South Africa is home to eight United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites that highlight places of importance to cultural or natural heritage, while showcasing the extraordinary beauty of the country. Below is a list of world heritage sites that you should visit while exploring all that South Africa has to offer:
Robben Island, located in Table Bay, Cape Town, is recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO as it remains an integral part of South Africa’s history.
The island’s name ‘Robben’ is derived from Dutch and it means ‘seal’ as the island had an abundance of seals. It was explored by Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz in 1488 and was used as a place of replenishing supplies by visiting ships before being converted into a prison and an asylum for mentally ill patients from 1671.
The island can be visited from Monday to Sunday, with departures from the V&A Waterfront at 9am, 11am and 1pm. Tours take approximately 3 hours to complete, and costs range from $12 to $21 per person.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park, located north to the city of Durban in KwaZulu Natal, is one of the continent’s largest estuary systems, boasting over 500 bird species and the world’s highest sand dunes. It is home to the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros), the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) and the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth). The Park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, as well as most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests.
It was was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 for its natural beauty and unique global values. Visitors to the park not only enjoy the biodiversity of the park, but also endless beaches that stretch 220 kilometres from Maphelane in the south to Kosi Bay on the Mozambique border.
The park has a variety of accommodation options and tours for visitors, and the duration of the visit is usually one week if you plan on getting the full experience of the park. Prices for tours and accommodation are available on request.
The Cradle of Humankind, located in Johannesburg, was declared as a world heritage site in 1999 for being home to Australopithecine specimens dating back more than 3.5 million years. The site is 47,000 hectares (180 square miles) in size and it contains a complex of limestone caves.
The 2.3-million-year-old fossil called Mrs. Ples was found at the site’s Sterkfontein Caves in 1947 by Robert Broom and John T. Robinson, which was the follow-up discovery of the Taung Child in 1924 by Raymond Dart in the North West Province. The recent find was that of Homo Naledi, in which 15 fossil skeletons of an extinct species of hominin were found in the Dinaledi Chamber by a paleo-anthropological team led by Lee Berger.
Visitors can see various exhibitions at Maropeng, the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind, and at the Sterkfontein Caves every Tuesday to Sunday from 09h00 to 17h00. Admission is between $4 and $12 for children aged between 4 and 14, school groups, students and adults.
PHOTO CREDIT: Fatti Mafuta / Shutterstock.com
The Kingdom of Mapungubwe, also known as the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, used to be one of Southern Africa’s largest kingdoms between 900 and 1300 AD before it was abandoned in the 14th century. What remains of the kingdom are palace sites and the settlement areas were populations used to live.
The Kingdom was located at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, at the northern border of South Africa joining Zimbabwe and Botswana. The geographical position of the kingdom enabled it to control trade, through the East African ports to India and China, and throughout southern Africa. It was declared a world heritage site in 2003 for its role in influencing human society.
The Mapungubwe National Park is open for visitors to see the ruins of Mapungubwe as well as an array of wildlife. Accommodation is available at the park (prices upon request) and tours are available upon request.
The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is located in KwaZulu Natal, and was declared as a world heritage site in 2000 for its exceptional natural landscape, its importance as a haven for many threatened and endemic species, and for its wealth of rock paintings made by the San people over a period of 4000 years.
The park is part of the Maloti-Drakensberg range, which is located between Lesotho and South Africa. Its sister park, located in Lesotho is the Sehlabathebe National Park. uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is home to a variety of endangered plant and bird species as well as to rock art paintings and history of the San people, who were the inhabitants of the Maloti-Drakensberg range thousands of years ago.
The nature reserve is incredibly scenic, perfect for hiking, walking or photography as well as perfect for resting at the Tugela Falls or at the foothill of the mountain. Accommodation at the reserve is available all year from $28, and tours are available at request.
The Cape floral region, located at the southern tip of the country in the Western Cape, is recognized as one of the most special places for plants in the world in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species. It was declared as a world heritage site in 2004 for its outstanding universal significance to humanity and for its richness in flora.
The region is regarded as one of the six Floral Kingdoms of the world and is the smallest and relatively the most diverse, representing less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, but being home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region.
The protected areas that make up the region are Table Mountain, De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Boland mountain complex, the Groot Winterhoek wilderness area, the Swartberg Mountains, the Boosmansbos wilderness area, the Cederberg wilderness area, and Baviaanskloof, which straddles the Western and Eastern Cape boundary. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden on the slopes of Table Mountain is included in the site, which is the first time a botanical garden has been included in one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
You can visit the individual areas, such as the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden or Table Mountain in Cape Town, to experience the floral region.
More than 2 million years ago, an asteroid the size of Table Mountain headed for Earth at a speed of 20 kilometres per second, and eventually blasted into Earth, creating a crater that is 17 kilometres deep, with a radius of 190 kilometres.
On impact, the meteorite forced layers of rock outwards and downwards to form three rims of crumpled ridges that today stretch as far as Johannesburg and into the North West province while simultaneously forcing granite and gold to the surface.
Vredefort Dome was declared a world heritage site in 2005 as it is the oldest and largest known meteorite impact structure on earth and provides an important understanding of the evolution of the planet. The site can be visited all year round, with the winter season being preferred for hiking as it is cooler. Tour operators are available on site to offer tours of the dome, and tour prices are between $12 and $17.
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, located in the Namaqualand region in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, is a beautiful mountainous desert that is uniquely owned and managed by the Nama community who are the descendants of the Khoi-Khoi people.
A few years, the Richtersveld area was returned to the Nama community under the country’s land restitution programme, and the community has since chosen to dedicate it to conservation. The area is bordered by a number of areas, including the Richtersveld National Park and the Nababiep Provincial Nature Reserve, which allows the community to continue their semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle.
The area was declared as a world heritage site in 2007 for its diverse botanical landscape and for its important role in preserving the Nama community. Tours are available via the Richtersveld National Park and the Namaqua National Park, where visitors can go on 4×4 trails to view the wildlife of the park. Prices and tours are available upon request.