The kingdom of Swaziland may be small, but it is grand in traditions and culture. In addition, the country offers a beautiful mountain landscape and compact national parks for wildlife spotting.
Swaziland is completely landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique. With an area of 17,364 km2, the kingdom is the smallest country in Africa after Gambia. A poor country too, with a lot of illiteracy. But friendly.
Most tourists only visit the small Swaziland as a stopover during, for example, a transit from South Africa to Mozambique. Still, there is reason to travel around Swaziland for a few extra days. You will encounter the same game as in South Africa, but now in its own, more compact setting.
In addition, the culture of Swaziland is much more traditional, you really take a step back in time. It is full of local traditions with plenty of village festivals and folk dances. Many residents still live in simple beehive houses.
The landscapes of Swaziland have become so varied due to a fault line in the earth’s cost, where rivers have cut deeply and thus created a beautiful alternation between savannas and high plains.
Do not forget that you are prone to Malaria in the lowlands of Swaziland. Make sure to take malaria tablets when visiting these areas.
Malolotja National Park
The famous Malolotja National Park is Swaziland’s largest protected area (18,000 hectares), but is small compared to many South African nature parks. It is located in the northwest of the country, on the border with South Africa.
Malolotja is a great place for hiking enthusiasts and active people, with pristine mountain and hilly landscapes, a variety of grasslands, rivers, waterfalls, even an acclaimed canopy tour (ziplining).
The park has about 200 kilometers of hiking trails, mostly around the highest mountains in the park. Make sure that a visit to the impressive Malolotja waterfall (see below) is included in the route. And visit the ancient Ngwenya Mine, possibly the oldest mine in the world. According to researchers, iron ore was already mined here in 42,000 BC (!).
The towns of Bulembu (an old mining town on the border with South Africa) and Piggs Peak are the northern gateways to the park, where you can do some shopping. In Malolotja National Park itself there are a handful of lodges and campsites where you can stay overnight.
For example, you can also choose the Bulembu Country Lodge (with swimming pool!) In Bulembu as a base, because the distances are small. The landscape is at its best in our winter months January to March (summer there), when rain has fallen and everything is beautifully green. In our summer (winter there) it can get very cold!
The 95 meter high Malolotja Falls are beautifully situated in the green mountains and named after the river of the same name. It rises in the east of the area and descends through several waterfalls for a total of about 900 meters, to merge with the Nkomati River. The trek to the top of the falls (a 7 km route) is an absolute highlight of any visit to Swaziland.
Spotting the Big Five in Hlane & Mkhaya
Swaziland has two different safari parks where you can spot the Big Five: Hlane Royal National Park and the Mkhaya Game Reserve. Compared to the Kruger Park not far from here in South Africa, they are small parks:
Hlane is the largest with its 30,000 hectares of land, but that is of course peanuts compared to the 2,000,000 hectares of Kruger. However, the compactness of the parks has several advantages: the chance of seeing the Big Five is greater. In addition, fewer tourists come to Swaziland and the parks are cheaper in terms of entrance and game drives.
Mkhaya Game Reserve, Swaziland
Hlane Royal National Park was once a royal private area for hunters, but has now been open to tourists for years. It is a park with mostly flat plains and some grasslands, in the northeast of Swaziland (towards the border with Mozambique).
In addition to the complete Big Five, you will also find zebras, leopards, cheetahs and white rhinos here. Via the MR3 road that runs through the middle of the park you reach the main entrance and access to the various drive routes.
You can go out with your own car as well as do organized game drives or make hikes with an (armed) ranger. You can spend the night in some campsites or in these chalets.
Hlane Royal National Park, Swaziland
Further south, the smaller Mkhaya Game Reserve is the place to go to spot rhinos. Not the white, but the rarer and more aggressive black variety (smaller and with shorter, blunt horn). The unspoiled, Swazi-run Mkhaya is in any case the reserve for protected species in Swaziland, with also rare buffalo and antelopes. Elephants and giraffes also live there.
Of the Big 5, only the lion is missing here. Both in open 4 × 4’s and on foot you can get very close to the wildlife here. The chance that you will come face to face with a rhinoceros is huge!
Driving around with your own car is not allowed; the game drives with safari jeeps from the park are mandatory. You can spend the night in the central Stone Camp.
Rafting on the Usutu River
Swaziland’s longest river, the Great Usutu River, with its fierce rapids, is a fantastic place for rafting. In the South African summer, from January to March, the rafting stretch stretches over fifteen kilometers, with lunch half way at a waterfall.
You raft along steep cliffs with green banks, often in two-person boats. In winter, our summer, the total rafting route is reduced to 4 km. Then the raft tours are combined with abseiling again. Please note that rafting is not possible at all in September and October.
Mbabane with its 100,000 inhabitants is the largest city and also the capital of Swaziland. The city is the commercial heart of the country and is located by two major rivers (the Mbabane and the Polinjane), at an altitude of 1200 meters in the Dlangeni Hills.
It is a fairly modern city with various banks, shopping facilities and markets. In the hills on the outskirts of the city you will find more traditional houses and neighbourhoods
The Ezulwini Valley
Driving south from Mbabane to Manzini will pass through the beautiful Ezulwini Valley. This green valley of about 20 kilometers long is bursting with beautiful rock formations, streams and hot springs.
You will also find many traditional farms, wood carving workshops, various “craft markets” and cultural villages. It is an important tourist destination in Swaziland, the king also has a house there.
You will find various restaurants, beautiful accommodations and even casinos and a golf course. A great base for exploring the rest of the country, as the distances are quite short.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
The Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Ezulwini Valley. This “sacred” nature reserve (the royal family has its family grave there) includes typical African dirt roads, grassland plains, hills, granite peaks and plenty of friendly wildlife, including buffalo, giraffes, hippos, leopards, zebras and numerous antelopes.
You can discover Mlilwane in many ways: on foot, by mountain bike, on horseback or during a game drive. There are also ancient Bushman petroglyphs. You can spend the night in the beautiful Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge (from € 105), this lodge is located on top of a hill with a view of the valley and the mountains.