World Heritage Sites

Birds eye view of Robben Island.

South Africa is home to 8 official UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Altogether, there are 851 World Heritage Sites in the world, spread across 141 countries. These 8 heritage sites include four cultural, three natural and one mixed (cultural and natural) sites, which guests should explore on their South African holidays.

  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Robben Island
  • Cradle of Humankind
  • uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park
  • Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
  • Cape Floral Kingdom
  • Vredefort Dome
  • Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

iSimangaliso (Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal:

As of the 1 November, the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park will be renamed iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a name that better reflects the uniqueness and beauty of this ecological sanctuary. Visitors on South African holidays can enjoy an exceptionally rich biodiversity, including over 521 species of bird.

The park comprises of the St Lucia Game Reserve, False Bay Park, St Lucia Marine Reserve, Sodwana Bay National Park, Maputoland Marine Reserve, Cape Vidal, Ozabeni, Mfabeni, Tewate Wilderness Area and Mkuze Game Reserve.

The St Lucia Estuary is the largest in Africa and boasts the world's largest forested sand dunes, reaching up to 180 metres. The Park is home to five individual ecosystems, namely the marine system, eastern shores, lake system, Mkhuze and Umfolozi swamps and the western shores.

The Marine System is characterized by the warm Indian Ocean and consists of the southernmost coral reefs of Africa, as well as sub-marine canyons and long white beaches. The Eastern Shores is a coastal dune system of high dunes and sub tropical forests, grassy plains and wetlands.

The Lake System consists of 2 estuary-linked lakes of St Lucia and Kosi Bay. It also includes the four large freshwater lakes of Lake Sibhayi, Ngobezeleni, Bhangazi and Bhangazi south. The Mkhuze and Umfolozi Swamps consist of swamp forests and extensive reeds and papyrus marshes. Finally, the Western shores feature ancient shoreline terraces and dry savannah woodlands.

Although not as popular as the Kruger National Park, St Lucia actually supports more species. Visitors on South African holidays in St Lucia can spot White-backed and Pink-backed Pelican, Lesser Flamingo, Madagascar Fish Eagle and 530 bird species.

It also boasts the largest concentration of Hippo in South Africa. Visitors will also be able to view the majestic Elephant, and, in season, sea turtle laying their eggs on the beach and well as Humpback Whale migrating along the coast.

Robben Island, Western Cape:

Not many people have not heard of Robben Island. This island is situated about 12 kilometres off the coast of Cape Town, and is most famous for being the location where Nelson Mandela spent much of his life in prison.

Robben Island was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 and is a popular tourist attraction. It can be reached via ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Tours of the island are conducted by guides who were former prisoners there. The Robben Island Museum operates as a site or living museum.

Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng:

The Cradle of Humankind is situated 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. The site is 183 square miles and consists of a complex of limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, where the 2.3 million year old fossil 'Mrs Ples' was found in 1947, and the Wonder Cave.

The Cradle of Humankind is home to more than three dozen fossil bearing caves, including Bolt's Farm, Coopers Cave, Drimolen, Gondolin, Haasgat, Kromdraai, Minaars Cave, Motsetsi, Plovers Lake, Sterkfontein and Swartkrans.

Hominid remains were found in dolomite caves and are encased in a mixture of limestone and other sediments called breccia and fossilised over time. Hominids may have lived all over Africa, but their remains are found only at sites where conditions allowed for the formation and preservation of fossils.

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, KwaZulu-Natal:

Guests visiting uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park on their South African holidays can enjoy a place of incredible natural beauty. it is situated only 2 hours from Durban and four hours from Gauteng. uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is a land of rolling grasslands, pristine river valleys and rocky gorges, as well as a diversity of habitats, birdlife, flora and fauna.

This area also features many caves and rock shelters, offering remnants of the past and the history of this area. Numerous rock paintings can be found in these caves, made by the ancient San people over 4 000 years ago.

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park offers a wealth of activities, including exciting day walks, self guided hiking trails, fly fishing, rock climbing and mountain biking. Other recreational activities include bird watching, photography, swimming, painting and relaxing while taking in your beautiful and spectacular surroundings.

Guests will also experience an amazing wildlife experience, as this area is home to a diverse population of birds, mammals and reptiles. Larger mammals found in this area include Mountain Reedbuck, Grey Rhebuck, Klipspringer, Caracal, Serval, Oribi, Eland and Bushbuck. Smaller animals include Chacma Baboon, porcupines, rock hyrax and over 300 species of birds.

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, Limpopo:

Mapungubwe is situated against the northern border of South Africa, joining Zimbabwe and Botswana. Mapungubwe means 'place of the stone of wisdom' and was South Africa's first kingdom. Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is nestled on the open savannah of the Mapungubwe National Park.

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was discovered in 1932 and was only recently brought to attention when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are quite a few reasons why UNESCO named Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape a World Heritage Site. Firstly, the landscape contains evidence of a cultural and social interchange in the country between AD900 and 1300.

Secondly, this site documents the rapid growth and decline of a state which was the largest kingdom in the lower half of Africa. And thirdly, Mapungubwe played a very important role in the history of the African sub-continent due to its position as a powerful trading state with Arabia, India.

The Cape Floral Kingdom, Western Cape - Eastern Cape:

The Cape Floral Kingdom stretches from the Cape Peninsula in the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape in South Africa. It consists of eight protected areas, namely Table Mountain National Park, Cedarburg Wilderness Area, Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Boland Mountain Complex, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Bosmansbos Nature Reserve, Swartberg Complex and Baviaanskloof, the only area that forms part of the Eastern Cape.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is regarded as one of the hotspots for plant diversity and consists of mostly Fynbos, a plant indigenous to South Africa. The Peninsula alone is home to more than 2 285 species of flora, 90 of which are endemic. The Cape Floral Kingdom is a place of exquisite beauty and comprises of Fynbos, Renosterveld, Succulent Karoo, Sub-tropical Thicket and Afromontane. Fynbos makes up 4/5 of the entire Cape Floral Kingdom.

Vredefort Dome, Gauteng:

Vredefort Dome is situated 120 kilometres south west of Johannesburg, and is part of a larger meteorite impact structure, or astrobleme. It is the seventh site in South Africa to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005. This astrobleme dates back 2,023 million years, and is the oldest, largest and most deeply eroded astrobleme found on earth so far.

This astrobleme boasts a radius of 190 kilometres, and is a representation of the world's greatest known single energy release event. This event has resulted in devastating global change, as well as major evolutionary changes, according to some scientists.

This dome provides important evidence of the earth's geological history and is highly imperative to the understanding of the evolution of the planet. The world has about 130 crater structures, with the Vredefort Dome being among the top three. The Vredefort is also older than the Chixculub structure in Mexico (65 million years old), which is said to be the site of the impact that led to the extinction of Dinosaurs.

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, Northern Cape:

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape was recently inscribed as the eighth World Heritage Site in South Africa. Guests on South African holidays will see a fascinating mountainous desert situated in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, which is owned and managed by the Nama community, descendants of the traditional Khoi Khoi people that once inhabited this area.

This is a land of extremes, characterized by a harsh, dry landscape, rugged kloofs and high, dramatic mountains. The Nama community has dedicated this landscape to conservation, this being their land of origin. There are 3 small Nama villages surrounding the area, namely Kuboes, Lekkersing and Eksteenfontein. The area is also bordered by the Richtersveld National Park, the Nababiep Provincial Nature Reserve and designated grazing areas, allowing the Nama people to continue their semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle.

At Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, water is a great scarcity and only the hardest life forms survive and exist. The landscape may seem somewhat barren and desolate at first, on closer inspection you will find an area rich in life forms, and a diversity of unique species specially adapted to survive such harsh elements. Temperatures are extreme, with summer reaching well over 50 degrees Celsius and rain extremely rare.

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is home to an incredible diversity of plant life, with over 650 species. This park boasts the world's largest diversity of succulents, representing a prime example of one of the most fascinating mega-ecosystems in the world - the Karoo. Wildlife and bird life is also in abundance, with the park playing host to Grey Rhebuck, Duiker, Steenbok, Klipspringer, Kudu, Hartman's Mountain Zebra, Baboon, Velvet Monkey, Caracal and even the elusive Leopard.

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