Travel to South Africa

with UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites as Your Guide

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

Africa is so rich in natural, cultural, and historical attractions that first-time travelers might find it difficult to decide where to start.

So, where to go to “see Africa”? First time visitors to Africa should plan carefully. A dozen or more of Africa’s 50 nations are on the US State Department Traveler’s Advisory List, meaning that American travelers face some risk in some areas including Kenya, famous among adventure travelers for jaw-dropping safari tours.

Making that decision can be expedited by turning to a list quite different from the State Department: UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The following briefly describes just one of the hundreds of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa. Sometimes easily accessible, sometimes not, each offers a different, and tremendously rich, window onto the one world we all share.

South Africa: Rare Rock Paintings and Ancient Landscapes

There are eight World Heritage sites in South Africa. One, uKhahlamba -Drakensberg Park, is a perfect destination for travelers with divergent interests, who want to both experience nature and learn about a little-known, ancient people.

Dual-listed by UNESCO as a cultural and environmental world treasure, uKhahlamba -Drakensberg Park, is considered a leading ecotourism site in South Africa. It has dramatic natural appeal, with wild gorges, sandstone ramparts and caves, plus a plethora of endangered species, which qualify it as worthy of environmental preservation.

In those caves are also rock shelters, harboring, as UNESCO describes it, the largest group of rock paintings in sub-Saharan Africa, dating as far back as 4,000 years ago to the now-extinct San peoples.

Other UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa include:

  • Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs
  • Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
  • Robben Island
  • Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
  • Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
  • Vredefort Dome
  • Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape.

Of course, South Africa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa for American tourists. So if while booking a trip to shark dive or see famous beaches, to visit Zulu villages or Capetown’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, consider building in a visit to one of these World Heritage sites.