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November/December 2006
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World Heritage Destinations Rated: North America and the Caribbean

Introduction    Africa (sub-Saharan)     Asia      Australia & New Zealand

    Middle East & North Africa   North America & the Caribbean  

South and Central America

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These lightly edited excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Canada: Historic Québec City
Score: 77

"Excellent conservation and presentation of the walled city. The authentic nature of the city and the appropriate use made of the buildings is a model of best practice."

"Fabulous every visit, well-maintained, full of structural and cultural integrity, great flow of visitors does not overwhelm on upper or lower levels of this gorgeously situated site. Locals are fully involved in every aspect; food is amazing; totally safe; historic accommodation in the old city is ample, varied in budget, and laced with distinctive character. One of my favorite places in the world."

"Historic sites are part of a functioning downtown area with good restaurants and a non-tourist modern art scene."

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Canada/USA: Waterton-Glacier parks (Crown of the Continent area)
Score: 73

"Unexceeded natural beauty and diversity. Tourist facilities within and around Glacier National Park are good and varied. The park is crowded in season … but parts of it are still truly wild. A great place despite population pressure."

"Global warming is contributing to loss of glaciers. Tacky development on U.S. side in nearby gateway of Kalispell and surroundings is a problem. Waterton is relatively well-managed with a biosphere reserve approach that involves local neighbors in the management committee. Quality of installations, interpretive programs, etc. excellent, but with cutbacks due to budget limitations on U.S. side."

"Beautiful place, iconic site of the Rockies. Very crowded, but rangers will point you to quieter hikes. There are very good flora and fauna interpretation materials. Well-managed considering all the pressures."

"Parks are wonderful, but development and ranchettes outside disrupt animal movement."

"Tourism development has remained low-key and relatively low-intensity."

"A great park! Needs to become more of a part of the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative, redo its gateway corridor from Colombia Falls to the park, and involve the Blackfeet Tribe more than they do now."

Cuba: Old Havana and fortifications
Score: 57

"Old Havana must be one of the sites that has most benefited from World Heritage status. Despite enormous challenges, important restoration work has been undertaken in Old Havana. The cultural integrity is high, and condition of buildings in renovated areas is very good, while in areas still waiting for renovation, the situation is critical."

"Great place for visitors to buy arts and crafts, but the area is becoming quite touristy. It certainly presents a rather sanitized view of Cuban life."

"One of my favorite places to walk around. The streets are alive with the people and music. I sensed that the worst days have passed for much of the architecture here."

"Old Havana restorations continue amidst protests from locals who were initially displaced by these restorations. Due to protests, many were allowed to move back. Given restoration, which seems to have great integrity, condition of buildings is improving. Tourism development seems of appropriate character—small scale restored hotels, etc."

"Future in doubt, depending on political decision-making without any public input."

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Dominican Republic: Colonial quarter of Santo Domingo
Score: 52

"One of the most fascinating old cities in the New World, with many beautifully restored buildings."

"Little work has taken place on private commercial and residential buildings apart from a few exceptions. The historic center is still mostly a museum and not quite well lived in."

"The powers that be don't appreciate what they have. Colonial Santo Domingo has considerable cultural and economic potential, but currently it does not offer much for tourists. The majority of historic buildings are not open and those that are only have a few rudimentary signs and these are exclusively in Spanish. Why are there no brochures or maps to enable visitors to take self-guided tours of the district? And who is looking after this district? How can they permit the Hard Rock Cafe to erect a three story facade directly opposite the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere?"

Mexico: Chichén-Itzá
Score: 53

"Chichén-Itzá is an icon of the Maya Civilization and its last big city in the Post-Classic Maya. Its location near Cancún's resort area brings more tourists than it can handle, creating a crowded environment at peak times. The construction of a light and sound show system that is played every night damaged the original structures and transforms this historical site into an amusement park ride. Its removal is recommended."

"Unauthorized vendors are allowed to park their tables/blankets all over the park, diminishing its aesthetic appeal. Far fewer fauna are present (varied birds and lizards) than just a few years ago, probably due to the high influx of tourists. Very little is done to integrate tourists to the locale and their proper role at the site."

"The finest structures can be observed but not climbed, and most structures have trilingual interpretive signage in Spanish, English, and Maya for those who care to read them (not most tourists). What is needed is a serious dialogue, at the community level, of the environmental and social sustainability of tourism at Chichén."

"I would have given it the lowest score, but the archaeological site itself is spectacular, even though they are determined to make it Disney, Mexico."

"Little self-guided interpretation is available, but there is room for it. Good public transportation, but site managers could use the expertise and knowledge of the local people more effectively. Site condition is okay but threatened by over-visiting, climbing, and lack of maintenance."

"One of the major problems is that the Maya aren't earning much from their cultural heritage—but everyone else is."

"Overdevelopment of the town has long ago turned Chichén-Itzá into an example of what goes wrong in tourist development of archaeological sites. Maya culture is objectified and on display as a kind of 'quaint' product, and few visitors are aware that what they see is a modern contrivance. Still, the on-site museum, while architecturally undistinguished and too closely integrated with shops, is a good source of reliable interpretation."

Mexico: Guanajuato
Score 79

"A lot of repaving in traditional style .... It advertises World Heritage more than any other site I have visited. Safe atmosphere—tourism police are very visible and reassuring. A winner—not too many gringos."

"Sprawl on the edges but the historic center is in great shape. The city highly deserves its status as a living monument."

"Delightful town to wander. Old buildings tastefully converted into hotels and restaurants."

"Charming, peaceful, welcoming city, few of the urban problems evident in larger Mexican cities. Hiking in the surrounding hills revealed significant erosion and overgrazing, but where forest remnants could be found, they were magical places."

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Mexico: Oaxaca and Monte Albán
Score: 69

"Tourist interest in Oaxaca is twofold: first, the colonial city, which is largely intact, though in places in a poor state of conservation, and second, the pre-contact city of Monte Albán, one of the most imposing and best-managed archaeological sites in Mexico. Visitor facilities would benefit from further investment."

"Oaxaca has an energetic, enlightened populace. The social/cultural integrity is extremely high—the artistic community includes painters, weavers, ceramicists, woodworkers, and chefs from the culinary arts. Oaxaca is the place many Mexicans visit when they take a vacation and want to see Mexico. Good pre-Columbian archaeological sites, as well as colonial churches and monasteries."

"It seems that the growth of tourism is compromising some of the character of Oaxaca. There is a large amount of redundant vendors in all of the popular tourism locales. The architecture, including Monte Albán, is well preserved and makes this area wonderful for walking and enjoying the rich heritage."

"Considering the volume of tourism it receives, I think Oaxaca is doing a good job of keeping tourism focused on the cultural jewels of the region: fine arts and ancient traditions, indigenous languages, cuisine, etc. The biggest challenge will be for the city's infrastructure to cope with the continued growth."

"Oaxaca is overwhelmingly populated by artists and people with artistic sensibilities, and they have done a fine job of retaining its historic character and protecting the place they love. Unlike other parts of Mexico where tourism equals environmental and cultural destruction, Oaxaca's commercial success depends on its continued self-preservation. That dependency will help safeguard its future."

"More trees should be planted (rather than cut down to clear space for vendors' stands at the plazas)."

Mexico: Sian Ka'an and environs
Score: 58

"Sian Ka'an and the whole of Costa Maya are under extremely high tourism pressure. Only thanks to the World Heritage and Man and Biosphere status has Sian Ka'an managed to remain relatively undeveloped to date. Sian Ka'an, with its important forest, mangrove, sea grass and coral reef areas is of high environmental and ecological quality and therefore has great aesthetic appeal to visitors. The site also offers a number of activities (diving, fishing, hiking, bird-watching, etc.) that help to make it a valuable experience for a visitor."

"Global warming. This is a fragile area that was hit by the edges of two hurricanes last year. With increased severity and number of hurricanes, it will get hammered more and more, and the complex relationship between the land, lagoons, and reef will be disrupted. This is one of the few areas where the local Maya actually can make a direct living from tourism, working primarily as guides in the lagoon areas. The NGO 'Amigos de Sian Ka'an' has been really helpful, and now there are others getting involved. Cesiak, an eco-hotel in the biosphere, is a good example of an eco-hotel."

"Tourism development inside Sian Ka'an is still bearable, but outside areas are quickly becoming overdeveloped. Local people benefit from the development, but it should be considered how much development is too much, and what kind of visitation is desirable to sustain the features the current visitors are interested in seeing. Tourists could be better informed on their impacts to the fragile environment than they currently are. Many tour operators are also not acting in a sustainable manner. Enormous amounts of rubbish on beaches (even in Sian Ka'an) diminish visitor appeal and the overall quality of the site."

"Those who visit are thrilled by the multilevel rain forest, and by vibrant Maya communities in planned visits. Civil strife is always possible and has added security concerns which far outweigh environmental risks."

"Relentless development pressure and increasing visitation. Local private operators continue to minimize financial benefits to local communities. There is mounting tension and discord between the different communities. Continued meddling by international NGOs often creates more conflict at the local level and gives an unfair advantage to the select few who participate in their specific programs."

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Saint Lucia: the Pitons and environs
Score: 60

"The Pitons are a unique attribute of the Caribbean with a mixed record in terms of tourism sustainability. There are some beautiful unspoiled beaches right in their shadows, but nearby there are poorly concocted tourism ventures and many of the very poor locals trying to get their piece of the large amount of tourism revenue entering the island. Perhaps most disturbing to me is the isolation (or apartheid) of many of the visitors to this island. It seems that many spend their time in tourist enclaves and not interacting much with the local culture."

The Pitons Management Area suffers from the same overdevelopment and resource use conflict problems as many WH sites. The environmental quality is still relatively OK in the Pitons, and Soufriere marine park is well-managed, but mass tourism is gaining ground in the area and new construction is continuously being erected. Tourism benefits local communities to a certain extent, but more could be done to share the benefits equally. Tourists are currently not informed in regards to the WH value of the site and how their activities impact the site."

"Sand mining on the beaches seems now to be under control, and the mangroves seem to be coming back, but the number and diversity of the bird population seems to be in decline. Insects and treefrogs still put up a good wall of sound. The universal veneer of international corporations has not totally killed local culture, but its presence is evident in Soufriere."

"Foreign real estate investment is the fly in the ointment. Villas are available for less than a single family home in Florida, and it will not be too long before this becomes well-known in the U.S. I expect to see the American baby boomers investing soon."

"Some of the local restaurants only employ local village women and are rumored to have two sets of prices, one for local and one for tourists. This allows locals to mingle with visitors and encourages fleeting friendships to occur. Village markets also encourage this cultural exchange. Visitors need to know how not to push the price of food down too much (something I learned the hard way)."

"The future of sustainable tourism is looking better since the creation of the marine reserve, the work of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries actively promoting the regeneration of mangroves, the development of the Pitons Management Area and Jurassic Coast site, and the designation as a World Heritage site. Ecotourism, agritourism and adventure tourism has room to expand, perhaps with the assistance of educational programs and small business incubators."

USA: Pueblo de Taos and Taos, New Mexico
Score: 63

"Taos Pueblo and the town of Taos have different characteristics. To say 'Taos just isn't as quaint and 'authentic' as it used to be' is true— it's an evolving city. It is still a wonderful place to visit. The pueblo has to some extent maintained its physical fabric, but the human character is lost."

"One of my favorites where art, environmentalism, and a rich cultural history all seemed mixed together. Downsides: Taos is crowded, impossible to park, and the town center seems almost forgotten."

"Seems a real divide between traditional peoples and the out-of-town artists and skiers. The pueblo has wonderful interpretation and is well preserved, but the artists' shops and the Native American heritage could be better integrated into—and benefit from—visitors frequenting the larger Taos area."

"Relatively high tourist volume, traditional community. The pueblo highlights the difficulty of a traditional community to withstand the onslaught of tourist hordes. I was impressed that traditionally prepared foods were available here."

"Taos is no longer a heritage tourism destination; it is a shopping center with a cowboys and Indians motif. Replica Indian pottery and rugs are sold in galleries at inflated prices (with little benefit to the communities that inspired them)."

"The pueblo feels somewhat like a museum, not a community. Most of the ground-level residences had been converted to tourist shops (some selling plastic trinkets or non-local items), and residents overall were resentful of the tourist presence."

USA: Historic San Juan, Puerto Rico
Score: 69

"Offers a cultural experience (for the most part) through food, shopping, and architecture that reflects the culture of the island. El Moro, the old fortress, is a wonderful anchor for the district connecting the area to the sea and the early history. However, it might do a better job of connecting the story to the development of the historic district and Puerto Rico today."

"The old city is a vibrant mix of historic streetscapes and modern offices and commerce. Hotels and restaurants of every type and quality are available.  However, excessive traffic and crowding (especially when cruise ships are in port) detract significantly from the overall visitor experience."

"Charming and thematically well interpreted … having local dancers perform inside the walls is very appealing. The surrounding shops, cafes and hotels are excellent and street vendors seemed very appropriate, with local craft items. I was impressed with the professionalism of resource managers and interpreters."

"A unique glimpse into the past mixed with the upscale shops of today. Great photo ops, excellent food, music, and local color in street fairs and historic missions. Expensive hotels. Would benefit from a regional tourism plan."

"McDonald's/Burger King and cruise ships make old town a trinket paradise. Preserved forts are unique and wonderful, as are streets and neighborhood under the walls, but city does not feel special."

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