How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are there in Africa?

UNESCO (The United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) runs a programme to protect and maintain places that are extremely important either for conservation of the environment or culturally important sites. These places are given UNESCO World Heritage Site status in order to protect them under international law and to be able to raise funds to help secure their protection for the future. There are currently 981 sites worldwide of which 759 are cultural and 193 are natural and 29 are both.

So how many are there in Africa? Well, there are an amazing 94 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and they range from all kinds of natural environment to incredible ancient cultural sites. Unsurprisingly really considering Africa is the birthplace of mankind and also home to some of the most diverse landscapes and wildlife on the planet.

In Southern Africa there are some incredible sites all worth visiting. In Zimbabwe you have Mana Pools National Park, the Great Zimbabwe Monument and of course shared with Zambia the world famous Mosi-oa-Tunya otherwise known as Victoria Falls. In South Africa you can visit various Humanid Fossil Sites or the stunning beautiful Drakensburg region. In Namibia there is the Namib Sand Sea with its enormous sand dunes and Twyfelfontein. In neighbouring Botswana its Tsodilo makes the list and in Malawi it’s the Lake Malawi National Park and the ancient rock art of Chongoni.

In Eastern Africa there are so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites you would have to return many times over to see them all. In Ethiopia there are the famous cultural sites of Lalibela, Aksum, the Omo Valley and Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar but did you know that the stunning Simien Mountains were also a world heritage site under UNESCO’s protection? Other cultural sites include Stone Town on Zanzibar, Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Lamu’s Old Town in Kenya and the rock art sites of Kondoa in Tanzania.

Of course East Africa is famous for its stunning scenery and much of this has world heritage status including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park, Selous Game Reserve and Kilimanjaro National Park – and that’s just Tanzania. In Kenya the Great Lake region of the Rift Valley, Lake Turkana National Park and Mount Kenya National Park are all protected with this status. Over in neighbouring Uganda the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and the Rwenzori National Park are both world heritage sites as is the Virunga National Park in Rwanda. And last but not least one of our favourite destinations in Mozambique, the island of Mozambique itself has world heritage status.

In fact Africa has so many important sites that another umbrella group was set up to run the programme. The African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) is the first regional funding initiative within the framework of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Created in 2006 through a joint initiative by the Government of South Africa, the African Union and UNESCO, the African World Heritage Fund is an intergovernmental organization based in South Africa whose mission is to assist African countries in: increasing the number of African sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List, conserving and managing natural and cultural heritage, rehabilitating sites on the list of World Heritage in Danger, training heritage experts and site managers, and ensuring the participation of local communities in decisions concerning their heritage and to ensure that they receive tangible benefits from World Heritage. On Friday 31 January 2014, UNESCO joined forces with the African Union Commission to raise awareness and funds for the African World Heritage Fund (AWHF) during the African Union (AU) Heads of State luncheon at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Participants pledged a total of three million US dollars in support of the AWHF Endowment Fund.

It is good to know that these amazing beautiful and historic places are being actively protected and that future generations will be able to enjoy them and learn from them as we have. The only problem I have is trying to decide which one to visit next……….

Posted by Ruth

Spotlight on the Drakensberg Mountains South Africa

The Drakensberg Mountains are found in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. This stunningly picturesque region is a 200-kilometre-long mountainous  UNESCO world heritage site.

The Zulu people named it ‘Ukhahlamba’, the Barrier of Spears, and the Dutch pioneers called it the Dragon Mountain’, hence the name Drakensberg, and both names are very appropriate for the awe inspiring craggy peaks and beautiful mountain landscapes. This area has been home to mankind for a very, very long time with thousands of rock and cave paintings by the early San people (also known as Bushmen). In fact the history of the area is so important that it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 2000 in order to protect and preserve its cultural and natural heritage.

The scenery is truly epic in the Drakensberg Mountains and it is a popular destination with tourists to South Africa. It is an area that combines well with a safari in the Kruger and makes for a great self-drive itinerary. Combining sheer natural beauty with a wealth of biological diversity, this enormous 243,000 hectare mountainous region provides a great contrast to other parts of South Africa and offers a unique atmosphere for the visitor. The mountains tower above the surrounding African bush, with slopes lined with lush forests, deep valleys, stark cliffs and cascading waterfalls.  The line of mountains creates a massive barrier which separates KwaZulu-Natal from the neighbouring Kingdom of Lesotho. The only road access to the Drakensberg is via the Sani Pass, which at the top, boasts the highest pub in Africa, where you can enjoy a drink at 3,000 metres above sea level!

There are lots of activities to choose from whilst staying and visiting the Drakensberg Mountains. The bravest can tackle sheer rock or ice- climbing or even the adrenaline rush provided by abseiling, white water rafting or taking a helicopter ride to view the Drakensberg mountains from above. Others might prefer hiking through the stunning scenery with plenty of trails and routes to choose from. There are gentle strolls exploring the lower slopes or you can explore further on a two day camping hikes up in the higher peaks for the hardier souls. The flora and fauna of the region are not to be missed with 290 species of birds, 48 species of mammals, and many rare varieties of plant life found in this national park.

The scenic highlights that should not be missed off any itinerary include Cathedral Peak, the Giant’s Castle, Champagne Castle or Peak (3248m), the Amphitheatre, and Tugela Falls which cascades down 5 separate drops to form  the second highest waterfall in the world. The area was also home to the Boer War between the Dutch Voertrekkers and the British and the wars between the native Zulus and the European Settlers. Many of the battle sites can be visited today.

The area is divided up into four valleys, beginning with the Champagne Valley in the Central Berg, through the Cathedral Peak and Didima Valley, then the Royal Natal National Park and Amphitheatre Valley, and finally the Middledale Pass Valley in the Northern Berg. Each of the four valleys has its own kind of beauty and character; all have magnificent mountain views. Accommodation can be found across the region ranging from luxury mountain resorts to small, cosy family run hotels and lodges.