maropeng visitors centre

Destination Guide to The Cradle of Humankind – South Africa

Where do humans come from? I guess it is one of the most asked questions in the world. When I speak to Rosie, I talk about the grandparents of the grandparents and then about 1.000 times, those were the grandparents for everyone in the world and they lived in Africa and were brown people!

Visiting the Cradle of Humankind had been on my bucket list for a while. I really wanted to visit it with Rosie before we are leaving South Africa by the end of 2020. As you know being a single parent hasn’t stopped me from traveling AT ALL. If anything, it has made me even more aware of what I would like to experience and how I can include educational experiences for my daughter Rosie while we travel the world as a single parent family.

I really take ANY opportunity to travel as a single parent and I’m always open to have other parents join and turn it into a Solo Parent Adventure. In 2019 we did many local trips so far and we popped into Mozambique to swim with dolphins too!

This time our friend Pfungwa who lives in Johannesburg joined us. It was great to experience this together with her and to discuss what we learned afterwards. My heart was so full at the end of the day. It really was a very special time.

Introduction to The Cradle of Humankind and why visiting is important

The Cradle of Humankind is a showcase for the origin of humanity and I find it so important that we truly understand that we all find our ancestors in Africa. It is something for Rosie to understand which will make her feel stronger when people talk about our different skin colors and sometimes ask her not-so-nice questions. It is something that is on my mind all the time: how to best support Rosie in this journey of trans-racial adoption by a single white mother who tries her best but of course makes tons of mistakes. To make sure there is representation and role models for Rosie is one of the most important things I find.

Visiting the Cradle of Humankind would hopefully put a lot of things in perspective for her. I really feel I must take every single opportunity to make sure that she starts to understand that she is equal to anyone else, that yes we are all unique but we all share the same ancestors and they originate in Africa. Many situations and many people will try to make her belief differently and it is up to me to make sure she develops a healthy self-esteem.

I HAVE to teach and show her the de-colonized version of history and visiting the Cradle of Humankind was an important step in that part of her education. I really don’t know if our visit was too early but I just had to take her before the end of the year when we fly out to The Netherlands to continue our lives there. Moving from the most unequal country in the world to one of the most equal countries in the world is also a very conscious decision and hopefully Rosie will understand later in live why this was the best choice for us at this time in our lives.

What is the Cradle of Humankind?

The Cradle of Humankind is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1999 in recognition of the extraordinary fossel evidence of human ancestry which have been discovered here, including Mrs Ples (which turns out to be a Mr..we learned during our excellent guided tour of the Sterkfontein Caves) and Littlefoot.

In the last decade, the site has produced two species which were completely new to science, namely Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi.

Did you know that South Africa has now produced almost half of the world’s fossils of early pre-humans and their relatives? How amazing is that! So you HAVE to visit the Cradle of Humankind and trace back you ancestors to Africa.

The public can visit the Sterkfontein Caves and about 15 km further there is the Maropeng Visitor Centre which houses a superb interactive exhibition which includes a boat ride through the elements. Here you can easily spend the entire day learning, listening, experiencing and understanding humanity.

“Africa has given the world humanity and that is no small thing”, Prof. Philip Tobias

Where is the Cradle of Humankind?

The Cradle of Humankind is in close proximity to Johannesburg so it is best visited when you’re staying in Johannesburg. It is located between Lanseria, Oaktree, Hekpoort and Broederstroom which doesn’t mean that much to international visitors so I would just say it is about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg near Magaliesburg.

We usually stay in Melville when we visit Johannesburg so see below a map of driving direction from Pablo House Guesthouse in Melville and then also back to OR Tambo International Airport, Johanensburg. If you would like to make a booking for Pablo House, click HERE

Johannesburg is such a big city, distances always totally confuse me so I usually just Uber around but you could also just contact me in case you would like to visit the Cradle of Humankind so that I can hook you up with a knowledgeable local guide based out of Jo’burg or Pretoria. To Uber to The Cradle of Humankind would be way too far and get a bit pricey.

Self-drive of course is  possible. You can contact me HERE for car rentals and for booking an accredited South African Tourist Guide.

How to plan a visit to the Cradle of Humankind?

Although I looked at maps and tried to find blogposts and articles I didn’t really have a clue of what we were going to visit and what was the best way to do it. We figured it out en route so it is great that we can share it now with our readers so that you can go a bit more prepared when you intend to visit the Cradle of Humankind.

The Cradle of Humankind is really a very easy place to visit, it is very well laid out and it is partly accessible for disabled people too. Roads are all normal tarred roads and there are big parking areas to park your car.

We headed out from Melville, Johannesburg at about 9h30 and then arrived at the Sterkfontein Caves Visitors Centre at about 10h45 which was perfect timing because now we could join the 11h00 tour of the Sterkfontein caves.

The site is situated very near to Lanseria Airport so in case you’re flying in from anywhere in South Africa, you should fly into Lanseria and then rent a car from there. If you need any help with this, just contact me HERE.

I have to be honest, that the signposting COULD have been a bit better and more clear. When you travel on your GPS, don’t just put in Cradle of Humankind but put in: Sterkfontein Caves and then Maropeng Visitor’s Centre for the 2nd site. The sites are about 15km away from each other.

Our day at the Cradle of Humankind starting off with the Sterkfontein Caves

We were fortunate that a tour of the caves was starting at 11am. We decided to buy a combined ticket for both Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Visitor’s Centre which was ZAR 190 per adult and ZAR125 for kids up to 14 years old (August 2019). The tickets can also be bought online through www.webtickets.co.za and they’re sold at the same price.

We started off with a guided tour of the Sterkfontein Caves. We were so happy to see so many local tourists. Really lots of taxis, busses and cars to come and visit and learn about their heritage by visiting the Cradle of Humankind

They did check if we might have asthma because you go down about 130 steps into the caves and then you also have to climb out of them again of course. Rosie does have asthma so I got a bit worried but then I decided that we would just take it slow. It was a first time for her to visit caves. She was now also getting very excited about going into the Sterkfontein Caves. As always she had TONS of questions of which I only could answer a few LOL.

It turned out that because of the size of the group, the pace was really slow and the steps were not very steep but very gradual. There IS a part which might be an issue for people who suffer from claustrophobia as you need to hunch down and then crawl a little underneath the rocks. However, it is not very narrow, there’s enough space, it is just very low. The guide will help you.

I estimate we were a group of about 35 people and 1 guide. He was extremely good and was very aware of the size of the group, always waiting to make sure everybody could hear. He was super knowledgeable about the caves and could respond to many questions. Clearly passionate about his job too!  I would love to hear an audio about the tour again to go through all the facts again as it was SO much knowledge to take in that of course I could not remember it all.

Lunch time at the Cradle of Humankind – Sterkfontein Caves

The guided tour took about 1.5 hrs after which we of course were hungry. The visitor centre has a lovely restaurant and the menu is really fantastic value for money. We enjoyed a delicious wrap with chicken and pine apple and crispy brown fries for as little as ZAR45 which is a bit more than USD3. The waiter was really amazingly fast and super friendly. We watched him handle a couple of very insistent and almost rude tourists and he just kept his calm. Lunch was great. Now it was time to head out and find the Maropeng Visitor’s Centre. Sorry no pictures as we were HANGRY!

Visiting the Maropeng Visitor’s Centre, our 2nd stop in the Cradle of Humankind

Keep your wristband that your were given at the Sterkfontein Caves and now head out to the Maropeng Visitor’s Centre which is quite an iconic building which you might have seen in pictures. We forgot and took our wristbands off but luckily we had still kept the receipt which then also allowed us entrance to the centre. Really all staff we came across that day was friendly, helpful and just happy to be there.

You will first encounter an incredible exhibition of African man and women through history who fought for the freedom of all humanity. The last bronze statue was Autshumato and all the way in the front you would find Winnie & Nelson Mandela. In between you would find all the brave men and women who fought both colonialism and later on Apartheid. It really is a fantastic display of warriors and freedom fighters. I would almost say, a day here is not enough, you will want to come back.

So then we headed to the main building. When you arrive, you don’t really see much. Just a big entry hall with some displays about Water, Air, Fire and Earth. Then the security guard mentioned that we would have to go downstairs to continue our journey and so we did and boy WHAT AN INCREDIBLE journey it was. It is one of the best educational centres / museums / historical sites I’ve ever visited and I was so happy to share it with Rosie and Pfungwa.

We stepped through history from how the world came to be and where it is now and where humans are now. It is a super interactive exposition so it is absolutely fantastic to bring your children and let them just freely run around and learn while they play. Both adults and children had a wonderful time and it felt so great to share this first introduction to the Cradle of Humankind with so many families who were all learning the entire day.

There’s also a surprise boat ride which takes you through the different elements. The entire centre is wheel chair friendly and can be enjoyed by everyone. You can book your stay at the Cradle Boutique Hotel and stay in the iconic building. Contact us for rates and bookings.