Monumental stone ruins are rare in southern Africa.
Yet in the lower highlands of Zimbabwe stand awe-inspiring African stone-work that feels like an Inca site in Peru.
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.
So initially, the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe Empire were attributed to King Solomon or some Greek colonizers myth.
But modern research proves that the builders of the Great Zimbabwe were the Shona people.
From their capital at the Great Zimbabwe, Shona influence extended into Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, (between the 12-15th centuries AD).
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.
What you see today are the dominant stone ruins of numerous royal enclosures; whilst the populace once lived in simple clay and thatched dwellings.
During its height, Great Zimbabwe’s population fluctuated between 11 – 20,000.
Travel Advice for visiting the 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).
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.