The 10 World Heritage Sites of South Africa

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If you are planning a visit to South Africa, you may wonder how many world heritage sites are in South Africa. There are 10 world heritage sites in South Africa. Let’s see what they are!

What are South Africa’s world heritage sites?

The ten UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa comprise four natural sites, four cultural sites and one mixed site, as depicted in the table below.

Kwa-Zulu Natal

Gauteng

Western Cape

Free State

Limpopo

Mpumulanga

Northern Cape

uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park

Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa

Cape Floral Region

Vredefort Dome

Mapungubwe National Park

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains

ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Robben Island

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The former name of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park or St Lucia Wetlands South Africa. iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, an accurate description of this beautiful place. This Wetland Park was South Africa’s first World Heritage Site and is situated in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. It has one of the largest estuary systems in Africa and contains Africa’s southernmost coral reefs. The park has exceptional biodiversity with over 521 bird species. 

iSimangaliso Wetland Park - UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa
Image by Michele Lianza from Pixabay

The Wetland Park expanded over time and is currently the second-largest protected area in South Africa (the Kruger National Park is the largest). In this wetland park, you will find three major lake systems, swamp forests, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700-year-old fishing traditions, Africa’s most extensive estuarine system and 25,000-year-old coastal dunes.  

If you love beautiful beaches, the beach stretches for over 220 kilometres from Kosi Bay near the Mozambican border to Maphelane in the South. You can participate in horse riding, kayak trips, diving, snorkelling, hiking game viewing while visiting the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Click here to find a place to stay near the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Click here for activities near the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Robben Island

Robben Island is one of the world heritage sites in South Africa. It is located near Cape Town in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. Nelson Mandela made Robben Island famous as he was a prisoner there for 18 years. The Island has served as a prison, military base, or hospital for socially unacceptable groups throughout its history. The Island has been a symbol of freedom and democracy since Apartheid ended in 1994. 

Robben Island - Western Cape UNESCO World Heritage Site
Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

You can visit Robben Island by taking a ferry from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront. Once you get to the Island, you take a guided tour of the Maximum Security Prison, the graveyard of people who died after suffering from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, the bluestone quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, and the navy and army bunkers. The tour ends with a visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell. 

Click here to find a place to stay in Cape Town to visit Robben Island.

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Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa

Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng
Cradle of Humankind in Gauteng

The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1999. It is located northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa’s Gauteng province. The site is over 47,000 hectares big and has several limestone caves. The area is more commonly known as the Cradle of Humankind, Cradle of Mankind or the Cradle of Humanity. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson discovered a 2.3 million-year-old fossil (called Mrs Ples) in the Sterkfontein Caves in 1924. Sterkfontein has produced nearly a third of early hominid fossils found before 2021. 

The Cradle of Humankind is near Lanseria Airport. The Misty Hills Hotel is an excellent option if you want to explore the activities in the area, such as the Croc City Crocodile and Reptile Park – a perfect outing for families!

Click here to find a place to stay near the Cradle of Mankind.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding the Cradle of Mankind.

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park

You can find the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. This heritage site is the only mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa since it has both natural and cultural significance. The Maloti-Drakensberg Park comprise the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. These mountains are beautiful with basaltic buttresses, golden sandstone ramparts and incisive dramatic cutbacks with spectacular caves, rock pools and cliffs. You can find many endemic and globally critical plants on this site. You can also find endangered bird species, including the Cape vulture and the bearded vulture.

Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal - World Heritage Site of South Africa
Photo by Arthur Hickinbotham on Unsplash

Nature-lovers will enjoy visiting the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park, where they can participate in activities including hiking, mountain climbing, cycling, fly-fishing, boating, swimming, bird-watching, San rock art viewing and horse riding. 

Click here to find a place to stay near the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park.

Mapungubwe National Park

The Mapungubwe National Park is near the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, about 75 kilometres from Musina in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Locals know this as the “place of the stone of wisdom”. Historically, this was the first kingdom in South Africa and lasted 400 years before its abandonment in the 14th century. Here you can see the untouched remains of the palace sites and the remaining settlement area. The place was “rediscovered” on 31 December 1932 by a local informant, Mowena, and a farmer, E.S.J. van Graan. They noticed stone walls and found gold and iron artefacts, glass beads and pottery. 

Mapungubwe National Park
Petrus Potgieter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When visiting the Mapungubwe National Park, there are several activities you can do: self-drive game drives, guided night drives, guided heritage walks, hikes or visiting the museum.

Click here to find a place to stay near the Mapungubwe National Park.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding the Mapungubwe National Park.

Cape Floral Region

Another of South Africa’s UNESCO heritage sites is the Cape Floral Region in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The Cape Floral Region is less than 0.04% of the world’s land area, but it houses 3% per cent of the entire world’s plant species, making it one of the richest plant areas in the world and only one of 18 biodiversity spots in the world. The area includes several South African national parks, nature reserves, forests, mountain catchment areas and wilderness areas. The most well-known element of the Cape Floral Region is the large number of Fynbos species. 

Kirstenbosch Gardens - Fynbos
Image by WhiskerFlowers from Pixabay

The Cape Floral Region includes the following areas:

  • Table Mountain National Park
  • Cederberg Wilderness Area
  • Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area
  • Boland Mountain Complex
  • De Hoop Nature Reserve
  • Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
  • Swartberg Complex 
  • Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve

Click here to find a place to stay near the Cape Floral Region.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding the Cape Floral Region.

Vredefort Dome 

Over 2 billion years ago, a meteorite of around 10 kilometres in diameter hit the Earth near the town of Vredefort in the Free State Province of South Africa. This area is now called the Vredefort Dome and became one of South Africa’s UNESCO heritage sites in 2005. The Vredefort Dome shows the impact of the world’s largest crater on planet earth. The area gives insights into the Earth’s geological history and the evolution of the planet. 

South African UNESCO World Heritage Site - Vredefort Dome
Ossewa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Vredefort Dome is near Parys, a popular weekend destination for locals from Johannesburg and Pretoria. People visit Parys for art galleries, coffee shops and water sports in the Vaal River, flowing through town. You can take part in several outdoor activities, including hikes, whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, skydiving and clay pigeon shooting.

Click here to find a place to stay near the Vredefort Dome.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding the Vredefort Dome.

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

Another of South Africa’s UNESCO Heritage sites is the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, which covers 160 000 hectares of mountainous desert in the Northern-Cape Province of South Africa. A small cultural community owns and manage this desert area and dedicated the area to conservation. In the past, this site provides sustenance to the semi-nomadic Nama people. In this area, the Nama people build their portable rush-mat houses (haru om) with grazing grounds for their livestock. These days the Nama people live in three villages just outside the conservation area. 

Richtersveld World Heritage Site South Africa
Andrew Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Richtersveld Transfrontier Park hosts the world’s second-largest canyon, the spectacular Fish River Canyon, the setting for a popular hiking trail. You will also find the mouth of the Orange River here. Activities in the area include hiking, bird-watching and 4×4 routes. The flower season is popular with locals and is best during the period from June to October, when it is the rainy season. 

Click here to find a place to stay near Richtersveld.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding Richtersveld.

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains 

The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains is situated in the Mpumulanga Province of South Africa, near the town of Barberton. It is home to 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, one of the world’s oldest geological structures. The structure houses the best-preserved volcanic and sedimentary rock from 3.6 to 3.25 billion years ago. Many call this area the ‘Genesis of Life’. 

You can choose from several activities for visitors, including hiking, walking, cycling, horse riding, para-gliding, quad biking and off-roading. You can also try exploring the caves in the mountains and view ancient rock art. 

Click here to find a place to stay near Barberton.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding Barberton.

ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

You can find the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape at the border of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern-Cape Province of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. This dessert contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present day, associated with and is associated with the Khomani San people. The Khomani San people developed specific ethnobotanical knowledge, worldview and cultural practices to help them survive in this harsh environment. They descended from an ancient population who lived in southern Africa about 150 000 years ago. The area consists of the Upper Karoo and the Southern Kalahari. These areas are rich in archaeological evidence of the Later Stone Age, and you will find rock art in the hills and outcrops in the southern region. 

Click here to find a place to stay near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Click here for activities and tours in the area surrounding the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The World Heritage Sites in South African provinces

This map shows the World Heritage Sites in South African provinces:

The 10 World Heritage Sites of South Africa are distributed between the provinces of South Africa as follows:

Kwa-Zulu Natal

Gauteng

Western Cape

Free State

Limpopo

Mpumulanga

Northern Cape

uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park

Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa

Cape Floral Region

Vredefort Dome

Mapungubwe National Park

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains

ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Robben Island

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

Tentative UNESCO heritage sites in South Africa

South Africa has five properties on its tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites list:

  1. The succulent Karoo Protected Areas
  2. The Liberation Heritage Route
  3. The early farmsteads of the Cape Winelands
  4. The Pleistocene occupation sites of South Africa
  5. Nelson Mandela Legacy Sites
The 10 World Heritage Sites of South Africa
The 10 World Heritage Sites of South Africa
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Sabs | South Africa Travel Blog

By Sabs

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.

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