UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa
With at least 2,500 rock carvings the petroglyphs site at Twyfelfontein is one of the largest concentrations of rock petroglyphs in Africa. Most of the motifs are easily recognizable animals, but there are also more spiritual engravings. It's believed that the nomad tribes who lived in the valley made them between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago. The Twyfelfontein Petroglyphs became Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.
The most famous section of the Namib Desert, and one of the few places where the public has access to the famous red dunes, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei ("vlei" simply means "pan") are two of Namibia's biggest tourist attractions. A number of the dunes can be climbed, providing views across the red sea of sand. But equally striking, and sublimely surreal, are the stark contrasts provided by the dead trees, light ground, red dunes and blue sky at Deadvlei itself. It is a hostile and stark environment, but closer observation of the sand reveals the tracks of many small desert dwellers, and grass hugs the slopes of many of the dunes. The desert is best visited in the early morning or late afternoon, when it is cooler (but make sure to bring plenty of water anyway). Note that although rare, this park occasionally floods. That - and strong winds - can result in the roads becoming impassable and conditions generally unpleasant. Equally unpleasant to some might be the huge crowds of people that flock to see these dunes, particularly during winter. The only way to avoid this is to stay inside the park, as this allows for earlier access to the dunes. Ostrich and oryx, able to survive in this extreme environment, can be seen on the 60 km drive from the park gate to the parking area. This section of the Namib Desert is without a doubt a must-see for all visitors to Namibia.
© Johnny Haglund
The old Grande Mosquee in Agadez dates back to 1515, but was totally rebuilt in 1844. In the early morning light, the minaret of clay and wood shines with warm colors, while people dressed in colorful clothes, moves around. It's a magical place, with all the sounds and sights, and the smell of the desert.
Agadez lies in the Sahara Desert, and the sandy streets, the mud brick buildings and dry heat of the desert, creates a wonderful atmosphere. For a small fee you can climb the minaret, which will give you good views of the city.
Agadez is a about 13 hours by bus from the capital Niamey, but you can also fly here - even from France.
Named after a w-shaped bend in the Niger River and extends into large parts of Burkina Faso and Benin. The 2,200-square kilometre Nigerien part of the park is home to elephants, hippos, buffaloes, baboons, warthogs and numerous types of antelope. Here's also lions and leopards roaming the park, but they stay well hidden from visitors' eyes. In general, it's one of the better parks in West Africa and well worth a visit. While you'll need your own wheels to visit, the Nigerien part of Parc du W is easier accessed than its Burkina or Benin counterparts. The park can be reached on a day-trip from Niamey, but it's much more worthwhile to visit overnight as animal sightings are likelier during dusk and dawn when the scoring sun has retreated, and the animals leave their shady hideouts.
The Kingdom of Benin has nothing to do with the modern country Benin. It was a kingdom in what is now southwestern Nigeria. It was formed around the 12th century, but annexed by the British Empire in 1897, when the British sacked and burned Benin City. Up until then Benin City was known for its city walls, a series of earthworks made up of ditches and banks. With a length of 15 km inside the city and an additional 16,000 km outside (yes, it sounds like there is a zero too many), it's considered to be the largest earthwork carried out prior to the mechanical era. Unfortunately, there isn't much left of the ditches, but the remains have made it to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list (not the proper list, yet). A "world heritage site" sign is already hanging over the brass casters street, Igun street (see picture).
In the outskirts of Oshogbo lies one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria. A fascinating Yoruba shrine dedicated to the River Goddess Oshuno is located next to the river with good views of the primary jungle. The trail from the main entrance is lined with sculptures by Suzanne Wenger, an Austrian artist who was here in the 1950s. Curious monkeys patrol the path in the hope of some bananas. The 75 hectares of sacred grove is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The only place in the world where you can walk in a Coco de Mer palm forest is the UNESCO World Heritage enlisted Vallée De Mai. Coco de Mer palm is endemic to the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse and produces the world's largest and heaviest nut, the fruit (green one) can weigh up to 40 kg and the seed (brown one) up to 18 kg. The outside world actually knew about the Coco de Mer before the Seychelles were discovered, as nuts had been carried by the ocean currents to distant shores on the Maldives, India and Indonesia. Seamen thought they were from an underwater forest, therefore the name "coconut of the sea". The double nut is the national symbol of the Seychelles and even the passport stamp is shaped like a Coco de Mer nut. Every single Coco de Mer palm is owned by the government, even if it grows on private land, and heavy fines and prison terms apply for stealing one. However, it's possible to buy a nut (with export permit) at the souvenir shop on site.
The Drakensberg, or Dragon Mountains, are so named after the many jagged peaks that give an appearance of teeth. They are a hiker's paradise, providing some of the finest trails and views in all of Africa. The sheer vastness of the mountains - the range stretches for some 1000 km - means that there is practically unlimited choice depending on weather, fitness levels and interests. The best hiking (and certainly the best facilities) is arguably in KwaZulu-Natal, although Lesotho boasts some impressive sites, too. Walks range from short and easy to multi-day treks, with everything in between. The mountains are also covered with San rock paintings, and they boast an impressive array of flora and fauna. The weather is unreliable at best, and some of the roads are impassable in winter due to snow. But the walks are enjoyable in sunshine or rain, and the mood of the mountains changes dramatically from moment to moment. Although some of the camps get busy, the trails rarely do, and there is a magnificent feeling of having the world to yourself when visiting the Drakensberg.
Robben Island is infamous for being the prison island where Nelson Mandela served 18 of 27 years of imprisonment. The island had functioned as a prison for the native enemies of the colonial powers (first the Dutch, then the English) since the late seventeenth century. Later the prison was used for mostly political enemies of the apartheid regime of South Africa. Nelson Mandela was in the high security section doing hard labour along with other political leaders. In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released and the prison was closed in 1991. In 1999 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Robben Island is located about 10 km from Cape Town and can only be visited on a tour by Robben Island Museum. The guides for the prison section are former political prisoners. It might come as a surprise, but there are about 200 people living in the island's village today, which was originally constructed for the prison employees.
The Ngorongoro crater is one of those magical places you can't forget. The collapsed volcano is the largest unbroken caldera in the world (300 sq km), home to a great variety of wild animals, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Picture everything you can imagine about the East African plains: tall grass in hues ranging from green to golden, a soda lake whitening as dry season advances, grazing antelopes, hunting lions... All of this surrounded by a tall wall of mountains, with the rim of the crater often coated in a thick fog, much like whipped cream on a Bundt cake. The descent into the crater is breath taking: the view of the entire caldera is spectacular in itself, but as you go down, you start to make out the different animals that you will come to meet up close. The area is not a national park, and the Maasai people that inhabit the region have a special agreement with the government regarding the use of the land. Seeing these beautiful people tending the cattle just adds to the experience.