5 places where you can explore Mzansi’s rich heritage and culture

Entrance to Maximum Security Prison, an inactive prison at Robben Island in Table Bay, 6.9km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Unsplash

Entrance to Maximum Security Prison, an inactive prison at Robben Island in Table Bay, 6.9km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Unsplash

Published Sep 12, 2023


When we travel, we tend to overlook the story of a place and how the area’s narrative fits into the greater narrative of our history, culture and heritage.

South Africa and its people are diverse in many ways, and with that comes many places to explore and things to learn.

Travelling makes learning about our history easier than learning in a classroom environment. It’s a fun and interactive way to absorb information at a quicker rate because we’re making memories.

The memories live on long after we are gone and can be passed on from generations through storytelling. Each place has a story to tell.

From Robben Island to the Battlefields in KwaZulu-Natal, the history may be painful but the story of how our nation was formed and how far we have come, needs to be told.

If you’re looking for a quick history lesson and places of historical significance to visit, here are 5 places where you can learn and to stay this Heritage Month.

Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town is a symbol of South Africa’s Struggle for freedom and equality. It once served as a notorious political prison where Nelson Mandela and other leaders were held during apartheid.

It has views of the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain and the harbour.

Where to stay: The Protea by Marriott Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge, housed in a historic 19th-century building, offers an unbeatable location in the heart of Cape Town. It also provides easy access to Robben Island tours.

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg offers a comprehensive and moving journey through South Africa’s turbulent past, telling the story of apartheid, the struggle for justice and the ultimate triumph of democracy.

Where to stay: Originally established in the 1950s as a countryside tearoom, providing a cherished stopover between Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton has a history that pre-dates the flashy skyscrapers of Sandton’s business district.

As a testament to its historical roots and commitment to preserving its countryside charm within the cityscape, this enduring quality has made it a beloved destination for travellers and locals.

The Big Hole, Kimberley

The Big Hole is an open-pit diamond mine excavated by hand during the late 19th century. It stands as a reminder of South Africa’s diamond mining industry. Visitors can explore its depths, and earn about diamond mining and its impact on the country’s history.

Where to stay: Situated on the edge of the famous Big Hole, The Protea Hotel by Marriott Kimberley offers breathtaking views and antique elegance, making it an ideal base for exploring Kimberley’s history.

Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal

KwaZulu-Natal is home to numerous battlefields that shaped South Africa’s history. Sites like Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift offer insights into the Anglo-Zulu War, while the Battle of Blood River reflects the Voortrekkers’ struggles.

Where to stay: Built in 1986, the Protea Hotel by Marriott Karridene Beach, is in Illovo Beach, Amanzimtoti. The name, “Amanzimtoti”, is of Zulu origin and means “sweet water”. It is generally attributed to King Shaka of the Zulu tribe.

According to the historical account, during one of King Shaka’s campaigns in the 1800s, he and his army stopped to rest in the area, and he named it “Amanzimtoti” because of the presence of fresh, sweet water.

The name reflects the significance of the natural resource in the region.

Mafikeng Museum and The Lotlamoreng Cultural Village

The capital of the North West, Mahikeng, is steeped in history and culture. The Mafikeng Museum chronicles the region’s history, including its role during the Siege of Mafikeng and contributions to the Struggle against apartheid.

The Lotlamoreng Cultural Village offers an immersive experience of Setswana culture and history.

Where to stay: Perfectly situated, the Protea Hotel Mahikeng is in an area rich in culture, history and wildlife, making it ideal for business and leisure travellers looking for a fresh approach to comfort.

South Africa’s heritage and history come alive through the remarkable sites and the historic hotels that offer an unforgettable blend of the past and present.