The northernmost province in South Africa, Limpopo shares borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. It’s best known for the Kruger National Park—but those who travel beyond the world-famous game reserve will discover an incredibly diverse area steeped in indigenous culture and full of natural wonders. Best of all, many parts of the province are largely overlooked by casual tourists, lending to a feeling of remoteness that appeals to the true traveler’s sense of adventure. Here are 18 of the best ways to spend your time in Limpopo.
Kruger National Park is the country’s most iconic safari destination. Because visitors flock from all over the world to look for the Big Five, the more accessible southern half of the park (in Mpumalanga province) can get crowded. For a more off-the-beaten-track adventure, head north to Limpopo instead. This half of the park is divided again into the Northern region (famous for its mopane forests and abundant elephants) and the Far Northern region (renowned for birdwatching). Entry costs 372 rands per adult and 186 rands per child.
At the northernmost tip of the country lies Mapungubwe National Park. While it's known for excellent game viewing and spectacular savannah scenery, this remote reserve is most famous for the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it protects the ruins of what was once the largest kingdom on the sub-continent before it was abandoned in the 14th century. Tours offer visitors the chance to walk among the remains of a palace, graveyard, and two previous capital sites.
Look for San Rock Art on the Makgabeng Plateau
The magnificent Makgabeng Plateau towers some 650 feet above the northern Limpopo Bushveld. Once home to hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age, it is one of South Africa’s most pristine wildernesses and a magnet for rock climbers, four-wheel drive adventurers, and rock art enthusiasts. More than 890 rock art sites can be found scattered across the plateau. Uniquely, they are the work of three different tribes: the San, the Khoikhoi, and more recently, the Northern Sotho. Makgabeng Farm Lodge in Bochum is a great base for guided and self-guided rock art tours.
Walk in the Footsteps of Our Ancestors in Makapan Valley
Makapan Valley in central Limpopo is studded with caves, many of them important archaeological sites. Fossils and other artifacts found here prove that the valley has been inhabited by hominid species for over three million years. At the Cave of Hearths, paleontologists discovered an unbroken sequence of artifacts from the Earlier, Middle, and Later Stone Ages, adding greatly to our understanding of the emergence of modern man. You can learn more about Makapan Valley’s prehistoric past—and its later Northern Soto and Voortrekker inhabitants—at the Arend Dieperink Museum in Mokopane.
Go Birdwatching at Nylsvley Nature Reserve
Part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, Nylsvley Nature Reserve is the largest and most intact seasonal floodplain in South Africa. It’s also a RAMSAR wetland site and one of the province’s best birding destinations. Over 365 avian species have been recorded here, of which 104 are waterbirds. Keep an eye out for all of the Southern African bittern and heron species, as well as unique breeds like the African pygmy goose, the Allen’s gallinule, and the knob-billed duck. The best birding occurs during the rainy summer months (November to May).
Explore Mysterious Venda, Limpopo’s Land of Legend
In the far north of Limpopo lies the Venda region, a former apartheid bantustan and the traditional home of the Venda people. Known for their largely unchanged ancient traditions, the Venda are thought to have migrated to the area from the Great Lakes of Central Africa some time during the 12th century. Many of their beliefs and superstitions relate to the surrounding landscape, earning it the nickname "Land of Legend." Join Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge’s guided Venda Lifestyle Tour for an insight into the region and its people.
Head to Polokwane For a Lesson in Colonial History
The provincial capital, Polokwane, was established in 1886 by the Voortrekkers. During the Anglo-Boer War, Polokwane (then known as Pietersburg) served as the capital of the Transvaal Republic. The British went on to occupy the town during the Boer War, building a concentration camp that detained more than 4,000 Boer women and children; the graves of those that died can be seen at the Concentration Camp Cemetery. Other points of historical interest include the Polokwane Museum and the Eersteling Monuments, which mark South Africa’s first gold crushing site and gold power plant.
Tour the Bakone Malapa Northern Sotho Open-Air Museum
A 15-minute drive south of Polokwane takes you to the Bakone Malapa Northern Sotho Open-Air Museum. An authentic reconstruction of a historic Bakone village, this living monument was completed using traditional methods and materials. Visitors can join tours led by gifted local storytellers and discover how the tribe lived some 250 years ago. Take part in an interactive beer-brewing or fire-making demonstration, or watch artisan craftspeople as they make weapons, woven baskets, and jewelry. The museum is open every day except Sundays and public holidays.
Encounter Hippos and Crocs on an Olifants River Safari
Experience the perfect blend of wildlife, scenery, and relaxation with an Olifants River Safaris cruise. Based just south of Phalaborwa on the edge of Kruger National Park, the company offers three-hour tours on a beautiful, open-sided houseboat. Sightings of hippos and Nile crocodiles are virtually guaranteed, while other game animals are frequently spotted drinking at the water’s edge. Birdlife is also prolific. Head up to the top deck for cool breezes and a clear view of the action. Tours run at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
Walk Among Prehistoric Plants at the Modjadji Cycad Nature Reserve
Nestled in the mountains outside Tzaneen, the Modjadji Cycad Nature Reserve is home to the world’s largest concentration of a single cycad species. This endemic plant (Encephalartos transvenosus) is also one of the oldest, tallest, and fastest-growing cycads. For centuries, the cycad forest has been protected by the Modjadji, or "rain queens" of the matriarchal Balobedu people, whose tribal lands surround the reserve. Because of this, the forest remains much as it would have been during the time of the dinosaurs. Explore on foot via seven miles of scenic trails.
Hit the Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail for a Multi-Day Adventure
There are many ways to explore the mountainous Magoebaskloof region, but one of the best and most immersive ways is on foot. The Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail traverses the escarpment area outside Tzaneen, taking walkers through sub-tropical, indigenous forest and alongside crystal clear streams and tumbling waterfalls. The various sections take from two to five nights to complete, and are rated from moderate to difficult. The shortest trail measures almost 13 miles while the longest measures nearly 39 miles. Along the way, six rustic huts provide a safe place to spend the night.
Cool Off in the Pool at Debengeni Waterfall
Whether you go hiking in the Magoebaskloof for several days or just a few hours, make sure to stop at Debengeni Waterfall. Here, the Ramadipa River plunges roughly 260 feet down a rocky slide into a deep pool that serves as a popular summer hangout spot for visitors and locals alike. Some come for a scenic picnic, others to cool off in the mountain-fresh water. Debengeni Falls is also a prime destination for birders and botanists, with many exciting bird species and over 40 different types of indigenous trees.
Get Off the Beaten Track in Haenertsburg
The pretty mountain village of Haenertsburg is separated from Tzaneen by the majestic Magoebaskloof Pass. Many visitors use it as a scenic base for hiking, mountain biking, and trout fishing in the surrounding area—but there’s much to explore in town as well. Many of its buildings date back to its foundation as a gold mining post in 1886. You’ll find antique shops and farm-to-table restaurants, a rare second-hand bookshop, and a microbrewery. Book accommodation well in advance if you plan to visit during the famous Spring Festival.
Look Out for the Province’s Famous Baobab Trees
One of Limpopo’s most iconic sights is the baobab tree, an African giant often referred to as the upside-down tree for its strange, inverted appearance. Considered sacred by many indigenous cultures, baobabs are found throughout the province. A few are especially famous. The most famous of all, the Sunland Baobab, toppled over in 2017—but another outside Gravelotte still impresses visitors with its astonishing girth. Musina Nature Reserve near the Zimbabwean border is home to Limpopo’s highest concentration of baobabs as well as a population of regionally rare sable antelope.
Soak in the Hot Springs at Bela-Bela
Named for the Tswana phrase meaning "the pot that boils," Bela-Bela is famous for its geothermic springs, which produce roughly 22,000 liters of hot water an hour. Many of the town’s lodges and resorts have harnessed this natural phenomenon by channeling the water into pools and spa baths. The most famous resort is Warmbaths, which enhances your hot springs experience with a long list of specialty massages and treatments. The Tswana believed that the springs had healing properties, and considering they have a high mineral content, they were probably right.
Situated an hour’s drive west of Bela-Bela, Zebula Golf Estate & Spa sprawls across a 1,600-hectare property stocked with free-ranging plains game. This means that when you’re lining up a shot on the 18-hole, par-72 golf course, you’ll need to wait for zebra, impala, and giraffe to get out of the way before taking your swing. Designed by Peter Matkovitch, the course follows the natural contours of the surrounding Bushveld.
Visit One of the Province’s Wildlife Rehab Centers
Limpopo is home to several highly respected wildlife rehabilitation centers, two of which are situated in the far south near the Mpumalanga border. Although there’s nothing like spotting safari animals in the wild, both Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre and Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre give visitors the chance to see rare creatures up close and to learn more about the conservation issues affecting their future. HESC is especially involved in cheetah conservation, while Moholoholo is known for breeding and reintroducing serval cats to the wild. Both offer tours and education programs.
Test Your Four-Wheel Driving Skills on the African Ivory Route
One of the best ways to see Limpopo’s highlights is to drive the challenging African Ivory Route. At approximately 1,250 miles in length, it forms a giant arc from Masebe Nature Reserve in the east to the western edge of Kruger National Park. Along the way it skirts or traverses four major mountain ranges, and some sections are only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles. This adventurous route connects some of the province’s best game reserves and wilderness areas and provides accommodation in 12 scenic camps. You can download an overview of the camps here.