You may come to Mapungubwe National Park to discover its fascinating ancient history. But you will be struck to your soul by its scenery – the majestic Limpopo River winding past, and the low, mesmerising sandstone hills. Here, you are at the very top of South Africa, in more ways than one.

Did you know?

The largest baobab in Mapungubwe National Park has a circumference of 31 metres.

The low sandstone hills at Mapungubwe National Park glow in the sun, anchored by giant baobabs that seem on the brink of breaking into dance.

Perhaps they are why people talk about the 'feel' of Mapungubwe being different to any other park. It has a distinctive spirit of place.

The area has been layered in a long and convoluted history, which may explain an unexpected feeling of connectivity. Its beauty convinced then-prime minister of South Africa, General Jan Smuts, to proclaim it as a national park in the 1930s, but it was deproclaimed by others a decade later. He loved this area, built a home here and imagined a megapark stretching across borders.

There is a romantic place where you appreciate the defining image of this park today, the viewpoint where the Limpopo and Shashe rivers merge, where you can see Botswana and Zimbabwe from South Africa across the watery border.

Smuts' dream has finally come true. This area is now one of southern Africa's planned Transfrontier Parks and a World Heritage Site.

The wild animals of the park, including lions, elephants, rhino, leopard and wild dogs, already migrate back and forth to the protected areas within all 3 countries without a care for the human boundaries.

The glowing sandstone hills hold one more important secret for you. The level top of one called Mapungubwe was the centre of a remarkable African gold-trading civilisation, dating back more than 1000 years.

After a guided tour has fascinated, spend a little time atop Mapungubwe Hill among the waving grasses. You'll sense the peace that overlays its rich and almost incredible history.

Archaeological studies have shown that 1000 years ago, ancient Mapungubwe was trading in gold and ivory with Arabia, India and China. As this ancient African kingdom became more hierarchical, the leaders moved to hilltops, ruling over commoners and craftspeople below. Mapungubwe Hill was one of the richest archaeological sites, yielding gold-leaf figurines (the most famous of which is the Mapungubwe golden rhino), beads and fragments of Chinese pottery.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

SA National Parks Reservations
Tel: +27 (0) 12 428 9111

Mapungubwe National Park
Tel: +27 (0)15 534 2014

Mopane Bush Lodge
Tel: +27 (0)15 534 7906 or

Venetia Wild Dog Tours
Tel: +27 (0)15 575 2651

How to get here

The nearest large domestic airport is at Polokwane, which is about 3 hours' drive away. You could also drive to Polokwane from Johannesburg, which takes about 3 hours. From Polokwane, head by car for Musina and then the R572 Pontdrif road. All in all, it won't take you more than about 6 hours to drive from Johannesburg.

Best time to visit

Autumn through midwinter to early summers (April to September) are very pleasant. Mid-summers (November to February) can be uncomfortably hot.

Tours to do

You could see the famous wild dogs of nearby Venetia Reserve.

Length of stay

Plan for 2 or 3 days at the least - and squeeze in an extra day if you'd like to do other activities in the area.

Where to stay

Mapungubwe National Park offers a good variety of choices. You could stay in a self-catering chalet, or a tented camp, or a luxury lodge with its own eco-trail, or a wilderness camp. Just outside the park is the semi-luxury, fully-catered Mopane Bush Lodge, which runs regular tours into Mapungubwe.

Related articles