In addition to having universal appeal, in order to become World Heritage Sites, each location must meet rigorous selection criteria. The selection criteria include: representing a human creative genius masterpiece; portraying areas of incredible natural beauty; being an exceptional building or landscape that illustrates a critical stage in human history; as well as being outstanding examples that represent monumental stages in our planet’s history.
While these Southern African countries may have a couple of these exceptional sites, this list presents the ones you simply **have** to visit if you are every given the opportunity.
South Africa: Robben Island
What use is living in a country with scenic landscapes, crisp waters and a diverse collection of people when you are not free? For nearly 400 years, this island was used as a prison where people were demoralised and exiled. It was also used as a post office, mental hospital, grazing ground and outpost.
During the Apartheid era, Robben Island (Dutch for “Seal Island”) was known throughout the world for its institutional brutality, particularly towards black political prisoners. Among its long list of political prisoners are former presidents Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.
After the political prisoners were released, Robben Island reclaimed its power by symbolising the unquenchable flame of the human spirit that dared to rise victorious against all odds. No matter the torture, the plight for freedom continued until at long last, all South Africans were free.
Robben Island is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings on the island serve as sad reminders of a sombre time in history. Yet, the same buildings also show the power of the human spirit that refuses to be broken. It is a testament to victory, freedom and democracy prevailing against all odds. It is against this backdrop that Robben Island embodies an area of outstanding natural, historical and cultural value.
**For more information, visit www.robben-island.org.za.**
This treasure trove is not well known as it lies on the outskirts of the “popular” tourist destinations, but for those who dare to take on the less chartered routes, Tsodilo awaits. Located in north-west of Botswana, near the Namibian Border in the Okavango Sub-District, this place has one of the highest concentrations of rock art on the globe, and is thus fondly known as the “Louvre of the Desert”.
Over 4,500 paintings are preserved in an area of just 10 km2 in the Kalahari Desert. Based on archaeological records of the area, it accounts for a chronological account of human activities and environmental changes over at least 100,000 years! Yet, if you think you’re just going to see a bunch of scribbles on rocks, shelters and caves, think again.
Tsodilo is not just an archaeological gem or one celebrated for the aesthetic beauty of its art. It is a mystic monument that locals believe is home to ancestral spirits. Many community members, including the Hambukushu and San, treat is as a sanctuary, and it doubles up as a spiritual retreat for religious groups. Right there in the hostile environment, lies rock-solid beauty.
**For more information, visit www.botswanatourism.co.bw.**
Zambia: Victoria Falls
What is a safari to the Mother Continent without a pit stop at Victoria Falls? It is an internationally acclaimed tourist destination that draws guests from all continents. Its rushing, tumbling waters never fail to astonish awe-struck visitors. It is grandeur personified – and bears the title of being the world’s greatest sheet of falling water.
Iridescent mist from this captivating site can be seen more than 20 km away. At its widest point, the Zambezi River is more than 2 km wide. True to the very essence of what water represents, Zambians believe that a visit to this famous tourist attraction can quench your soul, purge your mind and do your body good.
**For more information, visit www.zambiatourism.com.**
Zimbabwe: Great Zimbabwe National Monument
Looking at Zimbabwe’s current economy, it is hard to imagine that it was once one of Africa’s economic powerhouses. Great Zimbabwe is a reminder of the days when a city in Zimbabwe served as a critical trading centre from the Middle Ages onwards.
For visitors who want to retrace Zimbabwe’s former glory days, Great Zimbabwe National Monument is located about 30 km from Masvingo. It is a place that has stood the test of time. The ruins of buildings built between 1100 and 1450 AD cover over 800 ha. The site is sub-divided into three groups, namely the Hill Ruins, the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins.
What is significant about the ruins of Great Zimbabwe – also termed the capital of the Queen of Sheba or the “royal city” – is that they portray the magnitude and influence of the Bantu civilisation of the Shona between the 11th and 15th centuries. In addition to its cultural aspects, the site is also of religious importance to community members.
**For more information, visit www.greatzimbabweruins.com.**
Namibia: Namib Sand Sea
Do you want to see something unique? Then a trip to the Namib Sand Sea may be just what you need. It is the only coastal desert in the world with extensive dune fields irrigated by fog.
The beauty of this site lies in its vast expanse. It covers an area of more than three million hectares, with a buffer zone of almost 900,000 ha. You can wander all day or for the entire duration of your stay without running out of some new part of it to see. When there, make sure that you cover both dune systems, namely an ancient semi-consolidated one overlain by a younger, active one.
The landscape is exceptionally hypnotising. There are gravel plains, coastal lagoons, ephemeral rivers, rocky hills, and so much more. Fog is the ingredient that serves as the primary source of water. It is a unique land that is home to an assortment of mammals and reptiles.
**For more information, visit www.namibiatourism.com.na.**
In a world where social media trends can inflate destination service offerings, a visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site gives tourists peace of mind. Guests have the assurance that the location has passed stringent measures. Such sites in Southern Africa offer the best of the region, along with that unmatched global appeal. For places that move you from the inside out, there’s nowhere else to go for your next bucket-list trip.