Last year I had the opportunity to spend 11 action-packed days exploring the Kingdom of Swaziland with my guide Michael and the help of the tourism board. Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, however it boasts stunning landscapes, unique traditions, an array of lodges and hotels, and a prolific birdlife.
Swaziland also has several well-organized community tourism projects, which provide visitors the rare opportunity to experience Swazi customs and hospitality while supporting developing communities. In a country of such great diversity, visitors will have plenty to do and see during their stay. Here we have compiled our ‘Top 10’ list for Swaziland.
10. Sibebe Rock
Second only to Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territory, Sibebe Rock is the largest exposed granite dome in the world. It sits about 10 kilometers outside the capital city of Mbabane, and unlike its Australian cousin, Sibebe doesn’t suffer from tourist overcrowding. The rock’s sheer magnitude can be felt from the base, but many daring visitors choose to make the 4-hour round-trip hike to the top with a local guide. Sibebe Rock is number ten on our list because it’s over 3 billion years old!
9. Mbuluzi Game Reserve
A private conservancy of 3,000 lush acres in northeastern Swaziland support herds of giraffe, zebra, nyala, impala, kudu, over 300 species of birds, and many others. Sitting among the foothills of the Lubombo Mountains, a one-hour drive from Manzini, the Mbuluzi Game Reserve has open grass fields, rocky outcrops, dense forests, and marshy riverbank terrains. The park offers clearly marked walking paths, self-driving trails, lookout points, hiking, and bird hides. Accommodations include a rustic campsite and private luxury lodges complete with electricity, fully equipped kitchens and plenty of room for the whole family.
8. Shewula Mountain Camp
The Shewula Mountain Camp was Swaziland’s first community-owned eco-tourism attraction. Set in the beautiful Shewula Nature Reserve, with views overlooking the Mbuluzi and Mlawula Reserves, Shewula Mountain Camp offers a different kind of tourism. Visitors can partake in village walks to get to know the local community and its members, witness traditional song and dance performances, visit with a traditional healer, or enjoy the tranquil natural surroundings. For those who want to stay a night or two in a rustic setting, Shewula has single and family-sized huts, as well as hot showers and delicious homemade meals prepared with organic, local produce.
7. Swazi Candles
Swaziland is known for its original arts and crafts. The Swazi Candles Craft Market is a unique shopping center showcasing work by local artisans. Among the boutiques and gift shops of this outdoor complex is Swazi Candles – a colorful collection of paraffin wax candles, scented beauty products, and other gifts. The candles are molded by hand into several standard and animal shapes. Their lively patterns and beautiful designs make perfect souvenirs. When you’re done, stroll the rest of the craft complex, then head to the courtyard to watch the wood carvers at work. Specialty items available at the shops in the craft center include woven baskets, batik prints, jewelry, and carved masks.
6. White Water Rafting
There is no shortage of thrilling activities in Swaziland, and for adventure lovers there’s no greater rush than an exhilarating white water rafting trip down Swaziland’s Great Usutu River. This excursion is the only one of its kind in the country, and is available only through one tour operator, Swazi Trails. Half and full-day packages are available. Trained river guides accompany you the entire time. No prior experience is needed.
5. Hlane Royal National Park
Hlane is the largest of Swaziland’s game parks and home to four of the Big Five: elephant, lion, rhino, and leopard. The park also supports healthy populations of giraffe, hippo, crocodile, zebra, as well bird species, just to name a few. Hlane means “Wilderness” in the SiSwati language. Its tranquil atmosphere is only periodically interrupted by the humming of game vehicles and the clicking of camera shutters. For the best experience, book your stay at one of the cottages in the Ndlovu Camp, which overlooks a watering hole frequented by white rhinos and elephants. The camp can take care of your meals and game drives while you’re not relaxing on your private veranda. A trip to Swaziland isn’t complete without a visit to Hlane Royal National Park!
4. Ngwenya Glass
Ngwenya Glass is regarded as Africa’s most prestigious glass factory. Ngwenya pieces can be found in art galleries and airport shops around the world, and while in Swaziland you could score some of their signature works at wholesale prices. The factory uses age-old glass blowing techniques that have been passed onto local Swazi craftsmen since the opening in August 1987. Pieces range from decorative animals bowls, to everyday items such as wine glasses and wine stoppers, to unique chess sets and corporate gifts. Visitors can also watch the glass blowing process safely from a viewing platform above the workshop. International shipping is available. WATCH VIDEO
3. Mantenga Cultural Village
It would be a shame to visit Swaziland and not see the country’s top traditional song and dance show. The Mantenga Cultural Village, located in a lush setting in the Mantenga Falls Nature Reserve, gives visitors the incredible opportunity to enjoy traditional harmonies and energetic dances. When the show is over, you’ll get to tour a reconstruction of a Swazi hut village from the 1850s. Local guides are available to take you through each of the huts and offer information on traditional diet, customs, and family structure. The Mantenga Waterfall is about a ten-minute walk from the village. The reserve has a great restaurant/pub on site serving local and international food, and a lodge if you want to stay the night. 90 South African Rand (ZAR) buys you entrance to the performance and a guided tour of the hut village and to the waterfall.
“The objective of the cultural village is to enable visitors from all over the world as well as Swazis from all corners of the country to visit it and to maintain a positive interest in the Swazi cultural heritage, including language, customs and practices, rituals, dance, music, folklore, arts and crafts.”
2. Mkhaya Game Reserve
Mkhaya joins Hlane and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary among Swaziland’s big game parks. Located in the southeastern part of the country, Mkhaya is a fantastic safari destination for day tours and overnight stays. Resident wildlife includes black and white rhino, giraffe, sable antelope, and buffalo. Accommodations at Mhkaya are at the Stone Camp. For couples, we recommend the double cottage. This open-air suite (no windows or doors) is beautifully decorated and offers privacy, comfort, and wildlife viewing opportunities directly from your bed!
1. Reed Dance
If you are lucky enough to be in Swaziland during the Umhlanga Reed Dance you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it for yourself. The event, which is held annually around the end of August when the reeds are matured and ready for harvest, lasts approximately eight days. The event gives the country’s maidens (childless, unwed girls) the opportunity to pay homage to the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi).
Before the start of the event, the girls come from all over the country. They are looked after and mentored by captains appointed by the Royal Family. As part of the tradition, the girls cut reeds and carry them back to the Royal Residence where the reeds are used as windbreakers for the perimeter. Aims of this particular ceremony include promoting solidarity between the girls. The seventh day of the Umhlanga Reed Dance is a national holiday and is when the King participates. On this special day the arena is filled with thousands of spectators who come to see the girls dancing and saluting the Queen Mother.
His Majesty then makes his rounds to salute thousands of girls as they cheer him on. The Umhlanga Reed Dance is truly one of Africa’s most fascinating cultural events!
Special thanks to the Swaziland Tourism Board.
Have you been to Swaziland? Tell us about your favorite experiences or attractions. Leave us a comment below!