Ask anybody why they would like to visit SA and they are likely to tell you that it's because of South Africa's diverse landscapes and rich cultural history. However, there is even more reason to tour SA as the country boasts eight natural World Heritage Sites as certified by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
UNESCO's World Heritage Programme focuses on preserving exceptional areas of importance to humanity and chooses a site for its cultural significance or natural beauty.
Make sure that you visit one of South Africa's Heritage Sites when staying close by or make a tour of it and stop over on your way to your destination.
Cradle of Humankind
Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs
Gauteng, Limpopo and North West Provinces
S24 9 30.996 E29 10 36.984
The Cradle of Humankind is considered the birthplace of humankind. It's here where the famous, beautifully aged (2.3 million year old in fact!) Mrs Ples - a prehuman skull - was discovered. It's also the final resting place of Little Foot - an almost complete hominid skeleton from 4.17 millions years ago.
The world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves is home to the oldest and most continuous paleontological dig in the world. The site is massive - 47 000ha - and it's believed that it holds within its depths many more mind-blowing scientific discoveries. The World Heritage Site status the area now enjoys ensures that what is deep within its core will be protected and explored forever.
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
S22 11 33 E29 14 20.004
This landscape in Limpopo, where the borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet, is the remnants of the ancient City Sate of Mapungubwe that existed about 1000 years ago. In 1933 large amounts of gold work was found and other indications showing that this city had an advanced knowledge of metal work and that they traded with countries as far as Arabia and China.
Mapungubwe Hill is a sandstone hill of about 30m high and 300m long. In its layers it holds the remnants of floors, burnt houses and household refuse. The hilltop was inhabited for about 70 years between AD1220 to AD1290. If history could speak it would come alive with an ancient metropolis - a society advanced for their time. The meaning of the name Mapungubwe - "place of the stone of wisdom" - testifies to this.
Western Cape Province
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Robben Island became internationally well known as a place of imprisonment for many political prisoners, most notably Nelson Mandela, Tokyo Sexwale, Walter Sisulu, Mac Maharaj and Jacob Zuma.
From the 17th to the 20th centuries, Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment. Today the island is a touching reminder to the newly democratic South Africa of the price paid for freedom.
North West and Free State Provinces
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The Vredefort Dome came into existence 2023 million years ago causing this amazing 300km wide crater that stretches from Johannesburg to Welkom. Scientist have concluded that the meteorite that hit earth must have been approximately 10km in diameter and travelling at more than 36 000km per hour!
What makes it even more spectacular is that this is the biggest meteorite impact that geologists have found on Earth - it was twice the size of the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago!
Cape Floral Region
Western Cape and Eastern Cape Provinces
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Unesco declared the 553 000ha Cape Floral Region to be of "outstanding universal significance to humanity", describing it as "one of the richest areas for plants in the world". The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide. It boasts more than 8 500 plant species and is home to about 20% of the African continent's flora.
The heritage site comprises eight protected areas considered to be the most important examples of the Cape floral kingdom: 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.
iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetland National Park
S27 50 20.004 E32 32 60
"iSimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world's biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world's oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world's biggest marine mammal (the whale)" - Nelson Mandela
This area is indeed an astounding range of natural systems and includes dunes, swamps, coastal forests, rocky and sandy shores, coral reefs, canyons, grasslands, woodlands and wetlands! The park is 332 000ha and has 3 major lake systems, 8 ecosystems and 526 bird species to name but a few of the diversities of the area. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder - aptly named indeed!
uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park
S29 22 59.988 E29 32 26.016
The mighty and famous Mountain Range of South Africa, The Drakensberg Mountains, stretches 200km long and is a sight to behold. Combining sheer natural beauty with a wealth of biological diversity, this 243 000ha mountainous region has been preserved for eons.
Covered in snow during the cold winter months and drenching you in its shadows during summer - the Berg is an awe-inspiring area with rivers, waterfalls, cliffs and rock art left behind by its previous inhabitants, the San. It's this barrier that separates KwaZulu-Natal from Lesotho and is aptly named uKhalamba (the Barrier of Spears) by the Zulu people.
Richtersveld Cultural & Botanical Landscape
Northern Cape Province
S28 36 0 E17 12 14
The 160 000ha Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape of dramatic mountainous desert is in north-western South Africa and has been the home of the semi-nomadic Nama people for the last 2000 years. In tune with the harsh environment, many of the Richtersvelders today are pastoralists, moving their livestock between stock posts with the changing of seasons. This is the last place in South Africa where pastoral people live on communal lands and one of the last remaining examples in the world of the transhumant Nama way of living.