A Travel Guide to Great Zimbabwe

Once the centre of a vast and powerful empire known and the Munhumutapa Empire in the 13th century, today the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the largest ruins in sub-saharan Africa covering almost 1 800 acres.


Located proximately 27 kilometres (16.7 miles) south east of Masvingo, visitors can arrange for a bus or a private taxi from Masvingo to the ruins. There are also a number of organised tours available. Once at the gates to the ruins visitors will be charged a small entrance fee in dollars.


No visit to Zimbabwe is complete without a visit to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. During a tour of the ruins visitors can explore the incredible archaeological treasure trove that is the historical monument, taking in the five metre high walls that were constructed over 6 centuries ago while delving into the history of the area and the people that once built the ruins and lived in the area.

Spend time marvelling at the sheer ingenuity of the construction of these high walls without the aid or use of mortar, it is an incredible feat of human creativity and ingenuity. The 3 main areas of interest at the ruins include the Hill Complex with its magnificent views of the surrounding landscape, the Great Enclosure and the museum which holds a number of interesting artefacts that were found on the site, including pottery from China.


Exploring this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site is an absolute 'must-do' experience when travelling through the southern regions of Africa. Explore the 722 hectares and take in the remains of the stone buildings that were constructed, without the aid of mortar, from the beginning of the 11th century.

During a tour of the city one will be able to learn more about some of the 18 000 inhabitants that once lived in the prosperous city. Great Zimbabwe is believed to have become increasingly influential as it began to trade porcelain, cloth and glass, in exchange for gold and ivory, with the Portuguese and Arabs that were sailing down from Mozambique.

As the wealth increased and the people flourished they began to build more and more buildings as can be seen today from the ruins. Sadly due to over population, political discord and unrest and disease, Greater Zimbabwe was in decline by the 15th century.

The ruins consist of 3 main areas, the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. The oldest of the 3 is the Hill Complex which was occupied from the 9th to the 13th century and features the Eastern Enclosure where the Zimbabwe Birds stood.

The Great Enclosure was inhabited between the 13th and 15th century and is composed of the inner wall that encircles an outer wall and a series of other structures including the Conical Tower that stands 5.5 metres wide and 9.1 metres high. Finally the Valley Complex was occupied from the 14th to the 16th century and is divided into the Upper and Lower Valley Ruins.

Some historians suggest that the difference between these groupings of complexes is due to the different successive kings and their need to establish power and found a new residence while others believe that the different areas were inhabited by people of different social standing.


There are a number of hotels and lodges available for visitors to stay in. If visiting the area while on tour the tour company will be able to arrange suitable accommodation to suit your needs.


Winter occurs on Zimbabwe between May to August with temperatures ranging from 13°C to 23°C (55 - 73°F). Summer; from November to March is the country's rainy season with temperatures ranging from 25°C to 30°C (77-86°F)

Useful information

Allow enough time to explore the ruins. A full day is necessary should you wish to explore the 3 main areas of interest; namely the Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure and the museum.

by Katie Findlay

Ruins of Great Zimbabwe

The ruined city of Great Zimbabwe is one of the iconic African Iron Age landmarks. The impressive free-stone walls of the Great Enclosure...more

History of Zimbabwe

An interesting historical timeline featuring the major events in the history of Zimbabwe...more

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