Lost Cities of Africa: 7 Hidden Gems for Epic Archaeology Trips


For history buffs and archaeology lovers, nothing beats an opportunity to take a peek into ancient civilizations. There’s no better place to immerse yourself in the past than in the lost cities of Africa.

Once major centers of trade, worship and civilization, these forgotten cities vanished for thousands of years before re-emerging. In their ruins and ancient artifacts, they all tell untold tales of the past. Some still hold deep secrets that humanity is yet to uncover.

While some are submerged in the sea, others are covered under desert sand dunes. Still others hide under deep forest cover. The one thing they all have in common is that they are completely off the beaten path.

If your idea of a dream vacation involves getting lost in the past in a secluded destination, these secret cities are among the best places to visit in Africa:

Gedi Ruins, Kenya

Some describe the historic town of Gedi (also Gede) as Kenya’s Machu Picchu. Though it dates back to the 12th century, archaeologists only rediscovered it in the 1920s. It remained hidden for so long deep in the lush Arabuko-Sokoke Forest close to the Indian Ocean.

Coral stones, sand and lime were the main construction materials used. Most of the original foundations are still intact. You can view old coral-brick houses, coral tombs, a 50-meters deep well and the Great Mosque. History reveals that the city had running water and flushing toilets. It is home to artifacts from all over the globe, including Venetian glass and Chinese vases.

Folklore and mystery surround this ancient town which sits on a 44-hectares plot of land. After its original construction around the 12th century, it was rebuilt in the 15th century. But for unknown reasons, the nearly 2,500 residents abandoned it in the 17th century.

Since 1927, it has been a national monument. It appears on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites and could soon make the official list. The site remains off the tourist radar and offers a great experience if you love seclusion.

Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt

This is one of the most fascinating lost cities of Africa. Before Alexandria came into existence, Thonis-Heracleion was the largest Mediterranean port in Egypt. It however vanished for 1,000+ years, submerged under water, sand and silt. Divers first discovered fragments belonging to this ancient city in the early 2000’s.

According to archaeologists, the city came into existence about 2,700 years ago. It was the port of entry for all ships coming from Greece into Egypt. The city was also a religious center with a temple to Amun-Gereb, a supreme Egyptian god.

Investigators believe that this vibrant metropolis sank into the Mediterranean thanks to multiple factors. These include soil liquefaction, tidal waves and earthquakes. Among the discoveries found here are a large statue of Hapi (an Egyptian god), Greek ceramics and a huge stele (carved slab). The discoveries only represent a fraction of the ancient city.

Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

Covering over 80 hectares, Great Zimbabwe is one of the largest lost cities of Africa. It is one of about 150 similar ruins scattered across Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Historians describe it as a vibrant trade center that existed between the 11th and 15th centuries. It had an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 residents at its peak.

To date, the city has a functional drainage system that pumps water outside the settlement into surrounding valleys. There are massive fortresses made entirely of granite with no mortar to bind the pieces. An area known as the Great Enclosure has walls that are 11 meters high and six meters wide. These walls cover about 250 meters in circumference, creating the second largest single structure in Africa. The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt take the top spot.

Around the lost city archaeologists discovered 4,000 gold mines and hundreds of copper mines. Among the artifacts found here are golden necklaces, Syrian glassware and ceramics from Persia and China. Its prosperity revolved around trading activity linked to precious metals and cattle. It dropped off the radar due to a decline in trading activity. But the astounding architecture and engineering wonders here stun visitors to this day.

Meroe, Sudan


Not only is this one of the most remarkable lost cities of Africa; it is also home to huge pyramids that rival those of Egypt. But for the most part, it remains eerie and deserted due to the effects of civil war.

The forgotten city sits in the desert close to the Nile River and is home to about 200 pyramids. These Nubian pyramids date back two to three millennia and are smaller than Egyptian pyramids. A majority of them are tombs for the rulers of the ancient Kingdom of Kush. They are steeper than their Egyptian counterparts and feature architectural elements from Greece, Rome and Egypt.

Like most other lost cities in Africa, Meroe thrived as part of a trade route that went as far as India and China. Vast iron ore reserves surrounded this location back then and it was a point of entry into the southern part of Africa. The empire had powerful queens known as Kandakes or Candaces – who are mentioned in the Bible.

Meroe’s decline came about when its relevance in international trade waned, making way for rival hubs. The area is very difficult to access and many of its mysteries remain covered under desert sand.

Kweneng, South Africa

Kweneng is one of the most recent discoveries on our list of lost cities of Africa. It dates back to the period between 1400 and the late 1800’s. The city lies in an area of archaeological interest known as Suikerbosrand, south of Johannesburg. Though the site has attracted explorers since the 1960’s, researchers only discovered its size in 2018/2019 using laser technology.

Previously, they had only discovered a small number of ruins because of the thick vegetation in the area. The use of laser technology revealed an expansive metropolis that once focused on trade and agriculture.

At its peak around 1820, the city may have hosted between 5,000 and 10,000 people. Historians believe that civil wars and military conflicts contributed to its decline.

Agongointo-Zoungoudo, Benin

This underground village dates as far back as the 16th or 17th century. It is an extensive site consisting of about 150 caves located about 30 feet under the surface of the earth. A fairly recent discovery, the intriguing 17-acre village came into the limelight in 1998. During a construction project on the site, a bulldozer fell into one of the caverns.

Barely four months after the discovery, it became a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also an archaeological park open to visitors. The caves provided shelter during war and still hold plenty of historical and cultural significance.

It is a great place to visit on family vacations as there is a playground and a butterfly garden for kids and the young at heart.

Jenne-Jeno, Mali


One of the oldest lost cities of Africa, Jenne-Jeno (Djenne-Jeno) dates back to 250 BCE. Historians consider it the very first indigenous city in sub-Saharan Africa. Located in the Niger River’s inland delta, it was a trade center for ivory, gold, slaves, gum Arabic and civet.

History shows that the city started out as an agricultural center, growing rice, sorghum and millet. It was also home to vast flocks of sheep, goats and cattle. Later, it became an important trade center for importing iron ore and gold and exporting fish oil, rice and fish.

As these activities declined, residents abandoned the city and layers of soil and sediment kept its secrets intact for centuries. Archaeologists rediscovered the forgotten city between 1977 and 1981 during excavations of the area. This led to its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Take a Peek into History in the Lost Cities of Africa

The lost cities of Africa hold fascinating secrets of the past. They are home to captivating architectural wonders and a treasure trove of historical artifacts. In their silence and mystery, they tell stories about ancient civilizations and societies.

You don’t have to be an archaeology lover or history buff to enjoy a forgotten city adventure. They are also great if you love unusual vacation experiences or wish for an off-the-radar trip.

Take a peek into the intriguing history of these ancient jewels of Africa for an unforgettable holiday experience. If you love archaeological tours, you might also love to undertake a cultural trip of Africa. This is a unique opportunity to discover how some of its most fascinating people live.                                                                                  

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