UNESCO World Heritage sites are exceptional cultural, historical, and natural areas or landmarks that have significant universal value or influence on humanity. Nearly 1,200 monuments exist across the 167 countries in the world. Africa has its fair share of these outstanding locations, with 145 UNESCO sites scattered across the second-largest continent. Today, look at some of the major UNESCO World Heritage site icons that will take you on a breathtaking journey in Africa.
Serengeti National Park
Renowned for the incredible safari experience it offers, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania boasts one of the planet’s oldest ecosystems. Its vast land serves as a home to a wonderful array of habitats, including woodlands, riverine forests, kopjes, and grasslands. The Serengeti is also the setting for the “Great Migration” where two million wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles move through land in
line with the seasons. A part of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders, the annual occurrence displays amazing wildlife behavior in its most pristine form – a natural phenomenon to behold.
Locally known as the “Mosi-o Tunya”, which means “the smoke that thunders,” Victoria Falls is truly roaring with beauty and magnificence that will fill anyone with awe. It features a series of gorges stretching 1.5 kilometers wide, flowing to a 100-meter vertical drop. Apart from its spectacular scenery, Victoria Falls and its surrounding area serve as a breeding site for many endangered bird species.
Kilimanjaro National Park
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, with its summit sitting 5,895 meters or nearly 20,000 feet above sea level. Its unique landscape covers an impressive blend of farmlands, rainforest, savanna, and icy plains, allowing unique sites for both diverse vegetation and wildlife. Some of the animals to see inside the park include black rhinos, leopards, Cape buffaloes, giraffes, and its famous elephants.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is South Africa’s first UNESCO monument and is one of the continent’s most marvelous natural coastal and wetland sites. Stretching over 328,000 hectares, it includes a vast range of terrestrial, coastal, marine, wetland, and estuarine habitats, which are untouched by people and scenically awe-inspiring. Adding the wildlife that thrives in the area, “iSimangaliso” translation in the Zulu language, “miracle,” perfectly pays tribute to this breathtaking site.
Mana Pools National Park
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, the Mana Pools National Park is a wildlife conservation area located in northern Zimbabwe, specifically nestling in the lower region of the Zambezi River. After the rainy season, its floodplain turns into a series of broad lakes and attracts wildlife during the dry season as the lakes recede. Aside from its great population of crocodiles, hippos, and wild dogs, the Mana Pools National Park serves as one of Africa’s most important Black rhino sanctuaries.
Named as UNESCO’s 1,000th World Heritage site and a part of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders, Okavango Delta proves how nature can be so adaptive. It experiences annual flooding from the Okavango River during months where it is the driest in the rest of Botswana. As it fills up, the astounding delta attracts animals from far and wide, turning the marshlands into a densely populated congregation of wildlife – something hard to find elsewhere on the planet.
Kenya Lake System
The Kenya Lake System encompasses three alkaline lakes, namely Lake Nakuru, Lake, Bogoria, and Lake Elementaita. The lake system lies on the Great Rift Valley, a distinctive landscape formed by tectonic and volcanic events. What’s magical about the lake system is that it is home to around 4 million lesser flamingos, as well as other wildlife species, such as lions, black rhino, and Rothschild’s giraffes.
Cape Floristic Region
Located in the southern tip of Africa, the Cape Floristic region is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the remarkable density, diversity, and endemism of its flowering plant species. The region covers up only less than 0.5% of the continent but makes up 20% of its flora. Also hailed as one of the world’s Floral Kingdoms, the Cape Floristic Region is the most diverse among them all, despite being the smallest in terms of area.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Another part of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the largest unflooded, unbroken, inactive, volcanic caldera crater in the world, stretching 20 kilometers and reaching 600 meters deep. Covering the grasslands, bushland, montane forests, the Ngoitokitok Spring, and the Magadi salt lake, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to many of the continent’s most famous wildlife species, as well as to the indigenous Maasai community.
Situated in the Indian Ocean, the Aldabra Atoll is one of the largest coral atoll and most isolated ecoregions in the world. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, Aldabra is home to more than 100,000 giant tortoises, the largest population of this animal in the world, coconut crabs, the largest arthropod, and large seabird colonies. Inhabited and hardly untouched by humans to this day, the pristine atoll also serves as a significant area for studying seagrasses, mangroves, and marine corals.
Africa is undeniably blessed with many sites that possess huge significance to humanity. Yet, apart from celebrating their universal value and beauty, what’s far more important is protecting these sites and ensuring that they continue to exist in the succeeding generations.