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UNESCO adds 5 African sites to World Heritage List

1 October 2023

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee announced the addition of 42 new cultural and natural sites to the famous UNESCO World Heritage List on 25 September 2023. Inclusion on the World Heritage List immediately propels sites to the top of tourists’ wish lists and comes with benefits such as: free publicity (the UNESCO announcement made news headlines everywhere!); highest level of heritage protection from destruction as a result of economic development or wars (the best strategy to protect national parks!); and access to technical and financial assistance (properties in Egypt and Ghana were among six properties that shared a conservation funding pot totally $336,000).

Africa scored five new World Heritage sites in 2023, bringing the continent’s total to 100 out of 1,199 globally. We have provided details of the five properties below:

Gedeo Cultural Landscape (Ethiopia)

Ethiopia is a culturally rich country. For many around the world, it is the country where a goat herder named Kaldi first discovered coffee in 800 AD. Yet, archaeologists keep uncovering evidence of early civilisation, which is increasingly becoming relevant in conservation efforts.

Creative Commons provided the following detailed description of the Gedeo Cultural Landscape: “The property lies along the eastern edge of the Main Ethiopian Rift, on the steep escarpments of the Ethiopian highlands. An area of agroforestry, it utilizes multilayer cultivation with large trees sheltering indigenous enset, the main food crop, under which grow coffee and other shrubs. The area is densely populated by the Gedeo people whose traditional knowledge support local forest management. Within the cultivated mountain slopes are sacred forests traditionally used by local communities for rituals associated with the Gedeo religion, and along the mountain ridges are dense clusters of megalithic monuments, which came to be revered by the Gedeo and cared for by their elders”.

Tuto Fela Megalithic site in Gedeo, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Glen Berlin
Tuto Fela Megalithic site in Gedeo, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Glen Berlin

Gedeo is located 385km South of the Ethiopian Capital, Addis Ababa, which takes about five hours by road. The best way to get to this UNESCO site is to organise a tour with an Ethiopian tour operator who can organise transport and accommodation. Check out our review of Ethiopian Airlines: Ethiopian Airlines is bridging Africa to the world

Note that the latest UK travel advice on Ethiopia puts Gedeo between a green and orange zone. Travellers are asked to check the travel advisory before travelling for green zones and to avoid all but essential travel for orange zones.

Bale Mountains National Park (Ethiopia)

The Harenna Escarpment. Bale Mountains National Park. Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Roger de la Harpe
The Harenna Escarpment. Bale Mountains National Park. Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Roger de la Harpe

It is no surprise that Ethiopia scored two UNESCO properties in 2023 – Africa’s second most populous country has so much to offer. The Bale Mountains National Park is quite simply put, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. 

A stream and waterfall in the mountains of Bale National Park, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Marco Polo's Rhino
A stream and waterfall in the mountains of Bale National Park, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Marco Polo's Rhino

Creative Commons describes it as: “This property protects a landscape mosaic of extraordinary beauty that is shaped by the combined forces of ancient lava outpourings, glaciation and the dissection by the Great Rift Valley. It features volcanic peaks and ridges, dramatic escarpments, sweeping valleys, glacial lakes, lush forests, deep gorges and numerous waterfalls, creating exceptional natural beauty.”

Augur buzzard (Buteo augur) in flight. Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Roger de la Harpe
Augur buzzard (Buteo augur) in flight. Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Roger de la Harpe

Bale Mountains National Park is located 400km South-East of Addis Ababa and is best reached by taking a domestic Ethiopian Airlines flight to Robe airport and then driving to the national park. For those who wish to travel by road from Addis, the drive through the Ethiopian Rift Valley is said to be spectacular and worth it for one leg. It is worth reading this Brilliant Ethiopia article on How to get to the Bale Mountains.

Forest Massif of Odzala-Kokoua (Republic of Congo)

Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) silverback with 2 youngsters in Marantaceae forest. Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Cuvette-Ouest Region. Republic of the Congo. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) silverback with 2 youngsters in Marantaceae forest. Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Cuvette-Ouest Region. Republic of the Congo. Photo credit: Shutterstock

After reading Stefanie Plattner’s Congo Tales, Congo has been high on my list of places visit. As one of Africa’s oldest parks, Odzala-Kokoua has been a favourite destination for high-end tourists and is now poised to go mainstream with the recognition by UNESCO. Check out African Parks’ Odzaka-Kokoua Travel information for details on when to travel and where to stay.

African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the Lekoli River. Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Cuvette-Ouest Region. Republic of the Congo. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Roger de la Harpe
African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the Lekoli River. Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Cuvette-Ouest Region. Republic of the Congo. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Roger de la Harpe

Creative Commons describes this it as “… ecologically significant as a convergence point of multiple ecosystem types (Congolese Forest, Lower Guinean Forest and Savanna) ... It is one of the most important strongholds for forest elephants in Central Africa and is recognized as the park with the richest primate diversity in the region.”

Nyungwe National Park (Rwanda)

Congratulations to Rwanda, which landed its first property on the UNESCO World Heritage List with Nyungwe National Park. Like Odzala-Kokoua, it is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa. The canopy walkway, which measures 160 metres and is suspended 70 metres above ground, is already an Instagram favourite. Check out the Visit Rwanda page on Nyungwe National Park.

Walkway canopy tour, bridge in the rain forest, Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Tetyana Dotsenko
Walkway canopy tour, bridge in the rain forest, Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Tetyana Dotsenko

Creative Commons describes it as: “The Park also contains the most significant natural habitats for a number of species found nowhere else in the world, including the globally threatened Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis ssp. kandti) and the Critically Endangered Hills Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hillorum).”

Wild Eastern Black-and-white Colobus among leaves. Nyungwe National park, Rwanda. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Tetyana Dotsenko
Wild Eastern Black-and-white Colobus among leaves. Nyungwe National park, Rwanda. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Tetyana Dotsenko

Djerba (Tunisia)

Djerba is already a popular tourist destination in Tunisia with white sandy beaches on the Mediterranean Sea. It is frequented by locals and foreign tourists, mainly from France, Germany and Italy. It was also the filming location for the 1977 Star Wars movie.

Tunisia. Djerba island. Guellala. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ BTWImages
Tunisia. Djerba island. Guellala. Photo credit: Shutterstock/ BTWImages

Despite being modern, it has successfully preserved its culture and traditions, hence its recognition by UNESCO. Creative Commons describes it as “This serial property is a testimony to a settlement pattern that developed on the island of Djerba around the 9th century CE amidst the semi-dry and water-scarce environment.” 

Check out this Tunisia Guru article for more details: Djerba Island in Tunisia: The Ultimate Bucket List

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