South Africa is described as a world in one country – a microcosm of the world. And whilst we do not pretend to offer cultural attractions on a par with Angkor Watt or the Musée du Louvre, we like to think we compare more than favourably.
We pit ourselves against some of the world’s major attractions and see how we measure up …
Huayna Picchu, Peru – Table Mountain, Cape Town
The Incas chose one of the most beautiful series of mountains in the world for their famous city, Machu Picchu. The most striking mountain of the range that looms over the city is Huayna Picchu. Thousands climb the peak for a view over the ruins. Cape Town’s Table Mountain is similarly iconic.
Its unmistakable, flat top has become synonymous with South Africa and Nelson Mandela. It is one of the new seven natural wonders of the world and looms over the city, visited via cablecar and hiked by millions every year.
Central Park, New York City – Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Newlands, Cape Town
Central Park is in fact smaller than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (850 acres of green park versus 1305 acres of world renowned indigenous plants).
Whilst Kirstenbosch does not lie in the centre of Cape Town, it does occupy an equally important bit of prime real estate as Central Park, and it has the added bonus of lying right at the foot of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Now 100 years old it includes sections of a hedge of wild almond and brambles planted as a perimeter of the Dutch colony by Jan van Riebeek in 1660.
Yosemite National Park, California – Cederberg Wilderness Area, near Clanwilliam
Yosemite reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain, visited by millions every year. A World Heritag Site, its 308 074 hectares’ main attractions are the granite cliffs, waterfalls, and wilderness area.
Smaller, yet also a World Heritage Site, the Cederberg Wilderness Area is renowned for its rock formations, incredible landscapes and the increasingly rare Clanwilliam cedar tree. Part of the Cape Fold Belt, the Cederberg is a series of weathered sandstone formations that include iconic structures like the Wolfberg Arch and Maltese Cross. Visitors hike and rock climb in the wilderness that includes caves filled with ancient San rock art.
Angel Falls, Venezuela – Tugela Falls, Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal
Venezuela’s top tourist attraction, the Angel Falls, claim to be the biggest waterfall in the world at 979 metres. This claim is hotly contested by the Tugela Falls, accepted as the world’s second highest waterfall.
The debate hinges around the way the falls are measured and the way the Tugela plunges, in five free-leaping falls that easily clock up 948 metres of waterfall (there are claims that this is a conservative estimate, and the Tugela has an even greater fall of around 990 metres).
Read the controversy on wikipedia. Additionally, the Tugela falls down the Amphitheatre cliff face, one of the most impressive geographical features on Earth.
Sea World, Florida – uShaka Marine World, Durban
A theme park and marine-life based zoo in Orlando, Sea World is visited by well over 5 million people a year. Attractions include a shark encounter, dolphin cove, stingray lagoon, pelican preserve, a theatre, various live shows and rides.
Ushaka Marine World (which includes a Sea World, beach, Village Walk and Wet ‘n Wild) boasts the 5th largest aquarium in the world including an array of shark species. There are dolphin and seal shows, penguin, shark and ray feeding times and you can snorkel in a lagoon with about 1 500 fish, shark cage dive and walk on the floor of the aquarium.
Gaudi’s Parc Güel, Barcelona – The Owl House, Nieu Bethesda, Karoo
Ceramic-studded, curved benches, a multicoloured mosaid slamander, mosaic terraces and elements from religious mysticism and ancient poetry make Parc Güel an exceptionally popular visit.
Helen Martins’ Owl House, in the isolated Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda, is South Africa’s most accomplished example of Outsider Art. The Owl House and Camel Yard contain over 300 concrete and glass sculptures, many of which are Martins’ totem animal, the owl.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England – Adam’s Calendar, Mpumalanga
A prehistoric monument, Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world – a ring of stones that stand in the midst of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, believed to have been built somewhere between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. Many aspects of Stonehenge are subject to debate and theories are known collectively as the ‘mystery of Stonehenge’.
Adam’s Calendar, just outside the town of Kaapschehoop, is a monolithic stone calendar that is possibly the only example of a functional, mostly intact stone calendar in the world. Parallels have been drawn with Stonehenge. But Adam’s Calendar claims to be older. It is said to be the oldest manmade structure on Earth. These stones too are the subject of mystery and debate. Unlike Stonehenge, tourists need to book a tour to see them, but there are no fences between you and the stones.
The Alps, Europe – the Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal
The Alps are the largest mountain system in Europe, covering parts of eight countries. Many consider the range one of the most impressive sights in Europe, particularly when covered in snow. The extensive mountain peaks range in height between 6 000 and 8 000 feet, but some tower as high as 10 000 feet.
The Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, rising 11 420 feet in height. Its Amphitheatre is an impressive geographical feature that is widely considered one of the most impressive cliff faces on Earth – 5 kilometres long with cliffs that rise 4 000 feet along its length.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona, US – Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga
The Grand Canyon is carved by the Colorado River in the United States. It is 446km long and up to 29 km wide and estimated at two billion years old (although new research suggest it is a lot more recent, only 5 or 6 million years old). Five million people head there annually to stand in awe of its sweeping views.
The Blyde River Canyon is considered one of the largest canyons on Earth and may be the largest ‘green canyon’ – it has a particularly lush subtropical covering. It boasts some of the deepest precipitous cliffs of any canyon on the planet. Particularly beautiful formations include the Three Rondavels, God’s Window, the Pinnacle and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.