A complex of 300 limestone caves, South Africa's Cradle of Humankind is one of the most significant archaeological and anthropological sites in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has produced an extensive human and animal fossil record, including a nearly-complete hominin skull dating back more than 2 million years.
You can begin exploring the 181-square-mile (469-square-kilometer) Cradle of Humankind at Maropeng Visitor Centre, which hosts a variety of exhibits detailing the formation of the planet and the history of life over 4 billion years. Not all excavated sites within the Cradle of Humankind are open to the public, but travelers can explore the Sterkfontein Caves, one of the world’s most famous fossil sites and the location of the longest-running continuous paleoanthropological dig.
Cradle of Humankind tours leave from Pretoria or Johannesburg and typically visit the Maropeng Visitor Centre as well as the Sterkfontein Caves. Some tours also include a wildlife safari at the nearby Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.
Things to Know Before You Go
The Maropeng Visitor Centre and all of its onsite restaurants are wheelchair accessible.
A variety of hotels, cottages, and bed-and-breakfasts are available in the area for visitors who would like to spend more than just a day exploring.
While the Maropeng Visitor Centre and Sterkfontein Caves each charge separate admission, guided tours typically provide entrance to both.
How to Get There
The Cradle of Humankind lies west of Johannesburg in South Africa’s Gauteng province. Public transportation is limited in the area, so it’s a good idea to arrive as part of a guided tour or drive independently. The site is located 59 miles (95 kilometers) from O.R. Tambo International Airport and roughly 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Lanseria International Airport. It is situated on the R400, just off the R563 Hekpoort road.
When to Get There
Due to the area’s temperate climate you can visit the Cradle of Humankind year-round. The site is open daily with the exception of major holidays.
“Mrs. Ples” and “Little Foot”
Discovered by Robert Broom in 1947, “Mrs. Ples” is the nickname of the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus ever found in South Africa, thought to be more than 2 million years old. The archaeological community was thrilled by the discovery of “Little Foot” in 1994 in a box of bones thought to belong to monkeys or other animals. When put together, “Little Foot” was found to be a nearly complete Australopithecus fossil skeleton.