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Swaziland (or eSwatini, as it may soon be known) is a teeny tiny country. It’s smaller than Wales and takes less than three hours to drive across, meaning you can cover a whole lot of the country in a short period of time.
During our six days in Swaziland, we covered even more than I could have imagined. Swaziland was full of surprises – and not just because of the 50/50 celebrations and that big announcement when the Swazi King, Mswati III, announced that the country would from now on be known as eSwatini. (Although that was a pretty big surprise to every person in the stadium!)
One of those surprises was just how much there is to see and do in Swaziland. For such a small country, it has a lot to offer – and it does so with a lot of heart. Many people pass through Swaziland to get to Kruger National Park, staying no longer than they need to at worst and for a day or two at best. My advice? Don’t overlook Swaziland. Even though it’s small, it’s full of little treasures that will turn into treasured memories.
However long you decide to spend in Swaziland, these are some of the most unique things to do there. Some are things you can only do in Swaziland, while others are things you’ll be talking about for a long time after you leave.
8 Unique Things To Do in Swaziland
Get up close to zebras on a horseback safari
I used to think going on safari meant jumping into a jeep and getting up close to wildlife. Then I heard about walking safaris. And then I found out we were going on a horseback safari in Swaziland. Who knew there were so many types of safari?
Although there was no jeep involved, we still got up close to the wildlife when we headed out on a horseback safari in Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Very close, in fact – being on horseback meant the animals weren’t as easily scared or spooked by us and we could take our time.
Our itinerary had said “horse-riding” so the safari part was kind of a surprise, but it was one that I wouldn’t complain about! It combined two of the best things to do in Swaziland and made for a a really special afternoon spotting zebras, impala and other hoofed friends from as close as we wanted to be. We even saw a baby zebra!
Experience it yourself: Tour Radar’s 12-day Swaziland trip includes two full days in Milwane, which is plenty of time for a horseback safari or two.
Sleep among the big five
If you want to get even closer to nature, you’ll want to head to another of Swaziland’s three Big Game Parks: Mkhaya Game Reserve.
With no electricity throughout the camp and no walls on the sleeping huts, a stay at the Mkhaya Game Reserve camp is a truly unique experience. It was probably my favourite part of the entire trip to Swaziland (even if I was a little scared!).
With lamps to guide you, impala sausages to feed you and traditional dancing to keep you entertained, you’ll be able to switch off entirely and enjoy being completely immersed in nature. In the morning, one of the camp’s staff will wake you at 5:30am with a tray of coffee and tea, just in time to head out on a sunrise safari drive.
Experience it yourself: Book a night in one of the no-frills Siphofaneni cottages at Mkhaya Game Reserve.
Come face to face with a rhino
If you’re the kind of person who would be disappointed if the rhinos in Mkhaya didn’t wander into your room during the night, you might be in luck in the morning.
On our sunrise safari at Mkhaya Game Reserve, the ranger stopped the Land Rover and told us to hop out and follow him into the bushes. He told us to be quiet – and nothing else.
A few minutes of tiptoeing through the bushes later, I turned and had to use all of my strength not to shout. Just metres from us, resting in the bush, was a full-grown white rhino. And he was looking straight at us.
I’ve never felt my heart beat as fast as it did that morning. It was beating so fast that I could hear it… and there was no way to quiet it. All the sleepiness from the early start was quickly startled out of me and I tried not to shake too much while snapping photos and video of the rhino. Words can’t really describe how it feels to come that close to nature, but it’s something I don’t need a photo to remember vividly.
Experience it yourself: Make the most of your safari stay by taking both a sunset and sunrise safari.
See the world’s oldest mine
I’ve always been more about the here and now than the history of a place. Even in Egypt and Mexico, where the ancient temples are the main attracton, I was more curious about the people who inhabit the surrounding area today.
So visiting a disused mine didn’t really sound like my sort of thing… Until I heard about how the local people are trying to reopen the mine. Until I saw the colour of the ochre. Until I saw the view from the top, the “Lion Cavern”. Until I looked down into the depths of the mine and felt tiny.
While it’s not the kind of place I’d usually make an effort to see, I’d still recommend a quick stop at the Ngwenya Mine to anyone visiting Swaziland.
Experience it yourself: Tours are available from 10am until 4pm. If you can, walk to the top and enjoy the view of South Africa – it’s worth the climb.
Take part in a traditional dance
It would be hard to visit Swaziland and not view at least one traditional dance. And it would be even harder to not be seriously impressed by it.
It might not be quite so easy to attempt the moves yourself; Swazi dancing involves a lot of high, almost-vertical kicks that would leave most of us feeling dizzy. But even though you might not be able to kick your legs as high as the locals, don’t visit Swaziland without joining them for at least one dance.
Experience it yourself: You can view traditional Swazi dancing at many places in Swaziland, but visit the Manzini Swazi Cultural Village if you want to hear some incredible singing too.
Stay in a “beehive”
Traditional Swazi huts are beehive-shaped and made from all-natural materials, and some of the hotels in Swaziland have rooms designed to give you the same experience. While it won’t have the same door-less entrance and open ground, it’s a unique experience that’s worth dedicating at least one night to. If there’s one type of accommodation you should experience in Swaziland, this is it.
Experience it yourself: Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge and Nature Reserve in Piggs Peak has traditional ‘beehive’ rooms you can sleep in. They all have ensuite bathrooms and electricity so are more at the luxury end of the scale, but there are also a few (beautiful!) cottages available if your travel partners prefer to stay somewhere more familiar.
Take home a recycled glass elephant
Swaziland’s traditional crafts are just as breathtaking as they are famous. Swazi candles and Ngwenya Glass are both well-known names outside of Swaziland and Africa, famous in their own rights for the crafts they produce.
A trip to Swazi candles will leave you in awe as you watch one of the candle-makers turn a ball of wax into an elephant, rhino or lion. Did I mention that he’ll do that in less than five minutes?
Ngwenya Glass – the “hottest attraction in Swaziland” – should also be on your list. Step into the workshop and you’ll feel the heat of the ovens as you watch the glassblowers turn recycled glass into elephant bottle stoppers and rhino-shaped wine glasses.
Just make sure you leave room in your suitcase for all the souvenirs you’ll want to buy!
Experience it yourself: Visit some of Swaziland’s newest fair trade groups on a Meet The People tour.
Fly through the treetops
When we heard we were going on a ‘canopy tour’, it sounded like a relaxing way to spend a Wednesday morning. But the Malolotja canopy tour is anything but relaxing! You’ll spend 45 minutes taking in the beautiful landscapes, rock formations and mountain wilderness – while gliding across 10 cables and one very wobbly bridge.
The canopy tour is a really unique way to experience the beautiful Swazi landscape and kick up a little adrenaline while you do.
Experience it yourself: The Maloloja Canopy Tour is available 7 days a week but must be booked in advance.
Start planning a trip to Swaziland and you’ll quickly realise just how much there is see in this tiny country. It’s the kind of place where you might plan to travel through for a day and end up staying a week as the people, culture and scenery draw you in.
I travelled to Swaziland with South African Airways, who fly to Johannesburg daily. We took the brand new A330-300 to Johannesburg, then drove on to the Ngwenya border.