Pafuri Thulamela

South Africa’s best-kept archaeological secret

Archaeology and History

The Pafuri region of Kruger National Park is home to the Kingdom of Thulamela, South Africa’s best-kept archaeological secret.

Hauntingly beautiful, this extensively renovated ancient settlement is surrounded by ancient baobabs and commands spectacular views across surrounding savannahs, flood plains and mountains.

Located in the Pafuri region in the northern section of the Kruger Park, Thulamela is a unique archaeology destination which blends extensive wildlife, history, and ancient culture with luxury accommodation – a combination found nowhere else in Southern Africa.

Read a recent review of Thulamela which captures the magic of the place and its surroundings here.

Thulamela thrived between 1250 – 1700 AD when it lay at the heart of the most dynamic economic and trading system in Southern Africa. Excavations concluded in the 1990s uncovered royal graves in which were found a range of gold, copper and beaded ornaments, evidence of the wealth that was derived from its trade links, via  the Swahili coast, with Arabia and India.

The archaeological evidence suggests the royal settlement was contemporary with and connected to Mapungubwe to the west and Great Zimbabwe to the north, and was moulded by similar political economies and cultures

The site is not open to the general public and visits are made by special arrangement with Pafuri Camp and the Kruger Park authority.

Accommodation and activities

Guests are accommodated in the Pafuri Luxury Tented Camp, on the banks of the Livuvhu River, a 15 minute game drive from the Thulamela site.

Beyond your exploration of Thulamela, your days will be spent on leisurely game drives and walks, exploring some of the numerous loops and detours of this game and bird-rich area between two great African rivers, the Luvuvhu to the south and the Limpopo to the north.

Following South Africa’s democratic transition, Pafuri was the subject of a successful land reform partnership – the first of its kind – between the Makuleke community (who were removed from the area under apartheid) and the Kruger National  Park.

Our accommodation partner,  the Pafuri Luxury Tented Camp, is at the heart of this partnership, providing employment, training and a share of the operating returns to the Makuleke people. The lodge is managed entirely by the Makulekes who will happily share their remarkable story and culture.


Thulamela and the neighbouring Livuvhu-Limpopo River flood plains host the richest biodiversity of the Kruger Park. The area is cherished for its magnificent landscapes and dazzling array of flora and fauna. It is a renowned birding destination, offering many migrant populations found nowhere else in South Africa. It has several large resident breeding herds of elephant, leopard and hyena, plus all the plains game in abundance: buffalo, zebra, kudu, eland, wildebeest, to name a few.

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