11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites On South Africa’s Doorstep

There is an incredible wealth of natural beauty to explore right on the borders of our country. Next holiday why not plan to travel a bit closer to home for a world-class, extraordinary experience. How many of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites have you visited?

1. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls at sunset

Magic Sunset by Marina Nardini on Flickr

Experience the roar and might of Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders. Victoria Falls has the world’s largest sheet of falling water, twice the height of Niagara falls. Take in this once in a lifetime experience while enjoying the rain forest-like atmosphere on the banks (pack a rain jacket if you don’t want to get wet but we advise enjoying the spray). You can also go river rafting, bungy jumping or if you’re feeling very daring soak in the natural infinity rock pool near the edge of the falls.
Victoria Falls

Top of Victoria Falls by Lip Kee on Flickr

Luxury Accommodation: The Elephant Camp or Victoria Falls Safari Lodge are both highly recommended (you can see elephants from the deck).

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Victoria Falls Rest Camp & Lodges (R160 per person per night to camp)

Getting there: There are direct flights to Victoria Falls From Johannesburg. However if you decide to do a self-drive (16 hour drive from Johannesburg) have a look at the requirements for taking your own vehicle into Zimbabwe at the bottom of the page.

Cost of visiting the Victoria Falls park: $20 for SADC members (South Africans included) half that for children 6-12 years and free for kids under 6.

2. The Tsodilo Hills, Botswana
tsolido hills

Tsodilo Hills courtesy of Swissafrican

Be mesmerised by the marine rock paintings of whales and a penguin while visiting these four spiritual hills. The Tsodillo hills hold great significance for the San people and there are over 4500 rock paintings to visit.
A View from a Tsodilo Hill

Look out courtesy of Botswana Tourism

Luxury Accommodation: Delta Belle Houseboat off Shakawe (2 and a half hour drive from Tsolido) R8500 for 8 people.

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Camping next to the Tsolido Hills used to be free until recently. You will now be charged a small fee but it is not necessary to book as there are always sufficient camp sites available. Remember to go in a 4×4, take toiletry essentials, and drinking water.

Getting there: There are direct flights from Johannesburg to Maun, but you will need to rent a car from Maun to get to the Tsodilo hills (7 hour drive) so more affordable to do a self-drive holiday depending on how much time you have available. It’s a 20 hour drive from Johannesburg to the Tsodilo hills so best broken up into a three day drive. View the requirements for taking your own vehicle into Botswana at the bottom of the page.

Also read: 

3. Maloti-Drakensberg Park, Lesotho

Lesotho Flying Arch

Lesotho flying arch courtesy of Travelmagma

Visit the vaulted rock arches and rugged scenery of Lesotho’s Maloti-Drakensberg park. Expect dramatic mountains, little-visited rock paintings and absolute serenity. If you visit in winter you are almost guaranteed knee-deep snow.

Luxury Accommodation: Maliba Mountain Lodge from R1680 per person per night sharing (meals included).

Budget Friendly Accommodation: there is camping available near to the old Jonathan Lodge (the lodge closed in 2013 but camping is still possible). Find it here.

Getting there: The easiest route is through the Qacha’s Nek border post (north of Matatiele, Eastern Cape). This will take 4 hours. The Ramatseliso’s Gateborder post is closer but is strictly a 4×4 only route from South Africa. For a route big on adventure there’s an 8 hour drive from Sani Pass (you will definitely require a GPS).

4. The Okavango Delta, Botswana

Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta by Joachim Huber on Wikimedia Commons

The delta is one of the 7 natural wonders of Africa, rife with animal life. It became the 1000th place to become a UNESCO world heritage site. Visit during the wet season to experience a safari experience unlike any other. Take a mokora boat out on to the river (just be careful not to disturb a pod of hippo) or go on a horse riding safari through the delta trailing elephants and giraffe.

Luxury Accommodation: &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge R14 094 off peak pp per night all inclusive.

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Camping in Moremi National Park (falls under the jurisdiction of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks). A daily wildlife camping fee of R250 is charged as well as a fee for bringing in a private car. See list of fees here. Make a reservation with the Parks and Reserves Reservation Office here.

Getting there: Take a flight from Johannesburg to Maun and then hire a car for a 3 and a half hour drive to Moremi.

5. Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe

Matobo hills

Matobo hills on Wikitravel

The unusual rock formations (large granite kopjes) and burial of controversial historical figures on the “hill of spirits” makes a visit to the Matopos a must. Take in the expansive landscape and the kind of light you only can only experience here.

Luxury Accommodation: Big Cave Lodge at $175-$190 per night including breakfast.

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Big Cave Campsite at $15 per person per night with power point, back up generator and wifi.

Getting there: Best to fly to Bulawayo from Johannesburg, hire a car and drive the 40 minutes to Matobo National Park or do a self drive from Johannesburg which will take around 9 hours. Have a look at the requirements for taking your vehicle into Zim at the bottom of the page.
Park fee: $12 a day per entrance for SADC members but if you stay in the park you will only need to pay a once off fee for 5 days. There is also a museum entrance fee of $5 for kids and $10 for adults.

6. Khami Ruins, Zimbabwe

Khami Zimbabwe

Khami Ruins by Lars Lundqvist on Flickr

The Khami ruins are a short drive from Bulawayo (22kms). They were once the capital of the Torwa Dynasty. This was a great centre of trade between Europe and the Far East, a place that history has forgotten, a place of secrets and historical significance.

Luxury Accommodation: The Nesbitt Castle in Bulawayo.

Budget Accommodation: Southern Comfort Lodge at R160 per person per night.

Getting there: Best to get a direct flight from Johannesburg to Bulawayo and then hire a car to visit the ruins (30 minute drive). Alternatively do a self-drive from Johannesburg to the Khami Ruins (8 and a half hours provided that there are no delays at the border). Scroll to the bottom of the post to view the requirements for taking your own vehicle into Zimbabwe.
Entrance fee: $5 for children and $10 for adults.

7. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
Mana Pools

Mana pools courtesy of Natuerlich Reisen

Imagine a place so wild and filled with beauty and abundant with animal life you’ll forget where you came from and will want to stay forever. That place is Mana Pools in Northern Zimbabwe. Go canoeing down the Zambezi river, stay in luxurious wild life bomas or camp under the stars.

Luxury Accommodation: $160 pp a day to stay in the special lodge (8 beds) or for exclusive luxury stay at private Kanga Camp from $365 per day

Budget Friendly Accommodation: It costs $100 per site for a standard Nyamepi camp site.

Getting there: It’s about a 17 and a half hour drive from Johannesburg. Alternatively there are cheap flights from Johannesburg to Harare and you could hire a car from there and drive the 4 hours and 46 minutes to Mana Pools. Here’s a link to the requirements for taking your own vehicle into Zimbabwe.

Entrance Fee: US$15 a day for SADC members ($15 once off for 5 days if you are staying in the park- it is possible to stay in a chalet for about $35 a night, or camp at $8 a night)

8. Twyfelfontein, Namibia
Twyfelfontein rock paintings, Namibia

Imprints of time by Planar on Flickr

These rock illustrations will connect you to our ancestors in a way that you have never before experienced. Stand before the rock etchings and see the handiwork of our past selves.

Luxury Accommodation: Mowani Mountain Camp from R2200 per person in the low season

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Aba-Huab Camp – basic but beautiful setting and popular camp site. R185 per person

Getting there: Quickest is to fly to Windhoek and hire a car to drive the 6 and a half hours to Twyfelfontein. Otherwise it’s a 23 hour drive from Johannesburg and much the same from Cape Town. To take a vehicle into Namibia see the requirements below for your vehicle as listed by the AA.

9. Island of Mozambique
Mozambique Island

Courtesy of Wondermondo

Church on Mozambique Island

Courtesy of Wondermondo

An island off Mozambique of well-preserved architecture, white sand, dhows and infinitesimally blue water.

Luxury Accommodation: Villa Sands (airport shuttle provided) from R2347 per room.

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Casa des Ondas from R340 per room call +258 82 438 6400 to make a reservation

Getting there: Catch a flight from Johannesburg to Nampula and then take a bus to the Island of Mozambique. Alternatively it’s a 30 hour drive from Johannesburg (could be broken up over 4 or 5 days). You can also rent a car from Sixt in Nampula but it can be quite pricy (about R1260 a day)- taking buses and chapas will take longer but will be an interesting experience and will make good travel memories. Get a chapa to the bus station a little on the outside of Nampula and then wait for the bus to Ilha de Mozambique to fill up (could take about 4 hours for the bus to leave and then probably the same amount of time to get to the island).

10. Namib Sand Sea
Namib Desert

Sand sea courtesy of Victoria falls 24

Seen from above this desert could be part of another planet. Visit one of the harshest yet most exquisite places on earth. The ever-shifting dunes and the sudden arrival of the cold blue Atlantic ocean against the red sand will enliven your soul.

Luxury Accommodation: Namib Desert Lodge from R2770 per room or Sossus Dune Lodge from R1800 per person per night sharing

Budget Friendly Accommodation: Sesriem Campsite R154 per person (8 people allowed per site)

Getting there: the quickest way to get there is to fly to Windhoek and hire a car to drive the 5 and a half hours to Sossusvlei. It’s a 16 and a half hour drive from Cape Town (could be split up over 2 days) or a 20 hour drive from Johannesburg. To take a vehicle into Namibia here are the requirements for your vehicle as listed by the AA.

Entrance fees to the Namib Naukluft Park Sossusvlei/Sesriem are R80 per day per adult, children are free, and there is a fee of R10 per vehicle (maximum 10 pax).
Astounding image of Namib Desert from Korean satellite

Satellite image of the sand seas of the Namib Desert by Korea’s Kompsat 2 Satellite by Discovermagazine

 

According to the AA to take a vehicle into Namibia you will need:

      • Valid passport of the driver
      • Certified copy of vehicle registration papers in the name of the driver
      • Letter of authority from the registered owner if the vehicle is not owned by the driver
      • If vehicle is still being financed, carry a letter of authority from the bank (must include dates of travel) together with the vehicle license papers.
      • Valid driver’s license
      • ZA Sticker: Available at any AA Accredited Sales Agent store
      • Motor Insurance Certificate: Obtainable at the Border Free of Charge. Valid for 30 days

Requirements for taking a vehicle into Zimbabwe:

      • Valid passport of the driver
      • Certified copy of vehicle registration papers in the name of the driver
      • Letter of authority from the registered owner if the vehicle is not owned by the driver
        If vehicle is still being financed, carry a letter of authority from the bank (must include dates of travel) together with the vehicle license papers.
      • Police Clearance Certificate: May be required if travelling through the Chirundu Border Post, for vehicles and trailers. When applying for Police Clearance certificate, it is required to have a Request for Police Identification/ Clearance (RPC) Form obtainable from the Traffic Department.
      • Commercial Vehicle Guarantee (CVG): Private vehicles do not require a CVG ( 4X4 may be require to obtain a CVG ). Only applicable for Commercial vehicles. Obtainable from Zimbabwe registered clearing agents and payment of relevant bond – between USD 30 to USD 50.
      • Third-Party Insurance: Compulsory – obtained at border post OR alternatively obtain at an AA Accredited Sales Agent store. Please contact your nearest store for prices.
      • Road Access Fee: Based on the vehicle’s size paid on entry only. Rates:
        R90 for a small sedan
        R270 for a large 4×4
      • Exit Pass: R70 at each exit
      • Carbon Tax: charges from R50 to R240
      • White and Red Reflective Tape: Two small white rectangular size strips on the right and left hand side of the front bumper as well as two small red square strips on the right and left hand side of the rear bumper. Ideally, the strips should be honeycombed. If towing a trailer, two small red square strips on the right and left hand side of the rear bumper are required
      • Carnet de Passage: Not required. Temporary Import Permit will be issued at the border post upon entry, free of charge
      • Warning Triangles: Two warning triangles on a metal plate
        White and Red T-sign: Required if towing a trailer; white must be displayed on front right hand side of trailer / caravan and red on the rear right hand side of the trailer / caravan, when looking forward.
      • Fire Extinguisher: Compulsory
      • Safety Vests: Recommended
      • ZA Sticker: Available at any AA Accredited Sales Agent store

Requirements for taking a vehicle into Botswana:

      • Valid passport of the driver
      • Certified copy of vehicle registration papers in the name of the driver
      • Letter of authority from the registered owner if the vehicle is not owned by the driver
      • If vehicle is still being financed, carry a letter of authority from the bank (must include dates of travel) together with the vehicle license papers.
      • ZA Sticker: Available at any AA Accredited Sales Agent store
      • International Driving Permit: Recommended

Our Readers Comments

  1. Wow, what incredible suggestions. I would love to explore Southern Africa.

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