With its outstanding scenery and abundant wildlife, the Kingdom of Swaziland is a nature lover’s paradise. One of the world’s few remaining monarchies, the tiny country, which is almost completely surrounded by South Africa, has no shortage of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding opportunities, and its many national parks offer glimpses of everything from rare birds to endangered black rhinos. Known for being especially friendly and laid-back, the Swazi people are committed to preserving their culture in the face of modernization, which means that traditional customs play a large part in everyday life. Visitors to Swaziland are in for a unique and authentic African experience.
The Top 10: What to Do in Swaziland
1. Mkhaya Game Reserve:
Home to rare species like the black rhino and the Nguni breed of cattle, as well as antelope, elephants, and a host of other animals, this small, private reserve in southeastern Swaziland is also notable for its many mkhaya, or knobthorn, trees, which bear a type of fruit that Swazis use for brewing beer.
2. Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary:
This secluded park in the Ezulwini Valley, in central Swaziland, is known for its relaxed atmosphere and lovely hiking trails through grasslands, eucalyptus forests, and some of the highest points in the kingdom. Catch glimpses of giraffes, zebras, and more on self-guided tours, horseback, or in open Land Rovers.
3. Sibebe Rock:
Located just north of Mbabane, Swaziland’s most famous geological feature is a huge granite dome rising out of the countryside. Thrill seekers may scramble up the nearly 1,000-foot rock and its surrounding boulders; the less adventurous may check out the Bushman paintings marking the rocks at the summit.
4. Malolotja Nature Reserve:
The country’s least touristy park, in the northwestern highlands, is full of excellent finds: ancient mountains streaked with waterfalls, nearly 300 different species of birds, and the world’s oldest mine.
5. Local Customs:
Every year in late August or early September, young Swazi women take part in the Umhlanga, a fertility dance that culminates in the women’s singing and dancing before the king and the queen mother, giving the king an opportunity to pick a new wife. Tourists are welcome to observe the ceremony.
6. Mbuluzi Game Reserve:
Hippos, wildebeests, and more roam freely in this small reserve in northeastern Swaziland; the southern portion is free of predators, so visitors may explore a handful of trails on foot.
7. Mlawula Nature Reserve:
This park near the Mozambique border is so large that it comprises both dry savannas and tropical forests; it’s widely regarded as one of the best, most varied hiking spots in the country.
8. Ezulwini Valley:
The country’s royal heartland and tourism center is worth a quick visit for its gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and its fantastic selection of locally made handicrafts.
9. Hlane Royal National Park:
You’ll find leopards, lions, cheetahs, and other awe-inspiring animals at this park near the former royal hunting grounds.
A historic town in the northern part of the country, Bulembu, which once housed a thriving mine, provides a fascinating look back in time, with its abandoned homes, Art Déco buildings, and long cableways. The nearby mountains are thought to be some of the oldest in the world.
When to Go
The ideal time to travel to Swaziland is between the months of May and October. Try not to visit the country at any time between November and April, when it’s hot and rainy and there’s an elevated risk of contracting malaria, or in December and January, when crime often spikes.