Today, May 5th, marks African World Heritage Day, an occasion to celebrate the exceptional cultural and natural heritage of the African continent. Being an African-born organization, we thought it’d be a perfect time to share 10 of the most incredible World Heritage Sites that lay on the doorstep of our volunteer projects across the continent.
#1 Victoria Falls – Zambia/Zimbabwe
Known locally as ‘Mosi-o-Tunya’ (the smoke that thunders), Victoria Falls can be found 2700km from the ocean, along the mighty Zambezi River. Victoria Falls did not get its status for nothing! The towering sheet of water plunders down a 100m vertical drop and is 1.5km wide. In fact, it’s so large that there are even different countries on either side of the Falls; Zimbabwe on one side and Zambia on the other. Dr. David Livingstone was the first European to see Victoria Falls during a research trip and described his experience seeing this World Heritage Site as “scenes so wonderful it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”. He, in fact, named Victoria Falls after his monarch, Queen Victoria.
#2 Serengeti National Park – Tanzania
Famous for the safari experience the Serengeti provides, there’s no doubt this is a well-deserved World Heritage Site. However, it is not just the landscape that gives the Serengeti National Park its UNESCO WHS ranking. The wildebeest migration that happens here is the biggest of its kind. With two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle (closely followed by some of Africa’s most fierce predators), this is a site to behold.
#3 Great Lakes – Kenya
The Great Lakes of Kenya constitute part of the East African Rift Valley. It comprises of 3 lakes that formed due to tectonic activity. You may think, ‘what’s so magical about a lake?’. Well, these particular lakes are home to around 4million lesser flamingos. 4 MILLION! Let that sink in. There are many other bird species and fish species in the area, but you’ll also find large mammals roaming the area. The specialty of this place lies within the continuing ecological and biological processes occurring and is a must-visit if you’re into animals of the flying-kind.
#4 Kilimanjaro National Park – Tanzania
Being the tallest mountain in Africa, there’s no surprise Mount Kilimanjaro makes the list. The summit sits at 20,000 feet, overlooking mainland Tanzania. Between rainforest, farmlands and icy footpaths, you can find almost all of the world’s biomes on your hike. Annually, 25,000 people hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, with two-thirds being successful. If you’re joining us on one of our Tanzania volunteer projects, make sure to do a coffee tour in the foothills. An absolutely magical experience… with even better coffee.
#5 iSimangaliso Wetland Park – South Africa
‘iSimangaliso’ aptly means miracle and wonder. This Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999 as a response to eminent dune mining. The Park stretches over 332,00 hectares and provides many activities for tourists and volunteers alike. There are beaches, bird watching, estuary boat cruises (where you may spot a hippo or crocodile), deep sea fishing, game drives, horse riding, scuba diving, whale watching and many more. With 8 interlinking ecosystems it’s no wonder there are so many activities on offer. We run an incredible community development project just outside the gates of this park, so if getting to know the locals is on your list, drop us a message.
#6 Ngorongoro Conservation Area – Tanzania
Tanzania is spoiled for World Heritage Sites. As the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the entire world, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is on the list. The volcanic crater spans 20kms and is 600m deep. The area it occupies is 300sq kms and is home to countless of Africa’s most iconic wildlife species. It’s probably one of the most famous safari locations in the whole of Africa and, along with the Serengeti National Park, even inspired the Lion King film.
#7 Stone Town – Zanzibar
Stone Town was – and still is – a Swahili trading town on the tropical island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of mainland Tanzania. While Zanzibar is predominantly known for its stunning, exotic beaches and warm waters, it is also known as the ‘Spice Island’ for its farming and processing of spices like cloves, turmeric and cinnamon. Way back when, many ships crossed Zanzibar and participated in trade with Swahili locals. This culture is preserved in the architecture (as well as the spice markets) that are still found there today.
#8 Robben Island – South Africa
When South Africa is mentioned in conversation, many things come to mind. One of those things may have been the Apartheid regime that dominated in the 20th century. Robben Island was famously known as the place where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years. But, many don’t know the history of the island itself. The first people who were banished to the island were two Malagasy men who led a mutiny on a slave ship in 1766. The island was also used to house a leper colony in 1845 who were separated from society. There is no surprise Robben Island made the World Heritage Sites list based on its cultural significance. If you’re volunteering with us in Cape Town, this is definitely a great way to spend a Saturday.
#9 Cradle of Humankind – South Africa
The Cradle of Humankind (a series of limestone caves around 50km from Johannesburg) is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa and one of the most important sites in the world for connecting the history of human evolution. The site made world news after the discovery of ‘Mrs Ples’ – a 2-million-year-old hominid skull, which was discovered in 1947. The Cradle of Humankind has outstanding universal value with regards to the discovery and research from the ancient skeletons found in the site – the oldest dating back 3.5 million years ago. WOW.
#10 Mana Pools National Park – Zimbabwe
“Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site based on its pure wilderness and beauty.” What a statement. The area itself borders with Zambia and when inscribed by UNESCO, was one of the most important sanctuaries for Black rhinos in the whole of Africa. Now, it has one of the highest populations of African wild dogs and some fantastic spots to see traditional bushmen cave paintings. If you’re volunteering with us at Antelope Park, it’s worth adding a few days on to your trip to experience the magic of this incredible place.
Now that you’ve seen our top 10 World Heritage Sites in Africa, we want to know your favorite!