Mapungubwe | Discovering South Africas Other Lost City

A view of the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site.

What to do and see when visiting the historically rich area of Mapungubwe; the Big Five South African National Park that is known as the first Southern African kingdom.


Mapungubwe Experience: What to do in the Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo lays claim to being the first Southern African kingdom, from which the people of the later mighty kingdoms, such as Greater Zimbabwe would have originated. It is Located in South Africa's Limpopo province on the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, where the mighty waters of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers flow together.

Situated just 5.5 hours' drive from Johannesburg, Mapungubwe National Park covers an expense of 28 000 hectares, and is known for its rich archaeological history, incredible game, including the Big Five of the animal kingdom and diverse geology.

Mapungubwe National Park forms part of The Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area which is currently being developed by the Peace Parks Foundations and will stretch across 800 000 hectares of land. The Greater Mapungubwe Trans frontier Conservation Area will be made up of communal land and a number or privately owned farms and game reserves including the Mapungubwe National Park, the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve and the Vhembe Game Reserve.

Mapungubwe is an area filled with archaeological significance with over 400 sites with some dating back to the Earlier, Middle and Later Stone Ages, over one million years ago. Visitors to the reserve can spend time at one or all four of the major sites.

Visit Four Archaeological Sites

The Zhizo site is the location where the first 300 – 500 inhabitants chose to settle from AD 900 – 1020. The site shows evidence of exotic beads that proves the existence of Indian Ocean trade during this period.

In 1020 AD a new group of around 1500 people moved into the area and settled at what is now known as K2 or Leopard's Koppie. These people lived here from AD 1020 – 1220 and displaced the Zhizo settlers, who moved west into Botswana. Extensive evidence of copper and iron artefacts and numerous glass beads have been found on the site.

The K2 settlers are known to have been excellent farmers and many amassed substantial wealth through farming and trade. This wealth caused a social division and the poorer inhabitants then moved to the base of Mapungubwe Hill (AD 1220 – 1290) while the king and his royalty lived on the top of the hill.

The final site of significance is Bambandyanalo which is located just north of the Limpopo river in Zimbabwe. The inhabitants of this site were closely associated with the people of Mapungubwe and it is this site which is most distinctly considered to be the precursor to Greater Zimbabwe.

Aside from the archaeological sites, visitors can also explorer the San rock painting sites to see the stories the local San people left behind, some of these paintings date back as far as 15 000 years BC. The Mapungubwe area is also home to examples of Khoekhoen and black pastoralist rock paintings which are often more stylised.

Relax on guided walks and enjoy picnics

If history and culture do not excite you there is plenty of other activities to do in the Mapungubwe National Park. Relax and spend time soaking in the sites of the Limpopo River and expansive vistas around you, or head out on a guided walk along the riverine forest on a raised canopy all the way to a hide that watches over the Limpopo River. One can also choose to enjoy a picnic at one the picnic sites in the camps.

Accommodation in Mapungubwe

The reserve offers a number of park-run Mapungubwe accommodation options including tented camps, game lodges and camping sites. When staying in the park don't miss the opportunity to go on a sunset or night time guided game drive to take in the different sites and sounds of the African bush. Learn about the nocturnal animals in the area and spot some new and exciting African game animals.

Travel Guide

Read the Mapungubwe National Park Travel Guide for more information on activities, history, wildlife and accommodation options.