Expert Reviews – Mapungubwe NP

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An ancient landscape offering a combination of cultural significance and rewarding game-viewing
Overall rating
3/5

A World Heritage Site and best known for its archaeological evidence of one of Africa’s earliest Iron Age civilisations, few people are aware of Mapungubwe’s value as a safari destination. It resembles a giant's land with huge boulders, massive baobab trees, and the impressive Mapungubwe Mountain with its impregnable cliffs. While most of the large game species are present, its proximity to Botswana and Zimbabwe means that numbers do fluctuate, but permanent pools in the Limpopo offer refuge to crocodile and hippo, there are viable populations of lion, leopard, elephant, cheetah and spotted hyena, and with more than 400 species including Pel’s fishing owl, ground hornbill and kori bustard, its regarded as a birding hotspot. As a fairly new park facilities are excellent – especially the treetop boardwalk at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers; a peaceful vantage-point to watch elephant, impala, baboon, and plenty of bee-eaters and kingfishers.

A cultural treasure.
Overall rating
3/5

Mapungubwe National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the cultural significance of Mapungubwe Hill. In the 1930’s, artefacts found here proved that Mapungubwe was at the centre of southern Africa’s first formal, urban society – centuries before white man’s arrival. I was lucky enough to be guided by Cedric Sethlako, previously voted SANParks Guide of the Year, and a charismatic and gifted story teller. A guided tour with Cedric is in my Top Ten Experiences in South Africa.

Mapungubwe is a little visited national park, but scenically very beautiful, on the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe. It has stunning, rocky, open landscapes, dotted with giant baobab trees and elephants. There is an elevated canopy walk through the trees and a spectacular viewpoint at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. However, you are unlikely to see any predators and visitors choose Mapungubwe because of its cultural and scenic treasures.

A viewpoint to three nations
Overall rating
3/5

Driving through the scorched terrain of this park, which sits on South Africa's border with Zimbabwe and Botswana, I couldn't help wondering if there was actually any life to be found. Even the trees seemed lifeless and we saw little more than the occasional bug or butterfly as we explored the hilly park. We had chosen the worst time of day – noon – at a particularly hot time of year and were going to give up and come back another day when we found the tree top elephant walk. As we wandered along the elevated platforms, looking out at the Limpopo and Shashe rivers that mark the meeting point of the three countries, we heard a rustling below. The next half-hour was spent mere metres away from an elephant foraging right beneath us. One of South Africa's less visited national parks, Mapungubwe has gems for those willing to look. The park is also an important cultural site, with a museum housing archeological finds.

Lost city on the Limpopo
Overall rating
3/5

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, this relatively new national park is not primarily a wildlife destination, so it ranks quite poorly judged on those terms. Its centrepiece is Mapungubwe Hill, site of the medieval capital of a wealthy trade empire that supplied locally sourced gold, copper and ivory to the Swahili Coast of East Africa in the 13th-century peak, and whoch formed the precursor to the altogether more impressive stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe to the north. Guided tours of the archaeological site run every morning, but be warned that it is of greater academic interest than it is impactful to the casual visitors. The park lies on the tripartite border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, and protects a stunning landscape of baobab-studded granitic hills overlooking the sluggish Limpopo River. Aside from birds, which are plentiful, the most common wildlife is elephant, greater kudu and klipspringer, though lion and leopard are present.

Mapungubwe, an archaeological site in 3 countries
Overall rating
3/5

The main attraction in this park with World Heritage status is Mapungubwe Hill, an Iron and Stone Age site. Morning and afternoon tours are conducted daily. I found the tour very informative and more than worthwhile. Aside from the archaeological significance this is also a place of great beauty. I love the rugged landscape, dotted with baobab trees and sandstone boulders. A highlight is the view site overlooking the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, also the place where 3 countries meet.

There aren’t a lot of game-viewing roads in this small park, but there is a good chance of seeing elephants and some antelopes including klipspringer, which can often be seen in pairs standing on the rocks. Black eagles love this kind of habitat and are often seen flying in the sky.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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