Prehistoric Art & Balancing Rocks near Harare, Zimbabwe!

Red, green and grey cover the rock as you climb the hill. You’re only a few kilometers from the largest city in Zimbabwe, Harare, but it’s like another world! The stone carvings of animals and gods are so clear like the paint just dried yesterday. This is spectacular nature and cultural history combined into one. And it even gives kids a great space for climbing.


Sometimes history and natural sights go together. Just next to the capital of Zimbabwe, there are two sites with fantastic geological formations and San rock art. I have seen rock and cave paintings before in France – mammoths and stuff like that. But this was the first time, I saw paintings this old and near the cradle of mankind. We visited it as part of our 3 weeks long backpacking round trip in Zimbabwe in November 2013. My husband had a friend working in Harare, who showed us these two sites in Epworth and Domboshava. There were NO other tourists!


It look so funny! The balancing rocks can be seen on a much larger scale in Matobo National Park near Bulaweyo, but if you’re short of time, you can see some smaller ones about 13 km from the capital Harare. I guarantee, you will try to push them over.


Balancing rocks in Epworth

The balancing rocks are NOT created by strong people, but a natural phenomenon. Because granite is so hard, it doesn’t erode as quickly as other rocks, so when the soil is removed by natural erosion, the rocks become free standing (I think… I studied art & history, not geology). Some of them have names like “Mother and child”, and they appear on the now-not-usuable One Hundred Trillion Dollars notes.


The 8-year old thought this was a great investment…

In Epworth, there are also some San rock art sites worth visiting. San are an indigenous people in Southern Africa and the rock art can be found in Botswana and other places.

We had a local guide to show us the rock art, although it’s not that hard to find, but it gives him a job. My only problem was he touched the rock art. Don’t do it!  For now, the art is in excellent condition, and you get an idea of the original paint colours and the fine lines the San painters were capable of drawing on the granite rocks. I was really surprised at their fine condition. You can’t tell, it’s several thousand years old.

zimbabwe epworth

As I recall, it went like this: The one with the tail and what looks like an axe is a semi-human creature often helping humans. They are common in this type of art with tails and long ears and live in a supernatural world. This scene is either an attack from the animals or a healing ceremony of the seated figures, maybe humans. I remember magic was involved – it’s a movie waiting to be written…


Domboshava is a National Monument. “Dombo” means rock and “Shava” means light brown. Which is funny, because the reason this place is so beautiful is due to the colours. There’s a few balancing rocks here as well, but on top of a giant rock hill. But it’s entirely covered with lichen; a kind of algae, which gives the surface a splendid colour palate of green, red and grey. It’ really an other-worldly site.


The rock at Domboshava use to be a pilgrimage site for rain seekers in this dry land and offerings were made. The cave paintings in Domboshava are almost 6000 years old. You can easily find them yourself. They are definitely in as good a shape as the ones i Epsworth. Right above my son’s head in the first picture below, you can see a row of dancers – again with the elongated legs.

domboshava rock art

There’s a small information centre, which we didn’t visit, and you can also have a braai (barbecue) here. It’s probably great for sunset watching (and photographing), but be very careful of driving when it’s dark. Read more on the sights on the official tourist site.

If you’re going to Zimbabwe, I also have tips on Visiting Victoria Falls in the dry season! or what’s it like to experience Lions killing and eating a buffalo in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Have you seen cave paintings?

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