Home to 13 excavated paleontological sites and 116,139 acres of natural beauty, history and important discoveries, the Cradle of Humankind is a great experience for anyone visiting South Africa. While best done over the course of a few days, the attraction's proximity to Johannesburg - about an hour away - makes it possible to do as an easy day trip. Whether you're looking to learn about where humans came from, see wildlife or just enjoy nature, you can experience it here. To help you plan your trip, here is a guide to South Africa's Cradle of Humankind.
The Maropeng Hotel is a 4-star boutique hotel located in South Africa's Cradle of Humankind. Full of ambient experiences, the property offers expansive views of the Witwaterberg and Magaliesberg ranges, as well as the chance to clearly view constellations at night on the hotel deck. In the onsite restaurant, enjoy multi-course meals focused on traditional South African cuisine with high-quality ingredients. Although centrally located to sites like the Sterkfontein Caves, Maropeng (the official Cradle of Humankind Visitor Centre) and the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, you'll feel like youre in the middle of nowhere as the hotel provides a truly serene experience.
The first stop for any visit to the Cradle of Humankind should be Maropeng. Full of informative panels and interactive exhibits - including an actual boat ride through time - you'll learn how scientists came to discover a common ancestor between man, chimpanzees and gorillas: Australopithecus Africanus. This near-human lived about 3 to 2 million years ago in the Cradle of Humankind, which is why it is known as the birthplace of humanity. Through the exhibits, you'll learn in detail the path to humanity from past to present - with some exhibition highlights including Bipedalism, Development of the Jaw and Diet and Stone Tool - as well as predictions for the future.
Sterkfontein Caves is where a number of important discoveries regarding the birthplace of humanity have been made. With a knowledgeable guide, you'll walk an outdoor path lined with interesting artifact replicas and information, before making your way down into the caves, full of stalactites, stalagmites, bizarre rock formations and deep lakes. One of the major discoveries made here was the skull of 2.3-million-year-old Mrs. Ples, the most complete skull of a Australopithecus Africanus ever discovered in South Africa. There was also the 3.3-million-year-old Little Foot, an almost-complete Australopithecus skeleton believed to have died by falling through an opening in the ground and into the cave.
For a truly scenic experience in the Cradle of Humankind, opt for a balloon ride with Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris. At sunrise, you'll float over the Magaliesberg ranges, Magalies Dam, Magalies River, Sekwati Game Reserve and the Cradle of Humankind, taking in a mix of exotic wildlife and wide-open landscapes. Once you touch back down to Earth, champagne and an expansive buffet breakfast - as well as the awarding of official balloon safari completion certificates - ends the experience.
Located on more than 3,000 acres, the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve allows you to go on safari right outside of Johannesburg. With a guide you'll ride around in a safari jeep, visiting a predator camp filled with wild dogs, black and white rhinos, and white and brown lions, as well as through the open plains to see exotic wildlife like blesbok, sable, giraffe, gnu, springbok, wildebeest, ostrich, eland, antelope, a large variety of birds, pygmy hippos and more.
The Lesedi Cultural Village is a must when visiting the Cradle of Humankind, a recreated village celebrating South African traditions. Visitors have the opportunity to see traditional houses, dances, a traditional craft market, cultural activities and partake in a South African feast, with a focus on the Zulus, the Xhosa, the Pedi, the Ndebele and the Basotho peoples. Keep in mind, the people you meet during your experience are not costumed actors, but real locals sharing the traditions of their tribes.
Where would you start your exploration of the Cradle of Humankind?
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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