Limpopo has long been South Africa’s Cinderella province, not even mentioned in some guidebooks. But in more recent times it has taken its rightful place as a sought-after tourist destination with big game, brilliant birding, untamed bush landscapes, a marvellous ancient African kingdom, places of myth and legend, and as the northern gateway to Kruger National Park.

Overview of Limpopo

Named after the mighty Limpopo River, and bordering Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe, Limpopo is South Africa’s northernmost province and one of its wildest (wildest in terms of immense untamed landscapes).

It’s more off the regular tourist beat than its better-known neighbour, Mpumalanga, but because of its malaria-free game parks, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mapungubwe, its cultural heritage steeped in myth and legend, and its fascinating mountain ranges, it is now a drawcard for travellers who are seeking roads less travelled.

Once known as the ‘Great North’ (and the Great North Road, the N1, still bisects the province on its way from Johannesburg via Polokwane to Zimbabwe), Limpopo is now home to one of South Africa’s most popular and malaria-free big game destinations – the Waterberg, a high plateau in the west of the province surrounded by bushveld. The Marakele National Park and the privately owned Welgewonden Game Reserve are here, as is the renowned Lapalala Wilderness area.

Limpopo is also known for its rich cultural heritage. You’ll find woodcarvers, potters, intricate beadwork, legends and myths, and even a Rain Queen, the hereditary female ruler of the Modjadji people, who is held to have the power to make rain. Many rivers and lakes are believed to be the home of water spirits and sacred pythons, which are given offerings and paid homage to by the local people on a regular basis. In north-east Limpopo in the Venda region, Lake Fundudzi and the deep, indigenous Sacred Forest are particularly revered as ancestral sites.

The southern slopes of the far northern Soutpansberg mountains have a subtropical climate with lush farms growing macadamia nuts and avocados, although higher up you’ll find more typical mountain scenery with gorges, waterfalls and hillsides, where more than 550 species of trees flourish. Because of its unique ecosystems, the area is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Apart from lots to see, there’s also plenty to do, from hiking and horse riding (experts claim that horse riding and game viewing from horseback in the Waterberg is the best in the country) to Big Five spotting, fishing, rock climbing and much more.