Mapungubwe National Park

It was completely dark when we reached the campsite, and the guard at the entrance to this side of the park looked at us suspiciously when we arrived. After producing park permits, camping bookings, and the receipt for the cultural walk he let us in. We proceeded to the campsite where we had to “take down” the electric fence before we could enter our stand. Dinner that evening tasted very good after a long and eventful day.

Mapungubwe National Park takes its name from the Mapungubwe settlement found in that area. Mapungubwe Hill has been excavated by the University of Pretoria, uncovering remains of settlements as far back as 1030. The area was abandoned around 1290, is believed to have housed 5,000-9,000 people, and shows signs of prosperity. The park borders on Botswana, just south of the Tuli Block. It is easily reached by car in a day from Johannesburg – the main gate being just over 500km away.

We were met at the park by friendly staff. They showed us the park maps, the self-drive options, and explained the activities on offer. On arrival, we decided to take part in the guided Cultural and Heritage Walk, taking in the sights of the park, the archaeological excavations, and the Mapungubwe Hill. Our guide for the walk was from the area, so his knowledge of the history and landscape was excellent. He also told us that he used to visit one of the tribe elders of the local Mapungubwe tribe to learn more about the history of the area. His goal is one day to write a book about all the history he has collected.

Prior to our walk we had about an hour and a half to see some of the park. We were unfortunately in the “silly hour” – the time of day where all life hides from the sun – so we did not see a lot of game. On our drive to Mapungubwe Hill, however, we came across a small herd of elephant, kudu, and impala. The elephant was very inquisitive, and lingered at the vehicle for 30 or so minutes trying to figure out our smell.

Mapungubwe National Park is divided into two halves. The main gate is in the eastern half and the campsite we had booked at is in the western half. This unfortunately means a long drive around the edge of the park to get to the campsite entrance. We don’t like driving in the park at night, but this time it was a necessity as we had partaken in one of the activities. There is also a Heritage Centre, a restaurant, and a lodge in the park. The bird hide and the tree walk-way were closed due to the floods earlier in the year.

Our campsite turned out to be really nice, with central ablutions and washing-up area, and a braai stand, fireplace, and stand-pipe per site. We packed up early the next morning to have time for a game drive before heading towards the Platjan border to Botswana. With limited time we chose to drive the loop just outside the campsite. This gave us some good animal sightings and a good variety of scenery. It also took us past a closed waterhole – this too one of the casualties from the rain and floods earlier in the year.

All in all it was a good 15 hours in the park – but as someone close to us said; “you need more than a day in Mapungubwe”.


  • Mapungubwe National Park lies 520km north of Johannesburg. It is easily accessible by car (tar all the way) and the park self-drive can be driven with a standard car.
  • Entry is covered by the SANParks Wild Card. Otherwise it is R30pppd in conservation fees.
  • Camping is relatively standard at R190 per stand (1-2 people), with an additional Rcost per person for the next four.
  • Each stand has a braai stand, a fire plate, and a water tap. Central ablutions with h&c shower, washing up, and toilets.
  • Activities include game drives, walks, and the Heritage and Culture Tour and Walk.
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