Our Top South African World Heritage Sites

Our Top South African World Heritage Sites

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites include some of the most famous cultural landmarks and natural wonders on earth. The Notre Dame Cathedral, Pyramids of Giza and the enormous subtropical marshland of the Everglades National Park have all been recognized by UNESCO as areas of significant cultural or natural importance. South Africa boasts no less than eight Heritage Sites, all of which are worth a visit. However, only these made it to our list of the Top Three South African World Heritage Sites.

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape

Why it’s unique

Mapungubwe is the place where the first indigenous kingdom in southern Africa rose in 900 AD. The great wealth of this Iron Age metropolis arose from its strategic positioning, which allowed a trade in gold and ivory with Asia (as evidenced by artifacts of Chinese celadon ware and Persian beads) to flourish. Climate change forced the large farming population of Mapungubwe to disperse around 1300 AD, leaving behind an array of gold artifacts that have lent the site the moniker of Lost City of Gold.

Must see

The centre of the kingdom, Mapungubwe Mountain, where three royal graves were unearthed, was the domain of the royal family. It was here that the iconic artifacts of the gold foil rhino, scepter and bowl were excavated. Housing artifacts from the region’s prehistory is the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, winner of the prestigious 2009 World Building of the Year.

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

Why it’s unique

Home to the original indigenous inhabitants of South Africa, the Khoi-Khoi and the San people, the Richtersveld is steeped in the ancient culture of South Africa. The harsh climate has fostered an incredibly unique ecosystem with a number of unusual plants, such as the Halfmens boom, which resembles a curious human form. Revered by the indigenous people, the Halfmensboom is mythically purported to be the half-human, half-plant, ancestor of the Nama people, hanging their heads in mourning for their ancient Namibian home.

Must see

Petroglyphs, the ancient geometric rock engravings of the San chopped into the black dolomite rocks scattered across the Richtersveld. The artists would enter into a state of shamanistic trance and the drawings represent their interpretation of the human unconsciousness.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Why it’s unique

Recognised by UNESCO for its unparalleled natural beauty and biodiversity, the Park spans over 332 000 hectares and encompasses Africa’s largest esturine system, with three lake systems, eight unique ecosystems, some of South Africa’s last remaining swamp forests, and coastal dunes that are 25 000 years old and some of the tallest in the world. The most famous, and longstanding, resident here is undoubtedly the Coelacanth, which first evolved approximately 400 million years ago. The elusive fish is nicknamed the ‘living fossil’ because its fossils were found long before it was ever seen as a live specimen.

Must see

In a single day it is possible to see elephants, black and white rhino, buffalo, and leopard, as well as dolphins, humpback whales and leatherback turtles. Early in November, female loggerhead and leatherback turtles emerge from the ocean to dig a 1 meter deep nest and lay between 80 and 100 eggs. Between January and March, thousands of hatchlings will burrow out of the nest and make their way into the ocean – but only four in 1000 will survive the perilous journey to maturity.

 

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