UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Africa
South Africa is known for its exceptional natural beauty and diversity of different cultures. With so much to offer, it is not surprising that the country is home to no less than 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (places of significant value recognized by the United Nations). UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be listed for both cultural and natural heritage and are afforded international protection. Of the 10 UNESCO sites in South Africa, five are cultural, four are natural, and one is mixed.
Fossil hominid sites in South Africa
More commonly referred to as the Cradle of Humanity, South Africa’s hominid fossil sites were established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. These sites include the Sterkfontein Caves, an important paleoanthropological site where many ancient fossils have been found. Among them are skeletons of our early hominid ancestors, the oldest of which is thought to be nearly four million years old. Also on the UNESCO site is the Taung Skull fossil site, where the skull is 2.8 million years old Australopithecus africanus In 1924, a child was found in a known form. Today, the Maropeng Visitor Center offers insight into the importance of these sites through a series of interesting interactive exhibitions. The center is located in the province of Gauteng, an hour northwest of Johannesburg.
The Cultural Landscape of Mapungubwe
The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, is located surrounded by the savannahs of Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Between 1200 and 1290 AD, a settlement was established here that became a trade with the Far East and became one of the largest and richest kingdoms in Africa. The kingdom flourished until the 14th century when it was abandoned. Today we can imagine what the region might have looked like in its heyday, thanks to an extensive system of ruins that includes a palace and two previous capitals. The museum is located in the visitor center next to the main gate of the park, which offers tours of the ruins and exhibits excavated at the site (including a rhinoceros made of gold foil and wood).
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
Located near the South African-Namibian border in the Northern Cape province, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.The site began life as the Richtersveld Community Preserve, an area of mountain desert that the Nama people of Mexico used to maintain their unique semi-nomadic way of life. Each year, the Nama migrate with their herds from the mountains to the river, giving each seasonal pasture a chance to recover. By using the land so sustainably, the Nama also preserve the region’s rare flora and fauna, including nearly 600 species found nowhere else on Earth. Today, the preserve offers insight into an endangered ancient culture and an opportunity to experience the pristine natural wilderness.
Located off the coast of Cape Town, Robben Island was used as a penal colony as early as the 17th century. Since then it has been a whaling station, a leper colony, and a World War II military base, but it is best known for its role as a prison for political prisoners during the apartheid years of the 20th century. Many famous freedom fighters were imprisoned, including ANC activist Walter Sisulu, PAC leader Robert Sobukwe; and Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 years there. After the fall of apartheid, the prison on Robben Island was permanently closed and is now a testament to a brighter and more racially equal South Africa. The island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 (five years after Mandela was elected president), and today tours of Robben Island are a popular tourist attraction.
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
Registered as a UNESCO site in 2004, Cape Floristic Region protected areas include several different locations in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. Starting from national parks to state forests, these areas come together to create a global biodiversity hotspot, known in particular for its incredible plant life. The Cape Floral Region, often called the highest concentration of plant species in the world, supports more than 9,000 species, about 70% of which are endemic. In particular, the region is famous for the fynbos vegetation, an aromatic shrub unique to South Africa. The easiest way to explore the protected areas of this place (including Table Mountain National Park and De Hoop Nature Reserve) is to rent a car, and early spring (September through October) is the best time to visit.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
One of the oldest UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa, iSimangaliso Wetland Park was established in 1999. The park covers an amazing 332,000 hectares of land and sea along the northeast coast of the country from Zululand to KwaZulu-Natal. There are 10 “gems” or regions within most of Isimangaliso, including Sodwana Bay, the uMkhuze Reserve, and the tranquil Lake St. Lucia. The park has been recognized as a World Heritage Site for its incredible diversity, both in terms of flora and fauna and beautiful landscapes. Within its boundaries, the park includes several key habitats, including lush wetlands, fig forests, nesting turtle beaches and teeming estuaries. From game and kayak safaris to snorkeling and bird watching, there’s something for every nature lover.
Approved as a UNESCO site in 2005, Vredefort Dome is located about 75 miles / 120 kilometers southwest of Johannesburg. Despite its confusing name, the dome is actually a crater caused by the impact of a meteorite some 2023 million years ago. It is believed to be one of the oldest and largest meteorite craters on Earth, and is indicative of the largest energy release in the history of the planet, an event that caused major evolutionary changes and helped shape the world as we know it today. The Vredefort Dome is especially important because it is the only known meteor crater with a completely intact geologic profile. Today, the crater boasts considerable scenic beauty and incredible animal and plant life. Visitors can take part in a number of activities, including hiking, hot air balloon rides, river rafting and rafting.
Maloti Drakensberg Park
Maloti Drakensberg Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 2000. It includes sections of national parks in both South Africa and Lesotho – Ukhlamba Drakensberg National Park and Sehlatebe National Park, respectively – which are known for their exceptional natural beauty. The park’s breathtaking mountain scenery provides habitat for many endemic and/or rare plant and animal species, and is especially popular with bird watchers because of the populations of the endangered cape and the bearded vulture. The park also has significant cultural value, as its caves and escarpments are home to the largest collection of ancient rock art in sub-Saharan Africa. These paintings, created over 4,000 years, provide an amazing insight into the life of the early San people.
NoHoman Cultural Landscape.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, the Khomani Cultural Landscape is located on the border with Botswana and Namibia in the southern Kalahari Desert. It is part of the remote Kgalagadi Transboundary Park and protects the traditional home of the Khomani San people. These former nomads are descended from the first inhabitants of South Africa and were previously thought to have disappeared from existence. Now the last of their people continue to survive in the harsh conditions of the Kalahari almost as their ancestors did. Visitors can experience their unique way of life by visiting a cultural village and guided bush walks offered by lodgings such as! Xaus Lodge, in the heart of Kgalagadi.
Barberton Mahonjwa Mountains
The Barberton Mahonjwa Mountains, announced in 2018, is the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa. It consists of 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, an ancient geological structure found in the northeast of the country and considered one of the oldest in the world. The mountains themselves date back to the time when the continents first began to diverge about 3.6 billion years ago. Of particular interest are the well-preserved meteoric impact reserve breccias. These geological formations were formed when meteors plowed across the Earth’s surface, tossing molten rock that eventually consolidated and fell to earth. In addition to being a must-visit for those interested in geology, the region has many stunning landscapes and interesting flora and fauna.
Africans are human too. Famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa
Incredibly beautiful architectural structures, mysterious ancient necropolises, vast nature reserves with many rare animals and plants, squares of historic cities and sights, the history of which still raises many questions. Where can you see all these unique objects? In Africa! On a continent that most tourists associate exclusively with the Sahara Desert and the sweltering heat. Literally every African country has amazing sights that deserve the attention of curious tourists. The continent is rich in incredibly beautiful nature reserves, it has preserved many ancient cities, and the pyramids of Giza is considered one of the most recognizable sights in the world. Anyone who wants an unforgettable African adventure should definitely visit the unique World Heritage sites.
Tassiline-Adjer Plateau, Algeria
In southeastern Algeria, among the lifeless landscapes of the Sahara, lies the unique Tassiline-Adjer Plateau. The main value of this place are the petroglyphs, some of which date back to the 7th millennium BC. Currently, the plateau, which is about 500 meters long, is part of the large Tassilin-Adjer National Reserve, which has a total area of over 70,000 square meters. In addition to the incredible archaeological sites, the plateau is also remarkable for its original geological formations.
For thousands of years, the wind blowing the sandstone has formed incredibly beautiful and harmonious stone arches, and geologists have also been able to determine that there were once turbulent rivers flowing through these places. Visitors to the site will have the opportunity to see more than 300 unique geological formations, look into hidden caves, and walk through some of the most valuable archaeological areas in the world.
In 1909, vivid cave paintings depicting people, animals, and various scenes of life were discovered on the plateau. They are another excellent confirmation that the desert area was once full of life. Rivers flowed here, with fertile soils along their banks, and herds of domestic animals grazed in vast meadows. A total of more than 15 000 rock paintings have been found on the plateau, some of them dated to about 8 thousand years, and the most recent paintings were made in the first century AD. The Tassilin-Adjer Plateau is one of the world’s largest assemblages of rock art elements, making it a world-class attraction. Next – The Royal Palaces of Abomey
Use of this author’s site material is encouraged. A link to www.orangesmile.com is mandatory.
Royal Palaces of Abomey, Benin
Benin’s city of Abomey is home to a unique historical complex – beautiful royal palaces that are a reminder of the times of the Dahomey kings. In total there are 12 palaces in the complex, with an interesting cultural tradition associated with the history of their construction. With each change of ruler a new palace was built next to an old one, the extensive complex was inscribed in 1985 on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Discover in full
The Rings of the Megalithic Stones in Senegambia, The Gambia
Travelers who like to explore unusual sights should go to Gambia. Here in the Senegambia region there are mysterious megalithic circles, about the purpose and history of which scientists from all over the world argue for hundreds of years. Scientists managed to find out that the mysterious rings were built in the period from 8th to 12th century, but a more thorough study of the area revealed burials of earlier periods. Discover in full
Traditional buildings of the Ashanti people, Ghana
Ghana has an amazing site that is sure to please fans of unusual architectural sights. We are talking about the traditional buildings of the Ashanti people located in the district of Asante. The complex of 13 buildings is incredibly beautiful, it is the only reminder of the once powerful and prosperous Ashanti state. The state flourished in the 18th century and was ravaged by destructive wars at the beginning of the 19th century. Reveal completely
The Theban Necropolis, Egypt
The Theban Necropolis is one of the most important sites in Egypt where travelers can see the unique tombs of the pharaohs, intact memorial temples, and other historic buildings, all connected in some way with the culture of ancient Egyptian Thebes. Among the memorial temples the most interesting is the temple of Queen Hatshupsut, in the Deir el-Bahri area, and the memorial temple of Ramses III. Discover in full
Memphis and its Necropolises, Egypt
Travelers who can’t get enough of the necropolises of Thebes should visit the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis and take in its unique sights. The history of this once powerful city lasted more than 3,000 years and ended in the 5th century AD, today Memphis is a unique open-air museum. Not a single building on the territory of the ancient city has survived, and for many years its entire territory has been under constant archaeological research. Open in full
St. Catherine Monastery, Egypt
In the center of the Sinai peninsula there is a unique religious site – the Monastery of St. Catherine. The monastery was founded in the 4th century and has been continuously operating for more than a thousand and a half years; it is one of the oldest in the world. The monastery was built by order of Emperor Justian, originally it was called the Monastery of Transfiguration, and its current name was acquired only in the 11th century. The monastery has been a traditional Christian pilgrimage site for many hundreds of years, and the main artifact hidden within its walls are relics of St. Catherine. Discover in full
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Those who are more into natural attractions will enjoy exploring Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park. This wilderness area is located in the northern part of the country, on the banks of the Zambezi River. Its main distinctive feature is the abundance of swamps, fresh water which attracts a huge number of wild animals. Typical inhabitants of the reserve are buffalo and elephants, leopards and cheetahs as well as the Nile crocodile. Discover in full
Sanga Three Nations Forest, Cameroon-Central African Republic-Congo
Perhaps the most unusual nature reserve in Africa is the Sanga Forest. It is so vast that it is located on the territory of three states at once – Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Congo. For this reason, the Sanga Reserve is often referred to as the Forest of Three Nations. A large part of the reserve is covered by evergreen rainforest, which is a place not only for tourist excursions, but also for important scientific research. Discover in full
Lake Turkana National Park, Kenya
Kenya is home to one of the world’s most important natural attractions, Lake Turkana, also known by its other name, Lake Rudolph. This lake is located in the Great Reef Valley, its depth is relatively shallow and averages about 30 meters. However the scale of the lake is quite impressive with length of about 290 km and width of about 32 km and total area of the lake is 6,405 square meters. Open completely
Okapi Reserve, Congo
Nature lovers can visit the Okapi Reserve, it is located in the northeastern part of the state, the area of the reserve is about 13.7 thousand square kilometers. The main value of the national park is rare animals inhabiting its territory, some species of which are on the brink of extinction. There are 13 types of monkeys alone, forest elephants, and the main inhabitants of the park are the okapi. Discover in full
The Old Town of Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast
Côte d’Ivoire is home to the amazing town of Grand-Bassam, and it’s sure to appeal to travelers who love to stroll through historic neighborhoods and experience unique architectural landmarks. From 1893 to 1896, the city was the French colonial capital, and after the outbreak of yellow fever it lost its paramount importance. Open entirely
The Banque d’Argene National Park, Mauritania
Mauritania has an amazing coastal park called Bank d’Argen and it never ceases to amaze travelers with its variety of landscapes and exotic inhabitants. Located on the coastal territory of the Atlantic Ocean, you will have the chance to see beautiful sand dunes, small islands and coastal marshes and get acquainted with the amazing inhabitants of local fauna. Discover in full
The Medina of Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakech is the most visited and most colorful city in Morocco and its historical district is known worldwide for its incredible architectural sights and lively markets. In 1985, the Medina of Marrakech was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many travelers know it by the unofficial name of the “Red City. The fact is that one of the main symbols of the historic district are the preserved mud-brick buildings and fortifications, the walls of which have a reddish hue. Full disclosure
The Stone City of Zanzibar, Tanzania
One of the most interesting historical sites in Tanzania is the Stone Town of Zanzibar, a colorful historical district with many preserved structures. The historic district owes its unusual name to the many stone buildings, the first of which were built in the early 19th century. At that time Zanzibar was a great trading city and during the reign of Said ibn Sultan it was proclaimed the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Full disclosure