Great Zimbabwe Hill Top Ruins Panorama

Exploring the Enigmatic Ruins of the Great Zimbabwe

Monumental stone ruins are rare in southern Africa.

Yet in the lower highlands of Zimbabwe are awe-inspiring African stone-work that feels like an Inca site.

Ruins Of Great Zimbabwe Moody Panorama
Panorama of the site: Left is the hill-top enclosure while to the right is the Great or Royal enclosure with its huge walls and conical tower.

In fact, when the ruins were “discovered” by whites controlling the country once-known as Rhodesia, racists denied that Africans could ever built such mighty structures.

Stone Conical Tower Great Zimbabwe Ruins
The mysterious, solid “conical tower” within the Great Enclosure. It’s purpose remains unknown.

Initially, the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe were attributed to King Solomon or some Greek colonizers myth

Huge Stone Walls Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Western entrance to the Great Enclosure.

But modern research proves that the builders of the Great Zimbabwe were the Shona people.

Narrow Cliff Paths Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Ancient hill-top paths amid ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

The Great Zimbabwe Empire

From their capital at the Great Zimbabwe, the Shona influence extended into Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, (between the 12-15th centuries AD). 

Shona Tribe Great Zimbabwe Ruins
LEFT: Shona woman involved in dance troupe. RIGHT: Sculptor at  ruins; there were very few souvenirs stalls here (and visitors across the site) and so I bought a small carved, necklace piece from him. BOTTOM-RIGHT: Shona villages are around the Great Zimbabwe ruins.

The Great Zimbabwe Empire exported gold and ivory to the coast of East Africa (Swahili culture), where items such as cloth, beads, porcelain came into the capital from as far as the Middle East and China.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins Hill Top Vista
From the throne area / meeting place of the enclosure upon the hill – looking down to the largest royal enclosure (below in center).

What you see today are the dominant stone ruins of numerous royal enclosures; whilst the populace once lived in simple clay and thatched dwellings.

Great Zimbabwe Hill Top Ruins Panorama
Entrance to the hill-top enclosure.

During its height,  Great Zimbabwe’s population fluctuated between 11 – 20,000.

Advice for Traveling to Ruins of the Great Zimbabwe National Monument

GETTING THERE: You will have to pass-thru (maybe stay the night in nearby city of Masvingo and there are no cheap single rooms these days. I paid $35 with shared bathroom).

However, there’s a fantastic new supermarket in the town center – so stock up on everything. And opposite this supermarket are shared taxi / mini-vans heading out towards the ruins (about 25km away: fare $1-2). 

You will be dropped off on the road to a very expensive hotel resort.  Walk on up and thru the grounds  and down to the camp site. It’s maybe a 20-30 minute walk.

(I hitched with a Zimbabwean couple who had the only vehicle you may see on the road.

They also helped me secure a room – when there was none; every room booked-out by a local conference hosted up at the resort.

Anyway, it was a nice mellow walk on the return journey out. Then easy hitching to Masvingo).

Great Zimbabwe Ruins Trip
LEFT: A young, shaky perspective of the world. Troops of monkeys roamed the park at the edges of the day. I stayed a blissful couple of days in a park hut; if my door was open – monkeys would try and sneak inside. BOTTOM-LEFT: View of Great Enclosure for hill-top ruins. BOTTOM-RIGHT: my food supplies for the 2 days at the site.

ACCOMMODATION: Stay at the government camp site. If you don’t have a tent, there are simple but nice double huts (with electricity and shared bathroom @ US15 per person).

TAKE ALL FOOD + WATER: from the decently-priced – South African brand – supermarket in Masvingo. You can score cheese, bread, salami, fruit, alcohol, snacks, etc.  Otherwise site shop has very little beyond soft drinks and crisps. And the resort is expensive  (try the cheapest option: a hamburger @ $10; yet cold beer is cheap).

ENTRANCE FEE: $15 (If you stay at the camp site, this ticket is good for a week).

TIP: Zimbabwe is very quiet on the backpacker circuit. You will have the ruins to yourself (with the occasional local or international tourist). Even if you’re not crazy about ruins, the huts location – looking to the hill-top complex, the rampant monkeys, the nature, nearby villages and total solitude make it worth a mellow couple of days.


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