Understanding who we as humans are includes understanding where we come from. And southern Africa is a region of great importance for the study of the origins of the human species. While many travellers focus on the natural beauty of South Africa – its stunning beaches, mild weather, magnificent mountains – there is clearly also a wealth of history crucial to explain the development of human beings from thousands of years ago. There are numerous sites in this region that travellers with an interest in the development of humankind and our social communities can visit to explore this fascinating topic. Travel search site Cheapflights put together a list of some of the less explored spots in South Africa to venture out to understand where you actually come from . . . where you can travel back in time to discover your roots!
Ancient rock art
Southern Africa is blessed with some of the most significant rock art in the world, and this art is a marvellous showcase of how our forebears lived. The San, in particular, were master rock artists, leaving behind a legacy that depicts life hundreds of years ago.
View the wonderful displays of this art at a number of locations in the Drakensberg mountain range in KwaZulu-Natal, or in the area near Cederberg in the Western Cape, or near Kimberley in the Northern Cape.
How to get there: To get to the KwaZulu-Natal area of the Drakensberg, fly to Durban or Pietermaritzburg, and then hire a car – and enjoy your drive through the scenic beauty of the interior of the province. For the Cederberg, you’ll need to drive from Cape Town so you may want to rent a vehicle from the Cape Town Airport or in the CBD. If possible, select a car hire firm that will give you unlimited mileage since the distances are vast. To explore the Northern Cape area, fly into Kimberley and then rent a vehicle and take a drive through this semi-desert environment.
Where to stay: Make your way to the Kamberg area of the Drakensberg where you’ll find destinations for camping in some beautiful spots within this mountainous area. Comfortable chalets are also available for rent in the Kamberg Nature Reserve. For the Cederberg area, select from a good range of accommodation set in some breathtaking locations, all of which highlight the magic of the natural surroundings. From budget backpacking in tents to luxury guesthouses, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre is a short drive out of the town of Kimberley. The town has plenty of accommodation on offer – you might want to stay near the famous Big Hole of Kimberley so that you can get to see this tourist site too.
The Cradle of Humankind
This World Heritage Site in Gauteng Province offers insights into the earliest origins of humankind – not only in southern Africa but, in fact, in the entire world. Here a visitor can learn about the paleoanthropology of the region, which contains the largest concentration of human ancestral remains anywhere in the world. The Maropeng Visitors Centre is a must for travellers keen to find out more about the earliest origins of humankind, and offers the visitor the opportunity to see fossils collected at the site and to view stone tools that the earliest humans made and used.
How to get there: Located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, this destination is easy to reach. It’s very close to Lanseria International Airport. So, if possible, visitors flying in from elsewhere would be well advised to fly in to Lanseria, rather than Johannesburg International Airport.
Where to stay: Because this destination is semi-rural, you’ll find a wide selection of farm stay accommodation in the surrounding area. You can also try out more unusual accommodation such as luxury tents – to give you a safari-type experience.
Mapungubwe National Park
A significant element of the history of human civilisation in southern Africa, this World Heritage Site in Limpopo Province is certainly worth a visit if you’re looking for a view of South Africa’s past coupled with the scenic beauty that Nature offers – and an interaction with the wildlife that South Africa is famous for. Nestling inside the Park is the important site, Mapungubwe Hill, which served as the capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe about 700 years ago during the period known as the Iron Age. Archaeological digs have confirmed that this was a wealthy community, evidenced by, among other things, a golden rhino figure found at the site.
Another element of the wealth of the area is the rich birdlife, which brings many birdwatcher visitors, but there could also be the thrill of spotting a lion or a leopard in the Park, which is home to the Nile crocodile. So if you’re keen to learn more about the history of the country and enjoy some game viewing at the same time, take a break at Mapungubwe.
How to get there: Cheaplights recommends flying to Polokwane, and then hiring a car for the 200km drive to the Park. It’s a good idea to book a game drive while there but you’ll still need a car to get around the Park.
Where to stay: It’s a treat to stay inside the Mapungubwe National Park – try out the traditional thatched cottages in the veld.
These travel back in time sites combine history with the unbeatable beauty for which Southern Africa is so well known!