Top Cultural Experiences in South Africa
The number of choices for cultural experiences in South Africa can be bewildering. There is a wide range of local and international organisations doing amazing projects throughout the country. Check out our highlights below.
Community Tourism Projects
If you have more than few days, the Bulungula Lodge in the Eastern Cape should be your first stop. The lodge provides a platform for outsiders to access one of the poorest communities in South Africa.
The lodge is nestled on one of the most remote beaches in the country. You can spend your days getting involved by making bricks, stamping corn, brewing beer or catching crayfish. Stay longer and share your expertise with the community, be it in art, teaching or nursing – all contributions are welcome.
A stunning gallery of South African rock art is permanently open in the Drakensberg mountains and the Cederberg region of the Western Cape, and is the legacy of the San Bushmen, the original inhabitants of southern Africa. Their drawings have long fascinated local and international scholars with their fineness, simplicity of design and bold use of colour, similar to modern poster technique.
World experts on rock paintings agree that the works of the San Bushmen are the most numerous and strikingly advanced in the world, and South African rock art sites are now protected as a national heritage. To prevent damage to the images, hikers are barred from using remote Drakensberg caves as shelter and must camp outside.
The Cradle of Humankind
In the province of Gauteng, straddling the neighbouring North West Province, lies one of the world's richest depositories of hominid fossils, a treasure trove of clues about our early ancestors. Trapped in a case of dolomite hundreds of years old, these fossils have yielded so much data that the area has been dubbed the Cradle of Humankind, and UNESCO has proclaimed it a World Heritage Site.
An award-winning aspect of the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa is the very informative Maropeng Visitor Centre, built in the shape of a tumulus or burial mound, symbolic of the secrets of our ancestry buried deep underground. Its exhibits are structured as a journey of discovery from past to future and include innovations such as an underground boat ride and interactive displays that are particularly suited to children.
In addition to the visitor centre, there are 15 major fossil sites in South Africa's Cradle of Humankind, of which the Sterkfontein Caves are the best-known. They can be toured in a fascinating journey which includes a descent some 60 m underground. The Wonder Caves, 8 km away, are also open to the public.
Zulu Village Life
Zulu villages, found all through the KwaZulu-Natal province, are an integral part of this fiercely proud people's traditional way of life.
The Zulu, meaning ‘people of the heavens', were once a disparate group of clans and chieftainships that were melded into a mighty, feared kingdom by Shaka in the early 19th century.
Because of the exploits of King Shaka, the Zulu are arguably the best known of Africa's tribes. Their language, tending to be idiomatic and proverbial in nature, is the most widely spoken in South Africa.
In South African Zulu villages you see how the Zulu hold their culture in high esteem, observing many of their old traditions, rituals and ceremonies. The typical nuclear family (or umndeni) still exists in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg
The implementation of apartheid and white minority rule, as well as South Africa's peaceful transition to a non-racial democratic society, are major stories of the 20century. This is what makes the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg a must-stop for tourists visiting South Africa.
Visitors to the museum are greeted with a very real reflection of what it was like to live in a racially segregated society. The museum has two entrances labelled 'White' and 'Non-white', and depending on which ticket you are issued, you will be ushered through one of the two.