20 must-visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa
10:47 AM EST, Fri November 17, 2023
For the first time, UNESCO has recognized over 100 World Heritage Sites in sub-Saharan Africa. Scroll through the gallery to see 20 must-visit heritage sites across the whole continent.
Meroe Pyramids, Sudan -- Situated between the Nile and Atbara rivers in Sudan, the Island of Meroe archaeological site offers a glimpse into what was the crown jewel of the ancient Kingdom of Kush. Part of the site consists of several pyramids which have withstood millennia. These ancient structures sit along what was a major trade route between Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
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Le Morne Cultural Landscape, Mauritius -- Designated a World Heritage Site in 2008, Le Morne Cultural Landscape shows off both natural and historical beauty. Situated in the southwest of the island of Mauritius, and including the Le Morne Barbant mountain, this heritage site was home to a fortress used to shelter escaped slaves slaves who originated from mainland Africa and south Asia.
Leptis Magna, Libya -- The North African coast is littered with ancient Roman ruins, one of which is the archaeological site of Leptis Magna, Libya. The centerpiece of these ruins is the amphitheater constructed around 56 CE. The city, originally founded by Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, was largely preserved by sand until the early 1900s.
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Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania -- Mount Kilimanjaro and its surrounding landscape make up the national park which became a UNESCO site in 1987. The area is home to an abundance of wildlife, from leopards to flamingos, which have come under threat due to climate change.
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Ancient Thebes, Egypt -- The Temple of Amun-Re, named after the ancient Egyptian god of sun and air, is part of the Ancient Thebes Necropolis site in Luxor. This temple is part of the wider Karnak complex and shows of classical Egyptian architecture. It remains as one of the largest religious complexes in the world.
Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe -- At Mosi-oa-Tunya, or Victoria Falls, every minute 500 million liters (132 million gallons) of water plummet 108 meters (354 feet) down a series of gorges. Located on the Zambezi River, mist from these falls can be seen more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. Mosi-oa-Tunya, the waterfall's name in Sotho, translates as "The smoke that thunders."
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Old Towns of Djenné, Mali -- Within one of the oldest towns in sub-Saharan Africa is the Great Mosque of Djenné. Part of the Old Towns of Djenné UNESCO site, the mosque was first built in the 13th century by King Mansa Musa. It was then restored in 1907 and is replastered annually during local festival "Crepissage de la Grand Mosquee" (Plastering of the Great Mosque).
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Namib Sand Sea, Namibia -- Natural beauty is in abundance in Namibia, but not much comes close to the Namib Sand Sea. The Namib Desert stretches along Africa's southwestern coast with red-sand dunes that reach up to 80 meters tall in some places. The Sand Sea has now been a World Heritage site for 10 years.
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Cape Coast Castle, Ghana -- Cape Coast Castle in Ghana forms part of the Forts and Castles of Ghana UNESCO site that lines the country's coastline. This fortification was named so in 1664 by the British and served as the seat of British administration in present-day Ghana. The castle serves as a reminder of the dark history of the transatlantic slave trade, in which it played a critical role.
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Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia -- Amongst the rugged mountains of central Ethiopia lies the Rock-Hewn Churches, an important site of pilgrimage for Christians. The complex sits within the town of Lalibela, consisting of almost 200 churches, all constructed between the 7th to 13th centuries. This World Heritage Site was one of the first to be designated as such in Africa.
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Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda -- Home to over 160 species of trees, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park certainly lives up to its name. The park in south-western Uganda is an area of dense, mountainous forest that is home to over 450 mountain gorillas, roughly half of the global population.
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Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, Nigeria -- Founded roughly 400 years ago in southwest Nigeria, the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is testament to numerous other groves that once populated the region. Most others have been abandoned and have degraded. Osun-Osogbo is home to 20th-century sculptures and hosts a festival every August in tribute of the Osun goddess.
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Lamu Old Town, Kenya -- Lamu Old Town is the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa. A popular tourist spot in Kenya, Lamu showcases a combination of cultures with Swahili, Arabic, Persian and European influences. The seafront is particularly striking with wide arcades and open verandas.
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The Cradle of Humankind (Fossil Hominid Sites), South Africa -- The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, also known as the Cradle of Humankind, show traces of human occupation dating back up to 3.3 million years. Consisting mostly of caves and rocky outcrops (pictured: a view from inside the Rising Star caves system), this site is home to the largest concentration of human ancestral remains on the planet.
Okavango Delta, Botswana -- A river delta that does not flow into a sea or ocean is a rarity. The Okavango Delta is exactly that, creating permanent marshlands and seasonal flood plains in Botswana. The Delta, which was designated a heritage site in 2014, acts as an oasis in the middle of the dry Kalahari Desert.
Chris Howes/Wild Places Photography/Alamy Stock Photo
Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles --One of the largest atolls in the world, the Aldabra Atoll has remained largely untouched by human activity. This has kept the local giant tortoise population in good health, with over 150,000 living on the island. Pristine clear waters add even more to the atoll's natural beauty.
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Asmara, Eritrea -- Although originally established as an Italian colonial outpost, Asmara has since developed to become the capital of Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. The city, famed for its Futurist architecture, was designated a World Heritage Site recently in 2017, the first in the country's history.
Maheder Haileselassie Tadese/AFP/Getty Images
Saloum Delta, Senegal -- Senegal's Saloum Delta has played an integral part in the fabric of local culture over the last 2,000 years. Rich with shellfish, the delta has 200 islands, man-made shellfish mounds and burial sites, all surrounded by an intricate web of rivers. This ecosystem stands out for its resilience and preservation.