Africa has something to shout about when it comes to UNESCO World Heritage sites, the continent home to more than a few. Chosen for their cultural or natural significance, there are now 1,007 iconic global locations on the list, and recently we were in the mood to celebrate as Botswana’s Okavango Delta finally made the grade! While there are far too many to mention here, we’ve picked out some of the most interesting sites inscribed by the World Heritage Committee, but if we’ve missed off one of your favourites why not tweet us on Twitter @AcaciaAfrica using the #WorldHeritage hashtag!
Once a leper colony and perhaps better known as a maximum security prison for political prisoners, Robben Island may have a sombre history, but it’s also borne witness to dramatic cultural change in South Africa: the end of apartheid. Situated on a low-lying rocky outcrop and just 9.3km north of the mainland, Nelson Mandela was its most famous resident, the peace icon spending 18 years imprisoned on the island. Derelict World War II military structures can also be found here, and with a timeline stretching across several centuries, the tomb of Hadije Kramat, a Muslim leader who was exiled in the mid 18th century.
A true geological wonder the Namib Sand Sea is the only coastal desert to be influenced by fog. Formed by the transportation of materials, which are carried by river, ocean current and wind over thousands of kilometers, the dunes are a breathtaking sight to behold. A must see on the World Heritage list, this otherworldly location is one of the few sites to fulfill all four of UNESCO’s criteria, putting it on a par with the Galapagos Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
The 1,000th location to be awarded with UNESCO World Heritage status, the Okavango Delta is currently basking in its well deserved limelight. Some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal including the lion, cheetah, painted dog and white and black rhino inhabit Africa’s last remaining wetland wilderness, and August is one of the best times to enjoy a mokoro safari, the wildlife migrating to the delta during high water season.
The Great Zimbabwe Ruins bear testimony to the Bantu civilization of the Shona between the 11th and 15th centuries. Steeped in mystery, legend has it that the site is linked to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon’s mines, the rough hewn granite blocks forming distinct enclosures. Accessed by narrow passageways, to the west you’ll find what is considered to be a “royal city,” the enclosure thought to have been the residence of successive chiefs.
The Victoria Falls gives out an iridescent mist that can be seen more than 20 kilometers away! This factor alone makes the location one to add to the UNESCO hit list and dividing Zambia and Zimbabwe there are plenty of options to get a birds eye view. Some argue that Zimbabwe holds the title on best spots to gaze upon this natural wonder and the country does claim 15 of the 19 viewing points, but with micro-flights and huey flights getting you closer to the world’s largest falling curtain of water you’ll be spoilt for choice in Zambia too!
For cultural fusion and historic architecture Stone Town can’t be beat – urban Zanzibar mixing elements of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe. Once a important hub for trading between Africa and Asia, and affectionately known as the Spice Island, a tour down the cobbled streets of Stone Town will also unearth its not so pleasant past. On the up side while this was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa, it is also the base from which its opponents including, David Livingstone braved the campaign trail.
Inhabited by globally threatened species, an ideal location from which to view the annual migration and one of the best places to spot all the Big Five, the Ngorongoro Crater is an impressive wildlife haunt. UNESCO added it to the list way back in 1979, but today the world’s largest intact caldera still holds sway on the safari front, and there’s a cultural kick as the Maasai herd their cattle in the conservation area.
The ultimate challenge, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is on the list of “1,000 places to see before you die,” and Africa’s tallest freestanding mountain has undoubtedly made the cut on numerous “before your 30” bucket lists. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to explore these dizzy heights and trek through rainforest, moorland, alpine desert habitat and snow laden trails, the path leading you upwards to the Uhuru peak at 5,895 metres above sea level.
The views over the Great Rift Valley are jaw droppingly beautiful. Impressive in size alone it is the only major physiographic land feature on earth visible with the naked eye from the moon – the rift stretching from the Red Sea through East Africa (branching out to the east and west) to the southern end of Mozambique. Boasting a total of five world heritage sites, you can get in on the UNESCO action at Bwindi Impenetrable Park, where you’ll find half of the world’s last remaining Mountain Gorillas, or alternatively dive into the evolutionary depths of Lake Malawi, home to hundreds of endemic fish species.