World Heritage Sites in South Africa

Posted on 26 September 2013

South Africa is home to eight UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites. Need inspiration for local travel around South Africa? This list of sites is well worth a visit.


1. Cradle of Humankind

The Maropeng Visitor’s Centre is a fascinating outing for kids and adults alike – you’ll come away having learnt something new.

The only World Heritage Site in Gauteng, the Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng is where the first hominid, Australopithecus, was found in 1924 at Taung in the NorthWest Province by Professor Raymond Dart of the University of the Witwatersrand. This area is one of the most popular and famous tourist attractions in South Africa and is only one hour from Johannesburg. The Cradle of Humankind contains various fossil sites containing traces of human occupation and evolution dating back some 3.3 million years. Take a guided tour through the Sterkfontein caves, see working excavation sites, visit the Maropeng Centre and hear the stories of our early ancestors.

Also read: The Getaway guide to the Cradle of Humankind


2. Mapungubwe landscape

The viewpoint over the Limpopo and Shashe River confluence in the north of Mupungubwe. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Located south of the famous Great Zimbabwe, the Mapungubwe Kingdom in Limpopo dates back to the Iron Age. The famous Mapungubwe National Park protects Mapungubwe Hill, which was the site of this community and artefacts found here date back to approximately 1000 AD to 1300 AD. These consist of a variety of materials such as pottery, trade glass beads, Chinese celadon ware, gold ornaments (including the famous golden rhino), ceramic figurines, organic remains, crafted ivory and bone and refined copper and iron. Visit the beautiful Mapungubwe National Park and view the wildlife and archaeological excavation sites; or stand at the Shashe Confluence and look across the river to Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Also read: The route for an epic roadtrip from Mapungubwe to Kruger


3. Vredefort Dome

Vredefort Dome

An aerial shot of the Vredefort Dome from NASA.

Did you know that South Africa is home to the largest verified impact crater on Earth? The Vredefort Dome measures 300 kilometres across and is named after the small Free-State town of Vredefort. Much of the crater has been eroded but the history and geology of the area continues to amaze all who lay eyes upon it. The asteroid that caused the crater is thought to have been the biggest asteroid to ever strike Earth, approximately two billion years ago. It is the second-oldest known crater on Earth, a little less than 300 million years younger than the Suavjärvi Crater in Russia.


4. Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

De Hoop Campsite in the Richtersveld. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

This is one of the coolest places to visit if you haven’t already travelled here. Located in the Northern Cape just below the border of Namibia, the/Ai-/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a mountainous desert landscape characterised by rugged kloofs and sharp mountains of volcanic rock where the desert meets the Orange River. Despite its arid landscape, the Richtersveld is regarded as the only arid biodiversity hotspot on earth, meaning it has a huge variety of animal, bird and plant life that has adapted to the extreme conditions and is endemic to the area.


5. Robben Island

Visiting Robben Island off the shores of Cape Town.

Located about seven kilometres out from Bloubergstrand in Table Bay, most South Africans know Robben Island as the place where political prisoners, specifically former president Nelson Mandela, were sent to carry out their sentences. Dating back to the 1600s, it was used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station in the 1800s and was even fortified during World War 2 as part of defences for the City of Cape Town. A trip to the Robben Island Museum is a must for anyone wanting to find out more about the history of this World Heritage Site.


6. Cape Floral Region Protected Areas

Sunlit fynbos tapestry in De Hoop Nature Reserve. Phot by Teagan Cunniffe.

With eight protected areas that are among the richest in plant life worldwide and containing nearly 20% of Africa’s total flora, the Cape Floral Region is a well-loved and well-known area to visit (Discovering Fynbos and feathers in the Cape Floral Kingdom). The area is home to more than 9 000 vascular plant species, of which 69% are endemic, making it a biodiversity hotspot. The Heritage Site includes Table Mountain National Park, Cederberg Wilderness Area, Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Boland Mountain Complex, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Boosmansbos Wilderness Area, Swartberg Complex and Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve.


7. iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The system of walkways and viewpoints in the Fig Tree Forest takes you up to the forest’s eye level in Isimangaliso. Photo by Tyson Jopson.

Previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s third-largest protected area and is made up of around 3 280 square kilometres of natural ecosystems. Proclaimed a World Heritage Site because of its rich biodiversity and unique beauty, there is a variety of ecosystems ranging from dune forests and coral reefs to vast savannas and wetlands.


8. Maloti-Drakensberg Park

The Drakensberg is just four hours from Joburg and two from Durban. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Covering 2428 square kilometres, the famous Maloti-Drakensberg Park forms part of both South Africa and Lesotho and is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions. Described by UNESCO as ‘having exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts,’ the park is home to many endemic bird, plant and animal species and has a wealth of ancient rock paintings in its caves and slopes.

How many of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites have you visited?

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