization, making their knowledge increasingly important to preserve.

Fiestas de San Pacho in Quibdó

World Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: Diego Tirira

Las fiestas de San Pacho is a unique and incredibly colorful event held in the town of Quibdó, in the department of Chocó , from September 20 to October 5, in honor of the town’s patron saint, Saint Francis of Asise.

Quibdó is known for its strong Afro-Colombian population, and the San Pacho festivities highlight their rich cultural heritage. The festival is a blend of sacred and pagan festivity, celebrating “Afro-Colombianity”. Daily masses are celebrated, followed by street parades to the sound of traditional Choco music, and re-enactments of everyday theatrical scenes or stories linked to the oppression suffered by Colombia’s black populations.

When you attend Las fiestas de San Pacho, you can expect colorful traditional costumes and people dancing to the sound of the “Chirimía”, a brass band made up of wind and percussion instruments. The music sweeps participants up into dance, either in choreographed “comparsa” or anarchic “revulú”, and will thrill you to the very depths of your soul.

In 2011, Las fiestas de San Pacho were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This recognition has reinforced the festival’s importance as a celebration of the cultural richness of Quibdó and Colombia.

The Wayuu normative system

Unesco intangible cultural heritage

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

The Wayuu people of the Guajira desert are one of Colombia’s largest indigenous communities. Their legal system is an astonishing example of how oral traditions and cultural practices can be used to regulate social relations and interactions between community members.

The Wayuu normative system relies on conflict resolution through palabreros, wise men who are recognized for their knowledge of Wayuu law. Palabreros are often called in to resolve disputes such as land disputes, family conflicts or breaches of social norms.

Palabreros act as arbitrators, listening carefully to both parties and proposing solutions that are in line with the principles of Wayuu culture. Conflicts are often resolved using a mediation rather than confrontation approach, with the emphasis on restoring social harmony rather than punishing the guilty.

The Wayuu normative system is seen as a best practice in restorative justice, aimed at restoring balance in the community and avoiding future conflict. This can include solutions such as public apologies, symbolic reparations or community work.

In 2018, the Wayuu normative system was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its cultural significance. This recognition has also helped to protect and promote the practice of Wayuu justice in the region.

Songs, marimba music and dances of the Pacific region

Cultural heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: Sol Robayo

Colombia’s South Pacific region is home to many Afro-Colombian communities who have preserved their musical traditions for centuries. The marimba is a percussion instrument used in the region’s traditional music, which also includes song and dance.

The marimba music, song and dance traditions of Colombia’s South Pacific region are a unique example of how music can be used to express a community’s cultural identity and keep its traditions alive.

Marimba rhythms are often associated with religious ceremonies, feasts and community celebrations, as well as events such as weddings and funerals.

UNESCO inscribed the traditionalmarimba music, songs and dances of Colombia’s South Pacific region on the World Heritage List in 2015 in recognition of their cultural importance. This recognition has also helped to protect and promote the region’s traditional music and encourage the transmission of these traditions to future generations.

If you’re a music lover, a visit to Colombia’s South Pacific region is a must. This music is perhaps our favorite Colombian music, led by the great singer Nidia Gongora!

Holy Week in Popayán

Colombia’s intangible cultural heritage

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

Popayán is a town in south-western Colombia, known for its colonial architecture and rich history. But it’s especially during Holy Week that the town attracts thousands of visitors from all over Colombia and the world.

Holy Week in Popayán is a religious celebration commemorating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It takes place every year during the week preceding Easter, and involves religious processions, ceremonies and artistic performances.

During Holy Week, Popayán’s streets are adorned with flowers and decorations, as locals and visitors gather to watch the various processions. The processions are led by religious brotherhoods, who carry statues and images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary through the streets of the town.

Holy Week in Popayán is a unique experience for visitors, who can attend the celebrations and learn more about the region’s culture and religious traditions. The processions are accompanied by song and music, creating a solemn and moving atmosphere.

In recognition of its cultural and religious significance, Holy Week in Popayán was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 .

San Basilio de Palenque cultural space

Colombia’s intangible cultural heritage

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: Luis Alveart

Located about an hour’s drive from the city of Cartagena de Indias, San Basilio de Palenque is an Afro-Colombian village founded in the 17th century by escaped African slaves, who banded together to form a free and autonomous community.

At the time, Colombia was a Spanish colony, and African slaves were brought in large numbers to work on the plantations and in the mines. Living conditions for the slaves were extremely difficult, with violence, abuse and high mortality rates.

The runaway slaves who created San Basilio de Palenque were known as “palenqueros”, and developed a secret communication system to protect themselves from the slavers and plan their escapes. They also developed their own language, Palenquero, which is a mixture of Spanish and African languages.

San Basilio de Palenque is considered America’s first free village, where escaped slaves created their own autonomous community and defended their freedom against attacks by Spanish slavers. The community managed to maintain its independence until the abolition of slavery in Colombia in 1851.

Today, San Basilio de Palenque is a place of pride for the Afro-Colombian community and a symbol of the struggle for freedom and autonomy. UNESCO’s recognition of its cultural and historical importance in 2005 has helped to preserve and promote the region’s unique culture.

Santa Cruz de Mompox

World Heritage Site in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

Santa Cruz de Mompox, or simply Mompox, is a small town on the banks of the Magdalena River in northern Colombia. It was founded in the 16th century and has played an important role in the country’s history.

Walking through the streets of Mompox, you can feel the history that permeates every building and square. The town is famous for its well-preserved colonial architecture, with many houses and churches dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Of particular note is the Church of Santa Barbara, considered one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Latin America. The town is also renowned for its filigree craftsmanship, a jewelry-making technique that involves working silver or gold wires to create intricate, delicate pieces.

In 1995, Mompox was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its historical and cultural importance. The town played a key role in Colombia’s colonial history as a commercial and religious center, and was an important crossroads for cultural exchanges between indigenous peoples, African slaves and Spanish colonists.

A visit to Mompox allows you to immerse yourself in Colombia’s history and discover the traditions and culture that have shaped the city over the centuries. It’s an ideal destination for lovers of history and architecture, as well as for those looking to explore Colombia’s hidden beauty.

San Agustín Archaeological Park

World Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

San Agustín Archaeological Park is located in southern Colombia, in the Huila region. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Latin America , thanks to its unique collection of sculptures and funerary structures.

The park is home to over 500 pre-Columbian carved stone statues representing deities, animals and mythical figures. There are also tombs, altars and communication paths dating from the pre-Hispanic period.

San Agustin Archaeological Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 for its cultural and historical importance. It is a unique archaeological site that offers visitors a glimpse into the ancient history of Colombia and the culture of the pre-Columbian peoples who inhabited the region.

Visiting San Agustín Archaeological Park, visitors can wander through the green hills and valleys, discovering the remains of past civilizations. The stone sculptures are particularly fascinating, with their detail and mysterious symbolism.

San Agustín Archaeological Park is a real Colombian gem, well worth a visit for anyone interested in ancient history, archaeology and culture. It’s an ideal place to connect with history and nature, and to discover the beauty and richness of Colombia’s heritage.

Tierradentro Archaeological Park

Unesco World Heritage Site in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

Located near Popayan, Tierradentro Archaeological Park is a unique and impressive archaeological site that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The park is home to a collection of underground tombs dating back to pre-Columbian times. The tombs are dug into the ground and decorated with stunning murals depicting scenes of daily life, deities and rituals.

Tierradentro Archaeological Park offers a fascinating experience for visitors looking to explore the history and culture of Colombia. The tombs are accessible via hiking trails that wind through the region’s verdant hills.

Tierradentro Archaeological Park is a must-see destination for lovers of history, archaeology and culture in Colombia. It’s a unique and impressive archaeological site that offers a truly memorable travel experience. If you’re looking to explore the richness and diversity of Colombia’s heritage, be sure to add Tierradentro Archaeological Park to your travel itinerary.

Knowledge of the peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Intangible heritage of humanity in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast is a sacred territory inhabited by four indigenous peoples: Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogi and Wiwa.

These communities, each with their own identity and language, share a common vision of the world and the link between the physical and spiritual worlds. This cosmovision is taught to all from generation to generation. But the chief representatives of these communities, Mamos (men) and Sagas (women), undergo many years of apprenticeship to become spiritual leaders, able to connect with nature to perform “pagamentos”, a kind of “payment to the earth” that is made in various circumstances.

Founded on a philosophy that governs the relationship between man, nature and the universe, this ancestral system of knowledge includes various sacred practices, such as the preservation of sacred sites, baptism ceremonies, marriage rites, traditional dances and songs, and offerings to spiritual forces.

In 2022, UNESCO declared the “ancestral knowledge system” of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to be part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Arhuacos, Kankuamos, Koguis and Wiwas see themselves as “big brothers”, protectors of the Sierra Nevada, its ecosystem and their cultural identity, and of the living world as a whole. They are nature’s “messengers”, warning the rest of humanity of the excesses of today’s world and the risks associated with the destruction of the natural environment.

Coffee cultural landscape

Unesco World Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

The Coffee Cultural Landscape is a true testimony to the history, culture and economic importance of coffee in Colombia. Since the 19th century, Colombia has become one of the world’s largest coffee producers and exporters, and Colombian coffee is prized for its exceptional quality.

Located in the mountainous regions of central Colombia between Pereira and Medellin, the Coffee Cultural Landscape was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. It is precisely delimited by the north of the Valle del Cauca department, Quindio, Risaralda and the west of Caldas.

Colombia’s coffee cultural landscape is made up of lush hills and mountains, coffee plantations, traditional farms, colorful villages and small producers who work hard to produce the finest coffee beans.

Visitors can discover Colombia’s coffee cultural landscape through these villages, guided tours of coffee plantations, coffee tastings, roasting workshops, visits to local museums and more.

In addition, Colombia’s coffee cultural landscape is also a site of exceptional biodiversity, home to a variety of endemic plant and animal species.

Cartagena fortifications

World Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)

The fortifications of Cartagena de Indias were built in the 16th century, at a time when Caribbean coastal towns were regularly attacked by European pirates and privateers in search of wealth and slaves.

Cartagena de Indias, founded in 1533 by the Spanish, quickly became an important city for the Spanish colony in South America. It was located on a sheltered natural bay that made it easily accessible to ships, making it a strategic point for trade and defense.

Because of this strategic importance, the Spanish built massive fortifications to protect the city from enemy attack. Work began in 1586, under the direction of Italian military engineer Bautista Antonelli, and continued for almost 200 years.

The fortifications were attacked several times over the years, notably by the French, British and Dutch, but managed to resist all invasion attempts. The walls and bastions were reinforced and extended over time to keep pace with advances in artillery and new warfare techniques.

Today, Cartagena ‘s fortifications are one of the finest examples of Spanish military architecture in Latin America. They were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 for their historical importance and architectural beauty.

Qhapaq Ñan, network of Inca roads

Unesco World Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: madame_web

The Qhapaq Ñan is a system of roads and paths that traversed the Inca Empire in South America, linking towns and villages from Chile to southern Colombia. This incredible infrastructure spanned more than 30.000 km, crossing mountains, valleys, deserts and forests, testifying to the technical mastery and political vision of the Inca empire.

In Colombia, the Qhapaq Ñan runs mainly through the department of Nariño, linking San Juan de Pasto to Cuzco. The roads were used for commercial purposes, transporting goods and foodstuffs, as well as for cultural and political exchanges between the different regions of the Inca empire. The Incas also used these roads to move their armies and maintain their authority over local peoples.

The Qhapaq Ñan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 for its historical, cultural and architectural importance. The roads are a unique testimony to the political and economic organization of the Inca empire, as well as to their engineering and construction know-how. The remains of these roads are also a valuable source of information about the daily lives of the people who used them.

Los Katíos National Park

Natural heritage of humanity in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: Crisfos

Los Katíos National Park in Colombia, a special place where biodiversity and natural beauty have been preserved for centuries. This park is a hidden treasure in the heart of the Darien forest on the border with Panama, and is closed to the public for reasons of ecosystem protection and preservation.

Los Katíos National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 for its importance in conserving biodiversity and its role in preserving the culture of indigenous peoples.

The park is home to a wide variety of ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, swamps and grasslands, as well as rivers and waterfalls. It is also one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, with over 400 species of birds, 150 species of mammals and more than 300 species of fish. Among the park’s most famous animals are the jaguar, tapir, caiman and howler monkey.

Los Katíos National Park is also important for preserving the culture of indigenous peoples, in particular the Embera-Wounaan and Kuna peoples, who have had close ties with the region for centuries.

Malpelo Sanctuary

Unesco Natural Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: waskyo

Welcome to the Malpelo Sanctuary, a unique scuba diving destination located in the Pacific Ocean off the Pacific coast of Colombia. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this protected area is a true gem.

The Malpelo Sanctuary, created in 1995, covers an area of 9.580 km² and includes Malpelo Island, the Bernardo Islands, the surrounding islands and islets, and the waters around them. The area is protected for its rich biodiversity, including coral reefs, marine ecosystems and unique underwater fauna.

The site is famous for scuba diving, with incredible visibility and crystal-clear waters that can be seen at depths of up to 40 meters. But be warned: this exceptional spot is only accessible to expert divers. A variety of marine species can be seen here, including sharks, manta rays, tuna, dolphins and even humpback whales on their migration.

The Malpelo sanctuary is also known for its impressive rock formations, underwater caves and canyons. Divers can explore the deep waters and colorful coral reefs to discover a marine biodiversity unique in the world.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Malpelo sanctuary is protected from human activities that could harm its fragile ecosystem. Visits are regulated and must be conducted with licensed guides to ensure the protection of the flora and fauna.

Chiribiquete National Park

World Heritage in Colombia

List of World Heritage sites in Colombia (UNESCO)
credit: Ministerio de Ambiente de Colombia

Chiribiquete National Park is one of Colombia’s most spectacular natural treasures. It is also one of the country’s most protected and isolated parks. It is off-limits to the public to protect the ecosystems and the indigenous communities present, some of whom are considered to have had no contact with contemporary civilization. It is possible to fly over it in an avioneta…

Located south of San José del Guaviare, in the heart of the Colombian Amazon, this park is considered one of the largest and richest ecosystems on the planet, with an incredible variety of plant and animal species.

Listedas a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018, Chiribiquete National Park is one of Colombia’s largest natural parks, covering an area of over 4.2 million hectares. I

The park is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, some of which are unique and endemic to the region. The scenery is breathtaking, with mountains, rivers, waterfalls and caves, as well as rock paintings dating back thousands of years.

Chiribiquete National Park is also of great importance for indigenous culture, home to native communities who have lived in the area for thousands of years.

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Authors

Angélica & Samuel

We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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