I had heard of Swaziland before receiving my Peace Corps country placement, but I did not know anything about this tiny kingdom in Southern Africa. You might be traveling to Swaziland for the first time because you know PCV here or maybe you are coming to Bushfire, one of Africa’s largest music festivals, and you probably do not know too much about the kingdom, either. Here’s Bushfire’s survival guide, if you are coming for the music festival.
This weekend will be my first Bushfire, too, but after 11-and-a-half months of living in Swaziland, I have visited many of Swaziland’s top sights and still have a list of places to visit.
There are plenty of places to get away from it all here in Swaziland, which you really might need after a crazy weekend at Bushfire with 40,000 other festival-goers, and fortunately because Swaziland is so small, it does not take to long to travel to any of these highlights. There are also a few sights closer to town (Swaziland is small enough that if you say town anywhere in the whole country you mean Manzini, the largest city) if a few days in the wild really isn’t your thing.
Best wildlife (flora and fauna) viewing
Swaziland is home to three of the big five (lion, elephant, and leopard) plus both black and white rhinos. The chances of you seeing a black rhino are decent and a leopard incredibly slim, but you do have excellent chances of seeing lions, elephants, and white rhinos up close and personal. There are also opportunities to see a variety of antelope, zebra, giraffe, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, many bird species, and other smaller creatures. And there is always something beautiful in bloom (poinsettias right now in May!) in this country without snow.
- Hlane Royal National Park has lions, elephants, and white rhinos, along with many other creatures. Spend the night so that you can go on a sunset or sunrise drive. You can also go on a rhino drive where you get to exit the vehicle and approach a rhino. Read about my experiences there here (with elephant photos), here (with lion photos), and here (with rhino photos).
- Mkhaya Game Reserve has black rhinos and elephants. It is the most expensive park in Swaziland, but still much less than nearby lodges in South Africa.
- Mlawula Nature Reserve is a smaller reserve in the eastern part of Swaziland with a restaurant and pool with an excellent view from the top of the Lubombo Mountains. There are also hiking trails and antelopes and other smaller creatures. Read about my trip there here.
- Mbuluzi Game Reserve is a private reserve abutting Mlawula that additionally has giraffe and zebra. Read about my trip there here.
- Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is located right behind Malandela’s and House on Fire and is the closest park to town. There are beautiful mountain and valley views and the park is home to zebra, antelope, hippos, warthogs, and the like.
- Malolotja Nature Reserve is a reserve high in the Drakensburg Mountains in the northwestern part of Swaziland. This park is great for hiking, too.
Best hiking trails
There’s four well-known hikes in Swaziland, and there are many hiking opportunities in Malolotja and Mlilwane.
- Shiba’s Breast: The trailhead is at Lidwala Backpackers.
- Sibebe Rock: Near Mbabane, this hike is an ascent up the face of a granite dome.
- Executioner’s Rock: In Mlilwane, this hike follows the trail used by people who were to be pushed off the top of the rock after they were sentenced to death.
- Emlembe Peak: The highest point in Swaziland is in the northwest near Bulembu.
- Malandela’s complex: There are shops for Gone Rural (woven grass bowls and placemats) and Baobab Batik (scarves, pillows, aprons, jewelry).
- Swazi Candles complex: There are shops for Swazi Candles (candles shaped like animals), Baobab Batik, and other locally-made products.
- Ngwenya Glass: Located between the Oshoek border post and Mbabane, this glass studio creates lots of delightful animals from glass.
- Manzini Market: Lots of crafts of all kinds, including batiks, jewelry (usually made right there), and a lot of other tourist kitsch (most likely not made in Swaziland).
Best traditional activities
Traditional Swazi culture is exciting to see when on display at a handful of festivals throughout the year (particularly Umhlanga, the reed dance, and Incwala, the first fruits festival). Umhlanga is usually at the end of August and Incwala is in December or January.
If you are not in Swaziland for either of those and would like to see a traditionally dressed dancing group, head to Mantenga’s Swazi Cultural Village for daily dance performances.
And if you are a PCV from another country and want to see a traditional homestead, comment below and we can arrange something!