Take a look at South Africa's UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Published Jul 30, 2018


The World Heritage Site list is a composition of monuments from around the world which have been deemed sacred and placed under the protection of world organization UNESCO.  

The list includes monuments like Machu Picchu in Peru, Vatican City in Italy and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Here are the monuments in South Africa that are a part of the list. 

Robben Island, Cape Town

In 1999, eight years after Nelson Mandela's release from Pollsmoor Prison and five years after he was elected as the first democratic president, UNESCO added Robben Island to is list of World Heritage Sites based on the island's historical significance for housing the Rivonia trialists and other political prisoners (like Robert Sobukwe) during the apartheid regime. 

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. The island officially closed down as a prison in 1996 and now serves as a museum.

Robben Island. Picture: supplied

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The natural processes of marine life and botanical life have created what is known today as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Stretched along the coast of Kwa Zulu Natal and Zululand's borders, the park covers an astonishing 332,000 hectares of land and sea and boasts a wide variety of species in terms of flora, fauna, and habitats for sea mammals. 

The Wetland Park was added to UNESCO's list in 1999 because of its vast diversity, as well as housing the ten "jewels" or regions within iSimangaliso, including Sodwana Bay.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Picture: Pinterest

Fossil Hominid Sites

The Fossil Hominid Sites consists of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and Environs, with Makapan Valley and the Taung Skull Fossil Site. Commonly known as the Cradle of Humankind, the Fossil Hominid site was inscribed onto the list in 1999.

Some of the sites featured include the Taung Skull Fossil site - which is where the Taung Skull was found in 1924 (a specimen of the species Australopithecus africanus), and also the discovery of the Australopithecine specimens dating back more than 3.5 million years in the Sterkfontein Caves added to the value of entire Makapan Valley. 

Other discoveries in the Makapan Valley include that of the Paranthropus, dating back between 4.5 million and 2.5 million years. 

Taung Skull Fossil. Picture: Geoff Mason/UNESCO

Drakensberg-Maloti Park

The Drakensberg-Maloti Park is a transboundary site made up of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho.


Added to list in 2000 for its diverse habitats and globally endemic plant life, the park is also home to some of the world's most endangered animals like the Cape Vulture, Bearded Vulture, and the Maloti Minnow.

The park also contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara belonging to the San People, some of which date back 4000 years.

Rock Art from Maloti-Drakensberg Park. Picture: Geoff Mason/UNESCO


The cultural site of Mapungubwe was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 2003. Situated between the northern border of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, Mapungubwe currently shows the remains of one of the largest royal societies that lived during the 14th century. 

Mapungubwe National Park. Picture: Francesco Bandarin/UNESCO

What remains on the cultural site are the untouched remains of the palace sites and also the entire settlement area dependent upon them, as well as two earlier capital sites. The site now offers ruin tours and showcases artefacts excavated from the site (including a rhino crafted from gold foil and wood) inside a museum open to the public.

Cape Floral Protected Region

Added to the list in 2004, the Cape Floral Region is located in the South-Western area of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape and features a plethora of plant species, sometimes regarded as the highest concentration on Earth.

The Cape Floral Region. Picture: Western Cape Nature Conservation

The easiest way to explore this site’s protected areas (including Table Mountain National Park and De Hoop Nature Reserve) is via car hire, while the best time to visit is early spring (September - October).

Vredefort Dome

Located approximately 120 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg (with a radius of 190km), the Vredefort Dome is a crater caused by a meteorite impact some 2,023 million years ago. 

Vredefort Dome Picture: Supplied

Thought to be one of the oldest meteorite craters on Earth, the crater provides the biggest single energy release in the planet’s history - an event that caused major evolutionary changes and helped shape the world as we know it today.

Tourists and visitors can take part in different activities including hiking, hot air ballooning, river rafting and abseiling. 

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

Measured at 160,000 ha, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape contain the site which contains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people in the north-western part of South Africa. The landscape was labelled a World Heritage Site in 2007.

It is the only area where the Nama people still construct portable rush-mat houses (Haru om) and includes seasonal migrations and grazing grounds, together with stock posts.

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape. Picture: Claudio Velasquez/UNESCO

ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

Inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2017, the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located on the border of Botswana and Namibia in the southern Kalahari Desert. 

The Cultural landscape is part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and protects the traditional home of the ǂKhomani San people. 

Members of the San People in ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape. Picture: Francois Odendaal

The remains of the cultural landscape show evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present and are associated with the culture of the formerly nomadic ǂKhomani San people and the strategies that allowed them to adapt to harsh desert conditions.

Visitors can experience their unique lifestyle through cultural village visits and guided bush walks.

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains

Located in north-eastern South Africa, the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains comprises 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt - one of the world’s oldest geological structures.

The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains is the latest cultural site to be inscribed on the list, having been added earlier this year. 

Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains. Picture: Tony Ferrar/UNESCO

The site features meteor-impact fallback breccias resulting from the impact of meteorites formed just after the Great Bombardment (4.6 to 3.8 billion years ago), which are well preserved, with volcanic and sedimentary rock dating as far back as 3.6 to 3.25 billion years.


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