The San people, also known as bushmen, have lived in southern Africa for millennia. A nomadic hunter-gatherer people, they are known for their entrancing cave drawings and paintings, some of which date back thousands of years. San rock art sites are not just an important part of art history and South African history, but of human history. The images give us insight to the beliefs of the early San people. Recreations can be found online or in museums, but the best way to get a feel for the art (and its meaning) is to see it in person. These 10 sites are some of the best places to see San rock art in South Africa.
Sources: SouthAfrica.net, BushmansKloof.co.za, NightJarTravel.com, Sarada.co.za
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. Game Pass Shelter, KwaZulu-Natal
Game Pass Shelter is often referred to as the Rosetta Stone of South African rock art because it was at this site that archaeologists deduced the symbolism used in the paintings. The paintings here are wondrously preserved and you can see the paintings from a distance at the bottom of the mountainside. Visiting the site costs R28 (adults) and R15 (children) and includes a two-hour-plus guided walk through the beautiful Waterfall Shelter.
2. Kalkoenkrans, Eastern Cape
Kalkoenkrans is notable not just because the San rock art paintings are so well preserved, but because there is so much variety in one spot. While visiting, stay at the Mountain Zebra National Park and enjoy other activities such as mountain biking through the park’s paths.
3. Driekops Eiland, Northern Cape
Driekops Eiland is located near Kimberley and features more than 3500 engravings cut into rock once smoothed by glaciers. Even without the rock art, this would be a great place to visit because of the stunning landscape. The site is on private land and visits must be arranged through the McGregor Museum in Kimberley.
4. Peers Cave, Fish Hoek, Cape Town
The San rock art in Peers Cave isn’t the most impressive you will find, but it is one of the more accessible sites since it is so close to Cape Town. You also won’t mind the easy hike up to the cave because you will be rewarded with a fantastic view of False Bay.
5. Bushman’s Kloof, Western Cape
Bushman’s Kloof is one of the most popular rock art sites in South Africa, in part because it is located on the grounds of a luxury resort, so visitors don’t have to “rough it” in order to view a piece of ancient history. There are more than 130 sites on the grounds, some of which can be viewed as part of a guided tour. There is also a heritage center for learning more about the rich art history of the area.
6. Gifberg, Western Cape
Gifberg is located about 300 kilometers north of Cape Town in the stunning Knersvlakte plains with the Gifberg, Cedarberg, Bokkeveld, and Matsikamma mountain ranges overlooking it. The rock art sites are easily accessible by short hikes and the paintings show shamans and animals engaged in rituals.
7. Warmhoek Trail, Western Cape
Located about 70 kilometers south of the Gifberg San rock art site, Warmhoek Trail features some stunning San paintings. Local guides give tours as part of the Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project, which also includes other highlights, such as a visit to the Time Garden. The entire tour takes four hours and involves a steep climb. There is also an option for a shorter, easier tour.
8. Leliekloof Valley of Art, Eastern Cape
The Lieliekloof Valley of Art is located six kilometers west of Jamestown. The landscape has beautiful sandstone gorges cut by the Skupspruit River and there are many stunning shelters with San art to visit, all accessible via the Leliekloof Farm. The farm’s owners operate tours of the sites, and also provide comfortable lodging and home-cooked meals.
9. Main Caves, KwaZulu-Natal
The Main Caves are a San rock art site that has been turned into a museum. There is a model of a San or bushman family that will give you an idea of what life was like during the time this art was created.
10. Tandjiesberg, Eastern Free State
This site is located at Tripolitana, but is known as Tandjiesberg (“Little Teeth Mountain”) because of its stunning tooth-like sandstone formations. The spectacular shelter has more than 500 well-preserved rock art paintings. One of the highlights of this site are the panels made by archaeologists of their interpretations of the rock art.