At only 17 364 square kilometers, The Kingdom of Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini), is a tiny country that has managed to steadily establish itself as a great contender for a quick, affordable and enjoyable safari tour for the adventurous traveller to southern Africa.
Eswatini is a young nation, only gaining independence from the UK in September 1968. It’s surrounded by South Africa on all sides (apart from the tiny border it shares with Mozambique in the east). This country has a very strong cultural identity of its own, largely formed by a loyalty to the monarchy, which is set on the upkeep of age-old Swazi traditions and customs.
Swaziland has a good variety of wildlife including the Big Five. The parks are relatively small but well managed and maintained. Large drive-through enclosures stocked well with game, makes viewing easy. Lion, white rhino and elephant are all easily seen in Hlane for example. While a good variety of antelope species can be seen in different environments, including tsessebe, eland and sable.
Swaziland can easily be incorporated in a South African holiday. It offers some outstanding wildlife viewing in low-key parks, stunning scenery and traditional culture. Hlane Royal National Park is an excellent place to see many flagship animals. There are some spectacular activities to choose from too when visiting this country. See some of the recommendations below.
- Classic safari in Hlane Royal Reserve
- Classic safari in Mkaya Reserve (No self-drive option here)
- Malolotja Canopy Tour
- Visit Mantenga Cultural Village
- Horse riding at Hawane Resort
- Summerfield Botanical Gardens
- Visit House on Fire
- Nsangwini Rock Paintings
Hlane Royal Reserve
Once the royal hunting ground, Hlane Royal National Park is now one of the top parks for visitors to Eswatini with four of the Big Five present (buffalo are absent). The park was almost depleted of wildlife in the early 1960s, but with Eswatini’s Big Game Parks’ conservation efforts and the reintroduction of animals, the park has recovered amazingly.
Hlane stretches out over a landscape of typical lowveld. This low-lying, flat land is interspersed with thickets and riverine forest next to the sandy rivers that meander through the park. The east of the park reaches to the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains which flow over into South Africa’s Kruger area.
Malolotja Canopy Tour
Located in the very heart of the breath-takingly beautiful Malolotja Nature Reserve, Swaziland’s first, and only, canopy tour forms part of the South African franchise that finds its roots in the Tsitsikamma forest along the Garden Route. Zip lining is the main attraction but getting to the first platform is quite an adventure on its own, starting with a bumpy 4×4 drive, followed by a short hike.
Mantenga Cultural Village
Starting with a series of traditional dances, the tour gives you a glimpse into the rural roots from which the modern Swazi people originate. It leads you through a compound consisting of beehive huts making up this interesting traditional collective home. Guides explain well that for example, the oldest and the youngest sons are expected to remain within the compound, while all the rest of the siblings are free to head off into the world. The paternal grandmother is also the absolute “Queen Bee” – she has to be consulted in all family matters. Do you have a burning question about your future? Well, visit the onsite Sangoma who will read your fortune through his throwing of bones. After visiting the cultural village, take a short drive up the road to view the spectacular Mantenga waterfall.
Horse riding at Hawane Resort
Home to at least 12 well-schooled, obedient and beautiful horses, Hawane is a popular spot for equestrian adventures, offering everything from short 1-hour rides to adventurous all-day outings.
Summerfield Botanical Gardens
Summerfield is situated in the very heart of Manzini, Swaziland’s capital. A canopy of Acacia trees guides you along a compressed gravel driveway that comes to an end at a restaurant complex. The thatch-covered seating dotted along a pond and connected by various wooden boardwalks makes for a great setting to enjoy lunch or the afternoon.
House on Fire
This is the venue for the very popular Bushfire Festival (Usually in May). House on Fire is a magical world of picturesquely twirling towers, fantasy-like sculptures and dreamy visions. Something reminiscent of an African-style fairy castle. Apart from hosting the Bushfire Festival, House on Fire also plays host to plays, music and poetry performances throughout the year. Be sure to pop into the Malandelas Restaurant on the property as well for a beer and a snack!
Nsangwini Rock Paintings
Getting up close to 4 000-year-old bushman paintings is pretty surreal. In Swaziland’s Nsangwini Valley it feels like you’ve stepped inside a time capsule. Located in a cave at the end of a steep and slippery hike, the Nsangwini rock paintings are perfectly clear and extremely well-preserved. The tours are run by the local community, who have a rotating schedule of guides ready to assist tourists and share their heritage.