DYNAMITE COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES
In a nutshell, eSwatini epitomises the phrase “Dynamite in small packages”. The country formerly known as Swaziland, is a landlocked country surrounded on the north and south by South Africa, and by Mozambique on the east. It is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.
It may be small but don’t be mistaken, it is full of bucket list items – Safari, yes. Big Five, yes. Adventure activities, yes. Colorful cultural celebrations, yes. An intimate travel experience, you guessed it, yes.
Excepting desert and sea, every geographical feature of Africa’s terrain is found within eSwatini, making it a travel powerhouse. Unlike many of its African counterparts, it has resisted the pressure to modernise, keeping a strong commitment to preserving the local culture. The pace of life is also slower, the Swazi people are known for being laid-back.
It’s worth treating eSwatini as a destination rather than a stop on the way to Kruger or Mozambique. Adopt the latest trend of slow travel and spend a week immersing yourself in the country, it is the best way to do it justice.
Where to Go
eSwatini is divided into 5 regions, each region offering a different experience. Each region has its own signature characteristic, be it breathtaking scenery or exciting wildlife encounters. Spending time in that one region will allow you to immerse yourself in its unique experience. However, due to the small size of the country, it is easy to travel from one region to the next.
Central eSwatini – the Cultural Heartbeat
Central eSwatini is the smallest of the regions, but is also home to the capital city, tourism hub and the traditional Royal heartland. Here you’ll find a number of wonderful places to visit:
This is the country’s royal heartland. Ezulwini means “place of heaven’ and with its breathtaking panoramic views, it’s easy to see why it got this name. There a variety of activities in and around the valley, including hiking in the hills, visiting the Ezulwini Handicrafts Centre, going to art galleries and playing golf.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in Ezulwini Valley, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is eSwatini’s first protected area. It is easily accessible, peaceful and beautiful. Only 46 square km, it is home to hippos, crocodiles, wildebeest, zebras, warthog and antelope. Outdoor lovers, this is the place for you. There is a range of adventure activities available, from horse rides to birdwatching to biking.
Mantenga Nature Reserve
Mantenga Nature Reserve is a wonderful meeting point for experiencing both the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of eSwatini. A visit to the Mantenga Cultural Village is the chance to experience traditional singing and dancing. You can also tour a Swazi hut village from the 1850s, where you’ll learn all about the Swazi culture from cuisine and customs to family structure. You can then step into nature and visit the beautiful Mantenga Waterfall, go white-water rafting or adventure caving.
North West – the Land of Adventure
The North West region lies predominantly in the highveld and is an area of outstanding beauty. Rolling hills and dramatic river valleys that form the eastern edge of South Africa’s Drakensberg mountain range are crowned eSwatini’s two highest peaks – Emlembe and Ngwenya. This is the spot if you’re looking to get your blood pumping and your heart racing – adventure activities abound.
Malolotja Nature Reserve
Rugged beautiful, Malolotja Nature Reserve with its varied terrain is prime for hiking. The Komati River, which dissects a gorge creating mini waterfalls and rapids as it flows is the centerpiece. You won’t see the Big Five here. but you are likely to encounter zebras, elands, wildebeest and antelope. Birdwatchers have your binoculars at the ready – there are over 280 species recorded. It is also, rather surprisingly, home to the world’s oldest mind.
Phophonyane Nature Reserve
Nestled in a forested hillside above the Phophonyane river and falls, lies the Phophonyane Nature Reserve. Quiet and peaceful, the reserve can be explored on foot, horseback, mountain bike or even soaring through the treetops on zipwires). The trails, though quiet, are abundant with wildlife – mongooses, red duikers and vervet monkeys are often spotted.
North East – Community and Conservation
Unlike the North West, the North East region is in the lowveld – a great expanse of flat bushveld. The terrain is similar to that of the Kruger National Park, making for the perfect safari experience. This region is home to a number of eSwatini’s reserves. There are mountains in the region which are untouched, wild and home to remote settlements, like Shewula, a wonderful example of community tourism.
Hlane Royal National Park
The county’s largest national park, this is where you come when you want to spot the safari top dogs. The reserve is home to elephants, lions, leopards and rhino. You’ll also see many antelope species. This is another prime birdwatching destination in eSwatini. Activities include dedicated rhino drives, overnight bush walks, guided bird walks, cultural tours and mountain biking.
Mlawula Nature Reserve
Mlawula Nature Reserve is so large that it is comprised of both tropical forests and dry savannahs. Because of this, it is considered one of the best and most varied hiking spots in the country.
Mbuluzi Nature Reserve
Untouched wilderness characterises this small reserve. Here, hippos, wildebeest, giraffe, and zebra, to name a few, roam freely through riverine forests with towering sycamore fig trees and wild date palms, acacia bushveld, open grasslands and golden savannah. It is only 70km from the Mozambique border, so the azure oceans and sugar-white beaches are just a short drive away.
South East – Wildlife Up Close
eSwatini’s South East region also lies largely in the Lowveld. Here you will find the country’s primary safari spot – Mkhaya Game Reserve. The reserve is world renowned for its rhino experience. Here, more than anywhere else in Africa, you are likely to spot the gentle and endangered rhino. These encounters are not only more frequent but more up close, making for a truly unforgettable and special experience.
The Usutu River is also located in this region. This eSwatini’s main river and is ideal for white river rafting and that thrilling adrenaline rush.
South West – Spectacular Scenery
Rolling hills and rushing rivers forging valleys and gorges characterise the South West region and make for breathtaking scenery.
This is corner of eSwatini is ideal for adventure-lovers looking for challenging and exciting hiking trails. Untouched and untamed, the rugged landscape is centred on a spectacular gorge formed by the Ngwempisi River carving its way through the Ntfungulu Hills. The hikes are not easy, but the views and scenery are worth it.
Nkonyeni Golf Estate
Nkonyeni Golf Estate is situated next to the Usutu River. The recently opened Golden Eagle links was designed by Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Matkovich with the aim of creating a course that can be played over again because of the many variables of making a shot. Nkoneyni is also home to the Nkonyeni Bushveld Golf Course, a world-class Championship Gold course. The 18th hole is a wonderfully unique experience of offering a shot across the Usutu River onto an island surrounded by rocks.
What to Eat
Vegetarians and vegans will be happy to hear that traditional eSwatini cuisine rarely uses meat. Meat is considered a luxury and used for special occasions and celebrations. Popular staple foods include pumpkin, bean and rice, sweet potato and pap. Many tropical fruits, such as mango, guava, papaya, banana and avocado, are available when in season.
Weather & When to Go
The dry season lasts from mid-April to mid-October. The days are sunny, night are chilly. Average temperature of 20 degrees Celsius.
The rainy season begins at the end of October and ends in March. The days are hot but it can be chilly at night (extra layers are needed throughout the year at night). Temperatures can reach up to 32 degrees Celsius.
February to March – this Buganu season when you can enjoy home-brewed marula beer.
May to September – the days are cooler, and the winter foliage makes for a picturesque setting for wildlife viewing in the lowveld. It’s also when the unmissable Umhlanga festival is held.
December to April – this is the time to go if you’re in search of adventure and beautiful photograph opportunities – full flowing rivers and lush vegetation make for stunning backdrops.
- The native languages are Swati and English.
- eSwatini is a low-risk malaria-area, with most of the country being malaria-free.
- eSwatini is only 17 364 sq km (10 789 sq miles).
- The currency is the lilangeni (pl. emalangeni) It is fixed at a value equal to the South African rand. Rand will be accepted everywhere, change is likely to be given in emalangeni.
- Tipping between 10% and 15% is common practice in restaurants.