Trace the Beauty of Humanity Through South Africa's 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The most recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site is the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape in South Africa | Courtesy of UNESCO
The most recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site is the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape in South Africa | Courtesy of UNESCO
Photo of Carina Claassens
8 August 2017

South Africa, together with Morocco and Ethiopia, is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa, and recently one more was added to the impressive list. On July 8, 2017 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee declared the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape an official heritage site.

The new heritage site is sure to become a major attraction, with its recently awarded status as the ninth UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country. Here’s all you need to know about South Africa’s amazing heritage sites, including where to stay and why these sites are so culturally significant.

ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The most recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated on the South African border between Botswana and Namibia. The site shows evidence of Stone Age civilization and was also home to the ǂKhomani San people. What makes the ǂKhomani San so unique is that they are direct descendants of an ancient population (dating back 150,000 years) and are essentially seen as the ancestors of the entire human race. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park forms part of this desert landscape and is a beautiful holiday destination for those who enjoy the outdoors.

Where to stay: Kalahari Trails offers reasonably priced accommodation in the heart of the desert. Rates for a private chalet are R1000 (£57) per unit per night.

Courtesy of UNESCO

Cape Floral Region Protected Areas

The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas is a center of terrestrial biodiversity and includes national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas, forests and mountain catchment areas. Comprising eight protected areas that stretch from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape, the area is rich in flora in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species. Although it represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, it is home to approximately 20% of the continent’s native plants.

Where to stay: Book a fishermen-style cottage at De Hoop Village for R2295 (£131) per unit per night.

Courtesy of UNESCO

The Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind is a popular day trip destination from Johannesburg, as it’s only a short drive away. Caves and archaeological sites are scattered across thirteen locations, that all make up The Cradle of Humankind. The site has produced much evidence regarding the evolution of humankind and is the richest hominin fossil site in Africa. Visitors can explore the fascinating Sterkfontein Caves, and visit the Maropeng Visitor Centre to learn all there is to know about this captivating site.

Where to stay: Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge is a relaxing bush retreat and rates start at R795 (£45) per person per night (breakfast included).

Maropeng, Cradle of Humankind | © flowcomm/Flickr

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal was South Africa’s first listed World Heritage Site. The park is home to the continent’s largest estuary system, as well as 526 bird species. Activities when visiting the park include deep-sea fishing, boat cruises, scuba diving, turtle tours and much more. The pristine beaches are also ideal if a seaside escape is what you’re after.

Where to stay: Kosi Forest Lodge offers private beach suites set in a sand forest. Rates for Forest Rooms start at R2010 (£114).

Courtesy of UNESCO

Maloti-Drakensberg Park

The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is home to the endangered Maloti minnow fish, as well as a colony of Cape Vulture. The park is spread between the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho, stretching across borders. The park is known for its range of adventure activities, breathtaking views, and its legendary Basotho ponies. One of the most authentic ways to explore the park is through a pony trekking tour, and visitors can book anything from a one- to a four-day option.

Where to stay: There is a wide range of accommodation in the area suited to all budgets.

Courtesy of UNESCO

Mapungubwe National Park

The ancient area of Mapungubwe is an Iron Age archaeological site in the Limpopo Province, on the border between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003. There have been significant discoveries at Mapungubwe, including a large collection of artifacts and human remains, all of which support the fact that a wealthy kingdom flourished here between 900 and 1300 AD.

Where to stay: Leokwe Rest Cape is Mapungubwe’s main camp and is set in between beautiful sandstone hills. Rates start at R1175 (£67) per cottage, sleeping two adults.

Courtesy of UNESCO

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

The arid landscape of the Richtersveld was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 and is home to the indigenous Nama people. The Nama people are descendants of the Khoi-Khoi and have dedicated themselves to the conservation of the area and its unique landscape. This is the only arid area biodiversity hotspot in the world and there’s much to do, including swimming in the mammoth Orange River, the Transfrontier Wildrun foot race from South Africa to Namibia, and tours of the local communities.

Where to stay: There are many accommodation options in the area but the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a must-visit. Sendelingsdrif Rest Camp is relatively new and consists of 10 chalets.

© Javier Ábalos Alvarez/Flickr

Robben Island

Robben Island is notorious for being the prison where Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 of his 27-year incarceration. It’s a popular tourist option, where visitors can get a glimpse (however small) of the harshness of Apartheid rule. Visitors are taken on a tour by former prisoners who explore the island, from grave sites to Nelson Mandela’s cell. The island is situated approximately seven kilometers (4.4 miles) west off the coast of Cape Town, and tickets start from R190 (£11) per person.

Where to stay: Cape Town is filled with fantastic hotels, guest houses, backpackers, self-catering apartments and more.

Courtesy of UNESCO

Vredefort Dome

The Vredefort Dome is the site of a meteorite impact that created a crater approximately 300 kilometers (186 miles) wide. This is the largest (and oldest) verified impact crater in the world and, situated 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Johannesburg, the site offers a variety of fun activities, including abseiling, hot-air ballooning, 4×4 tracks and much more. Needless to say, the Vredefort Dome is a significant site regarding scientific research and worth a visit when in the area.

Where to stay: The site can easily be visited as a day trip from Johannesburg but, as there’s so much to do and see, booking overnight accommodation is recommended. Dome Lodge offers self-catering accommodation, including chalets and camping options.

Courtesy of UNESCO

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