Africa's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most significant Africa travel bucket List

We love the big and small details of every place and aspect of life that it is simply too hard to create a bucket list of places to visit in Africa. As we thought about it, we realized that all the World heritage sites were making the list and decided that they would be the best starting point.

While they are not the only places you can visit to enjoy Africa's nature and culture, there is definitely so much more. World Heritage Sites are significant for conservation and preservation - based on fully examined factors.

These are the most significant and impactful places you can visit and have a wonderful time.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has worked with countries since 1972, to identify World Heritage sites and protect them for future generations.

For an area or landmark to be designated, it has to meet some cultural or natural significance - which is considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. To be selected, the World Heritage Site has to somehow be unique and of special significance.

World Heritage Sites Selection Criteria

Before an area, or landmark can become a World Heritage Site, it must be nominated. Nominated sites must meet at least of the 10 selection criteria, and be of outstanding universal value. The selection is made up of 6 criteria for culture and 4 for natural sites.

Cultural

  • "To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius"
  • "To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design"
  • "To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared"
  • "To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history"
  • "To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change"
  • "To be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance"

Natural

  • "to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance"
  • "to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features"
  • "to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals"
  • "to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation"

World Heritage Sites in Africa by Region

World Heritage Sites in Northern Africa

Northern Africa has the biggest share of world heritage sites on the African Continent. The rich cultural history over thousands of years is well preserved, and as you will see in the table below, most of the sites were inscribed because of their cultural significance.

# World Heritage Site Name  Country Criteria Inscription
1 Timgad Algeria Cultural 1982
2 Kasbah of Algiers Algeria Cultural 1992
3 M'Zab Valley Algeria Cultural 1982
4 Djemila Algeria Cultural 1982
5 Al Qal'a of Beni Hammad Algeria Cultural 1980
6 Tipasa Algeria Cultural 1982
7 Tassili n'Ajjer Algeria Cultural 1982
8 Abu Mena Egypt Cultural 1979
9 Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae Egypt Cultural 1979
10 Historic Cairo Egypt Cultural 1979
11 Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) Egypt Natural 2005
12 Memphis & its Necropolis - the Pyramid Shields from Giza to Dahshur Egypt Cultural 1979
13 Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis Egypt Cultural 1979
14 Saint Catherine Area Egypt Cultural 1979
15 Banc d'Arguin National Park Mauritania Natural 1989
16 Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chingueti, Tichitt and Oualata Mauritania Cultural 1996
17 Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou Morocco Cultural 1987
18 Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador) Morocco Cultural 2001
19 Historic City of Meknes Morocco Cultural 1996
20 Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida) Morocco Cultural 2004
21 Medina of Fez Morocco Cultural 1981
22 Medina of Marrakesh Morocco Cultural 1985
23 Rabat, Mordern Capital and Historic City Morocco Cultural 2012
24 Archeological Site of Volubilis Morocco Cultural 1997
25 Medina of Tetouan (formerly known as Titawin) Morocco Cultural 1997
26 Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay - Mukkawar Island Marine National Park Sudan Natural 2016
27 Archeological Sites of the Island of Meroe Sudan Cultural 2011
28 Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region Sudan Cultural 2003
29 Dougga / Thugga Tunisia Cultural 1997
30 Kairouan Tunisia Cultural 1988
31 Amphitheater of El Jem Tunisia Cultural 1979
32 Ichkeul National Park Tunisia Natural 1980
33 Medina of Sousse Tunisia Cultural 1988
34 Archeological site of Carthage Tunisia Cultural 1979
35 Punic Town of Kerkuane and its Necropolis Tunisia Cultural 1985
36 Medina of Tunis Tunisia Cultural 1979
37 Old Town of Ghadames Libya Cultural 1985
38 Archeological Site of Cyrene Libya Cultural 1982
39 Archeological Site of Leptis Magna Libya Cultural 1982
40 Rock-Art Sites of Tdrart Acacus Libya Cultural 1985
41 Archeological Site of Sabratha Libya Cultural 1982

Memphis & its Necropolis - the Pyramid Shields from Giza to Dahshur, Egypt.

Giza pyramids in Egypt

The pyramids in Egypt are the best representation of the first scientific advancements in human civilization and technology. While they are a sight to behold, learning about their known history and walking through is a time travel experience worth all the protection and preserving.

Amphitheater of El Jem, Tunisia.

El Jem Ampitheatre in Tunisia

Built around 230 AD, the El Jem Amphitheater is thought to have sat around 35,000 people. It is one of the best-preserved Roman Empire ruins outside of Italy, and a good illustration of the extent and reach of the Roman Empire.

World Heritage Sites in Eastern Africa

In East Africa, Ethiopia has the most World Heritage Sites with a total of 9 sites. Given Ethiopia's rich and unique culture, it is no wonder that all but one, are cultural sites. 

# World Heritage Site Name Country Criteria Inscription
1 Asmara Eritrea Cultural 2017
2 Lower Valley of the Awash Ethiopia Cultural 1980
3 Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela Ethiopia  Cultural 1978
4 Konso Cultural Landscape Ethiopia Cultural 2011
5 Lower Valley of the Omo Ethiopia Cultural 1980
6 Simien National Park Ethiopia Natural 1978
7 Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town Ethiopia Cultural 2006
8 Fasil Ghebbi, Gonda Region Ethiopia Cultural 1979
9 Tiya Ethiopia Cultural 1980
10 Aksum Ethiopia Cultural 1980
11 Lamu Old Town Kenya Cultural 2001
12 Fort Jesus, Mombasa Kenya Cultural 2011
13 Mount Kenya National Park / Natural Forest Kenya Natural 1997
14 Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests Kenya Cultural 2008
15 Lake Turkana National Parks Kenya Natural 1997
16 Thimlich Ohinga Archeological Site Kenya Cultural 2018
17 Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley Kenya Natural 2011
18 Ngorongoro Conservation Area Tanzania Natural & Cultural 1979
19 Selous Game Reserve Tanzania Natural 1982
20 Stone Town of Zanzibar Tanzania Cultural 2000
21 Serengeti National Park Tanzania Natural 1981
22 Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara Tanzania Cultural 1981
23 Kondoa Irangi Rock Paintings Tanzania Cultural 2006
24 Kilimanjaro National Park Tanzania Natural 1987
25 Rwenzori Mountains National Park Uganda Natural 1994
26 Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda Natural 1994
27 Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi Uganda Cultural 2001
28 Lake Malawi National Park Malawi Natural 1984
29 Chongoni Rock-Art Area Malawi Cultural 2006
30 Island of Mozambique Mozambique Cultural 1991
31 Aapravasi Ghat Mauritius Cultural 2006
32 Le Morne Cultural Landscape Mauritius Cultural 2008
33 Rainforests of the Atsinanana Madagascar Natural 2007
34 Royal Hill of Ambohimanga Madagascar Cultural 2001
35 Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve Madagascar Natural 1990
36 Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve Seychelles Natural 1983
37 Aldabra Atoll Seychelles Natural 1982

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

gorilla mother and baby

Bwindi impenetrable is very popular because it is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. Apart from the gorillas, Bwindi's Natural and thick rainforest forms a rich ecosystem of plants and animals and is thought to have survived the last ice age.

World Heritage Sites in Southern Africa

South Africa has the highest number of world heritage sites in Africa, with 10. As with many other countries all around Africa, most sites are designated for their cultural significance.

# World Heritage Site Name Country Criteria Inscription
1 Maloti-Drakensberg Park Lesotho, South Africa Cultural & Natural 2000
2 Vredefort Dome South Africa Natural 2005
3 Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa South Africa Cultural 1999
4 Cape Floral Region Protected Areas South Africa Natural 2004
5 Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape South Africa Cultural 2003
6 Robben Island South Africa Cultural 1999
7 Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains South Africa Natural 2018
8 Isimangaliso Wetland Park South Africa Natural 1999
9 Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape South Africa Cultural 2007
10 Khomani Cultural Landscape South Africa Cultural 2017
11 Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls Zambia, Zimbabwe Natural 1989
12 Mana Pools National Park, Sapi, and Chewore Safari Areas Zimbabwe Natural 1984
13 Khami Ruins National Monument Zimbabwe Cultural 1986
14 Matobo Hills Zimbabwe Cultural 2003
15 Great Zimbabwe National Monument Zimbabwe Cultural 1986
16 Okavango Delta Botswana Natural 2014
17 Tsodilo Botswana Cultural 2001
18 Namib Sand Desert Namibia Natural 2013
19 Twefelfontein Namibia Cultural 2007

Vredefort Dome, South Africa

vredefort dome in south africa

The crater, with a diameter of 190 km, is the largest, oldest, and most deeply eroded astrobleme found on Earth. The meteorite impact that happened more than 2 billion years when the only life form on earth was algae left the Vredefort Impact Crater.

Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe

matobo national park zimbabwe

The large, free-standing boulders have been used as natural shelters since the early Stone Age (about 3.4 million years ago) - and feature on some rock paintings.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango is an inland delta whose seasonally flooding waters don't drain into any ocean, and less than 5% go into a lake. The ecosystem of the wetland is great for a large number of animals and has made the Okavango as legendary and as sought after, as the Serengeti.

Twefelfontein, Namibia

Twyfelfontein rock carvings Namibia

Twelfelfontein has one of the largest concentrations of rock engravings in Africa. The Twefelfontein rock art dates back to a period of over 2,000 years.

World Heritage Sites in Central Africa 

In Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo has the most World Heritage sites with 4 - which are all Natural sites. As an area that has been less explored and still has so much untouched nature, most sites in Central Africa are designated as Natural World Heritage Sites.

# World Heritage Site Name Country Criteria Inscription
1 Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lope-Okanda Gabon Cultural & Natural 2007
2 Okapi Wildlife Reserve D.R Congo Natural 1996
3 Salonga National Park D.R Congo Natural 1984
4 Virunga National Park D.R Congo Natural 1979
5 Kahuzi-Biega National Park D.R Congo Natural 1980
6 Mbanza-Kongo Angola Cultural 2017
7 Dja Faunal Reserve Cameroon Natural 1987
8 Sangha Trinational Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Natural 2012
9 Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park Central African Republic Natural 1988
10 Lakes of Ounianga Chad Cultural 2012
11 Ennedi Massif: Natural and Cultural Landscape Chad Cultural & Natural 2016

Okapi Wildlife Reserve, D.R Congo

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve found in DRC's Ituri forest protects one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, with many plants and animals that are rare or non-existent in the adjacent low altitude forest system.

Lakes of Ounianga, Chad

This series of 18 lakes are found in the Sahara desert, in North-Eastern Chad. The lakes have various sizes, chemical compositions, colorations, depths, and more.

World Heritage Sites in Western Africa

Senegal and Ivory Coast have the highest number of world heritage sites in West Africa, with 7 and 4 sites - respectively. The sites reflect a good balance of nature and rich culture, all of which have been preserved for centuries, and need to be protected for future generations.

# World Heritage Site Name Country Criteria Inscription
1 Royal Palaces of Abomey Benin Cultural 1985
2 W-Arly-Pendjari Complex Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger Natural 1996
3 Ruins of Loropeni Burkina Faso Cultural 2009
4 Ancient Ferrous Metallurgy Sites of Burkina Faso Burkina Faso Cultural 2019
5 Cidade Velha, Historic Centre of Ribeira Grande Cape Verde Cultural 2009
6 Tai National Park Ivory Coast Natural 1982
7 Historic Town of Grand Bassam Ivory Coast Cultural 2012
8 Comoe National Park Ivory Coast Natural 1983
9 Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve Ivory Coast Natural 1981
10 Kunta Kinteh Island and Related sites Gambia Cultural 2003
11 Stone Circles of Senegambia Gambia & Senegal Cultural 2006
12 Island of Saint-Louis Senegal Cultural 2000
13 Saloum Delta Senegal Cultural 2011
14 Island of Goree Senegal Cultural 1978
15 Bassari Country; Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes Senegal Cultural 2012
16 Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary Senegal Natural 1981
17 Niokolo-Koba National Park Senegal Natural 1981
18 Asante Traditional Buildings Ghana Cultural 1980
19 Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions Ghana Cultural 1979
20 Timbuktu Mali Cultural 1988
21 Tomb of Askia Mali Cultural 2004
22 Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons) Mali Cultural & Natural 1989
23 Old Towns of Djenne Mali Cultural 1988
24 Air and Tenere Natural Reserves Niger Natural 1991
25 Historic Centre of Agadez Niger Cultural 2013
26 Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove Nigeria Cultural 2005
27 Sukur Cultural Landscape Nigeria Cultural 1999
28 Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba Togo Cultural 2004

Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions - Ghana

These sites feature the remains of fortified trading posts along the coast of Ghana for around 300 years, between 1482 and 1786.

Old Towns of Djenne, Mali

The city was inhabited since 250 BCE and was an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade that peaked between the 8th and 17th centuries. The area has about 2,000 traditional houses.

Final Thoughts

This turned into a massive article - very fast but we love it. World Heritage Sites can be a very easy indicator of where you will see, do or learn about something that is completely unique and different. And travel is about experiencing, the new - right?

Cultural sites can be incredible for learning about the various cultures and how they used to live life a long time ago. Natural sites on the other hand are sure to give you something hard to forget. Either way, win-win.

Thank you for the time, which sites have made it on your African travel bucket list as you went through this article? Feel free to share with us, we'd like to know.