10 UNESCO Sites Every African-American Traveler Should Visit

Salvador Bahia, Brazil

Are you curious about traveling to countries that are particularly known for their UNESCO designated sites? Lazare Eloundou Assomo, deputy director of the World Heritage Centre, provides some insight into how the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works.  UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world that is considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. These include monuments, habitats and natural formations that have aesthetic, archeological, scientific or anthropological value. All countries have sites of local or national interest, but sites selected for World Heritage listing are inscribed based on their merits as the best possible examples of cultural and natural heritage.

How did the UNESCO World Heritage list start?

The idea of creating an international movement for protecting heritage emerged after World War I. The 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage developed from the merging of two separate movements – the first focusing on the preservation of cultural sites and the other dealing with the conservation of nature.

How is a UNESCO site selected?

First, a country must pledge to protect its natural and cultural heritage by signing the World Heritage Convention and submitting a nomination for a site on its territory to be included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A nominated property is independently evaluated by two advisory bodies mandated by the World Heritage Convention, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The committee of 21 representatives meets once a year to decide which sites will be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

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Some of the newest inscribed properties include the ancient city of Qalhat in Oman, Thimlick Ohinga settlement in Kenya and the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in South Africa.

As history and culture play an important role in why people travel, here are 10 UNESCO Sites that every black person should visit at least once in their lifetime.

  1. Robben Island, South Africa

Used as a prison and hospital for socially unacceptable groups and later as a military base, this maximum-security prison located on an island near Cape Town imprisoned Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandel for 18 years.

  1. Lalibela, Ethiopia

Famous for its rock-cut monolithic churches, the town of Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities with11 churches built in the 12th and 13th centuries, a monastery and vernacular houses.

  1. Island of Gorée, Senegal

Located just off the coast of Dakar, close to Africa’s westernmost point, this island played an important role in slave trade in the Middle Ages.

  1. Medina of Fez, Morocco

The Medina is not only a visually stimulating cultural and spiritual center, it is also home to the oldest university in the world.

  1. Salvador Bahia, Brazil

The city was the original colonial capital and the first slave market in South America. It maintains many Afro-Brazilian traditions, religious rites, martial arts, food and dances.

  1. Old Havana, Cuba

The fortified characteristically Spanish town retains a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical monuments, private houses with wrought-iron gates and balconies.

  1. Pitons Management Area, St Lucia

With two volcanic spires, hot springs, a coral reef and wet forests, Gros Piton and Petit Piton make a spectacular backdrop to the western part of the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean.

  1. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

This wildlife park stretching over 50,000 square kilometers is home to elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles.

  1. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Sprays from the largest waterfall in the world formed by the Zambezi River can be seen from Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  1. Lamu Old Town, Kenya

The oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa features narrow streets with elaborately carved wooden doors, stone buildings, dhow boats and an annual Mualidi festival.

For more additional exploration of history, Moukala also recommends checking out some of the sites related to slavery to further understand the social and human impact around the world.

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Sucheta is an award-winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give and the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures. To learn more, visit suchetarawal.com.