Maropeng, in the Cradle of Humankind

Maropeng, in the Cradle of Humankind

Maropeng jumped into the global spotlight with the discovery of homo naledi, a new species of hominid that promises to further our understanding of evolution. The announcement gave Maropeng a carnival atmosphere as crowds packed in to see the display of the bones.

But it’s always a great time to visit the Cradle of Humankind, a vast World Heritage site just outside of Johannesburg, was already the site of several important discoveries. Maropeng, in the Cradle of Humankind, was built to showcase the discoveries and to explain what we know about human evolution.

The museum blends into the countryside, so you might not see it until you’re practically upon it. The tour begins with an underground boat ride through an ice tunnel, and continues through interactive exhibits about evolution. Kids love it, but it’s also a chance to see replicas of the discoveries made here (the actual bones are kept inside vaults under tight security).

If you’re reasonably fit and limber, a few kilometers away is the Sterkfontein Caves, where an early hominid named Mrs. Ples was discovered. The cave is still an active dig site, but guides take small groups through. The path requires ducking and crawling — like on your hands and knees — to get all the way through, and there’s a lot of ups and downs along the way. So don’t join the tour if you’re claustrophobic.

Getting to Maropeng, in the Cradle of Humankind

On the R400 highway just off Hekpoort Road