Places To Visit / Top Tourist Attractions
Hlane Royal National Park
Hlane Royal National Park was proclaimed as a National Park in 1967, following Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (1961), under instruction of King Sobhuza ll. “Hlane” is the siSwati name for ‘wilderness’.
Hlane is an affordable lowveld destination with exciting species lists including impressive ancient hardwood habitats, big game and rich birdlife.This 22,000 ha park, once the region’s rich hunting grounds, still boasts the largest herds of game in the Kingdom with speciality species being lion, elephant, vultures and marabou stork.
Affordable Accommodation is available in Ndlovu Camp and Bhubesi Camp. The camps are 16km apart, Ndlovu Camp being the heart of activity within the big game area, while Bhubesi Camp is a quiet self-catering camp outside the endangered species area.
Hlane is managed for the species inhabiting it, with both self-drive and limited access areas.
All activities are guided and depart from Ndlovu Camp, with exception of self-drive in select areas. Day Visitors are welcome to self-drive and picnic, visit the restaurant or take part in activities. Please note gates are open from sunrise to sunset.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is eSwatini’s pioneer conservation area, a shining example of what is possible if passion, vision and action fuse. Once a highly profitable multi-purpose farm, and being labeled an “impossible dream”, Mlilwane was proclaimed in 1961 and is now the kingdom’s most popular eco-destination for locals and internationals alike.
The name ‘Mlilwane’ (‘Little Fire’ in siSwati) was derived from the numerous fires started by lightning strikes on the Mlilwane Hill but now holds significance as the little fire that ignited the conservation movement in Swaziland.
Mlilwane’s diverse habitats support a surprisingly extensive species list. Endless hours of guided or self-guided exploration within the small 4560 Ha sanctuary are possible due to the relative absence of dangerous game. The southern plains stretch to the striking Nyonyane Mountain (Execution Rock) with its exposed granite peak. Tourism is concentrated in this southern section of the park, while guided Chubeka Trails explore the northern section, as far as Luphohlo Peak.
All Activities depart from our Activities Centre at Reception, with detailed maps on sale.
The Hippo Haunt Restaurant and swimming pool with summerhouses provide the opportunity for true relaxation. Day Visitors are welcome to self-drive and picnic at Rest Camp, visit the restaurant or take part in activities until 18h00.
Situated between Mbabane and Manzini, with 24-hour access to the Sanctuary, guests are free to enjoy the neighbouring tourist hubs of Ezulwini and Malkerns, with their many unique attractions and craft shops.
Mkhaya Game Reserve
Mkhaya is all about intimate encounters with some of Africa’s icons. All travel within the reserve is solely guided, by open Land Rovers or on foot, providing superb photographic opportunities and probably the best chance of seeing Black Rhino in the wild in Africa today.
Mkhaya has been assisted with generous grants and support from the World Wide Fund for Nature, the SA Nature Foundation, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Dr Anton Rupert, HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the Prettejohn family of Ngwenya Glass, The European Union, Rhino Rescue Trust of Great Britain, Netherlands Rhino Foundation, Corrine Itten, Lowry Park Zoo, San Diego Zoo and many others. Their efforts are greatly appreciated and it is their support that has helped Mkhaya survive.
Besides this generous assistance, Mkhaya’s operations are totally self-financed through visitor revenues, conservation revenues, Nguni cattle and other self-sustaining resources.
Named after the Senegalia (Acacia) nigrescens tree once prolific across the lowveld, ‘Mkhaya’ also aptly means ‘home’ derived from the fact that this valuable hardwood is the chosen tree for structural building in eSwatini. Knobthorn trunks have been incorporated in some of Stone Camp’s structures.
With a somewhat different history beginning with the conservation of eSwatini’s beautiful indigenous Nguni cattle, Mkhaya took on the vision of nurturing and propagating locally threatened and endangered species. With very stringent conservation security, Mkhaya is now home to eSwatini’s only buffalo, black rhino, sable antelope, Livingstone’s eland and tsessebe populations. Along with special species such as white rhino, giraffe and roan antelope, these animals are often sighted at close range on safari. Birding is an additional highlight.
Mkhaya has a number of fenced areas to enable intense species management and the high security necessary for endangered species. As and when population numbers grow, nuclei are released into the bigger game sections, which to date include sable, black and white rhino, tsessebe to name a few.
Mkhaya is an award winning reserve, having received the AA’s ‘Travellers Value Award for Top-End Leisure Travellers’ & ‘AA Highly Recommended Accommodation’ while the rhino viewing has been quoted as being ‘…on par with a mountain gorilla encounter in Central Africa’, by photo-journalist Stephen Cunliffe in Wild Magazine.
Mkhaya is staffed and patrolled entirely by Swazis from neighbouring communities and currently boasts what is arguably Africa’s most effective anti-poaching unit. It is totally self-financed through visitor revenues and your support is greatly appreciated as a means of sustaining this unique international conservation effort.
A trip to Mkhaya is a trip into Real Africa – a soul enriching, quality experience you’ll never forget. No children under 10 years; There are fixed entry and exit times of either 10am or 4pm depending on your chosen package. The meeting point is not staffed and guests are met by prior arrangement only.
Ngwenya Glass’ charming complex is set in large indigenous gardens and is considered one of eSwatini’s major tourists attractions!
Here a small group of Swazi craftsmen and women – with age old artistry – breath life into enchanting interpretations of the animals and birds of Africa, imbuing each with its own irresistible personality. Witness first-hand the magical art of glassblowing from an overhead balcony. Each item handmade from 100 % recycled glass ! Browse around the adjoining showroom which is well stocked and purchase your little memento of a truly African visit to our Kingdom.
Established in 1982, Swazi Candles is a manufacturing company based in the beautiful Kingdom of eSwatini in Southern Africa. Their core business is candle making both traditional parafin wax as well as 100% organic soya candle tea lights. Our colourful, handmade product range also features wax encased LED lights, pure vegetable glycerine soaps and marula oil bodybalm.
They have a vibrant, music filled workshop in the Malkerns Valley where they invite guests to come and interact with their artisans as they work their magic as well as a manufacturing workshop in the Matsapha industrial area where they produce the veneers for the candles and generate our bulk order products.
They currently export to over 20 countries.
The greater Pigg’s Peak is found in the Northern parts of the country. With a long and interesting history, the town is most famous for it’s gold deposits, first recorded in modern times in about 1872. Gold was mined until 1954 but although initially successful, the venture never really took off.
The town’s name is often Africanised in local parlance to ‘Spiggy-Speegy’, or even just ‘Spiggy’. Whatever its pronunciation, it derives from the French prospector William Pigg, whose son, ironically, went on to marry a girl with the surname Hogg. Pigg made his fortune not in bacon but gold, after discovering a reef in the nearby hills in 1884. His ‘peak’ was the nearby summit of Emlembe, eSwatini’s highest mountain. As mining developed in the region – first gold and then asbestos – so the intersection of the Bulembu supply road with the Mbabane–Matsamo corridor became a local hub, offering services to settlers. This was the origin of today’s town, and also it’s entry route for tourists.
The nearby Peak Fine Craft Centre has diverse and interesting shops that are well worth a visit. They offer high quality locally produced craft items and there is a restaurant with spectacular views over the area. Phophonyane Falls and Ecology and Nature Reserve is also located in the vicinity. Referred to by the town council’s website as just ‘a small service centre’, although not a large place, this is the only settlement of any size in northwest eSwatini.
Located midway between Mbabane and the Kruger National Park, it makes a convenient pit stop, with shops, banks, and filling stations and other basic amenities, and a good base from which to explore the northwest.
Today forestry is the main industry, but since the development of Maguga Dam, tourism has grown significantly in the area. The road is the main route into Swaziland from the world-famous Kruger National Park, making the hotels and lodges in the area ideal stopovers for visitors.
Piggs Peak is also home to a large variety of birdlife.
The Ezulwini Valley is the Kingdom’s main tourist area offering a wealth of attractions. Ezulwini means ‘place of heaven’, and the valley that bears this name certainly has its share of hedonistic delights. This is where tourism in eSwatini began, and today its attractions include hotels, restaurants, hot springs, casinos, a cinema, craft markets, art galleries, riding stables, a nature reserve, a golf course and a cultural village. Most visitors pass this way, and those who spend just one night in the kingdom will probably spend it here.
eSwatini is surrounded by South Africa to the north and west, and by Mozambique to the east. Although eSwatini has long been regarded as one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, it was not until an Italian and South African syndicate built southern Africa’s first casino hotel on a prime valley site in the early 1990s that eSwatini geared itself towards tourism. The lush Ezulwini Valley is a miracle of nature and the seat of eSwatini’s major tourist attractions, including the country’s famous casino, the magnificent Royal Swazi golf course and the hot mineral spring known affectionately by locals and guests as the ‘Cuddle Puddle’.
The industrial centre of Manzini lies east across the valley, a good half-hour’s drive. On the way, visitors pass signposts to eSwatini’s most famous waterfall, the Mantenga Falls. Food stalls in the local markets sell traditional Swazi meat stew and maize meal or stamped mealies and roasted corn on the cob (in season). Throughout the year, a number of traditional festivals, dances and rituals are celebrated.
eSwatini has a number of protected nature reserves and game parks which are open for visitors and strong efforts have recently been made to bring wildlife back to the country. There are currently four Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC) nature reserves, namely Malolotja, Hawane, Mantenga and Mlawula, all of which are inhabited by a rich wildlife (including rare species such as the aardwolf or African finfoot) and a wide range of bird species. These reserves are characterised by some of the most beautiful landscapes in southern Africa. The SNTC has taken a number of once privately run game parks under its wing such as Mlilwane, the country’s oldest established game sanctuary.
Other game sanctuaries that have recently been proclaimed protected areas are Malolotsha, in the north near Piggs Peak; Hlane, in the shadow of the escarpment in the northeast; and Mkhaya. Hlane has wide open spaces supporting big herds of game where the visitor can see the old traditional scenes of Africa. Both Hlane and Malolotsha, which is situated on top of a mountain range and surrounded by steep canyons and waterfalls, are easily reached by road and different types of accommodation and tours are available.
Swazi(Swati or siSwati), a Southern Bantu language, is the national language of Swaziland, and is spoken by approximately 95 percent of Swazis. Swazi and English are the country’s two official languages, and proceedings of the Parliament of Swaziland take place in both languages.
Swazi language education is present in all national schools, and literacy in Swati, defined as the ability to read and write the language, is “very high” in Swaziland. Swazi is also used in mass media.
English is the medium of instruction, and is taught in all state and private schools. Competency in English is a prerequisite for admission into most post-secondary institutions.
History, People And Culture
The Swazi nation, as we know it today, originally came from Mozambique. Their Nguni ancestors probably moved there before the sixteenth century as part of the Bantu migration. Archaeologists have found human remains in eastern Swaziland that have been dated to be 110 000 years old, but these were not the ancestors of the Swazi.
The Swazi fled from their original home to the Pongola River valley in KwaZulu Natal in the nineteenth century as a result of internal pressure. Ndwandwe attacks later forced the Swazi, ruled by Sobhuza I of the Dlamini, to transfer to the Ezulwini Valley in the area we know as Swaziland today. Sobhuza was the son of Ngwane III, who the Swazi recognise as their first king.
The Swazi people drove away most of the Sotho groups in the area and Sobhuza became the most powerful ruler in the region. He also managed to avoid the worst of the mfecane and further Zulu attacks through diplomacy. This ensured that the Swazi nation grew while other surrounding groups disintegrated. The next Swazi king to take the throne was Mswati. He was a gifted diplomat and warrior and when his term ended in 1868, the Swazi nation was secure.
During the 1800s European settlers, traders, missionaries and hunters moved into the area with the intention of making it their home. In 1877 the British annexed the kingdom. Although the Swaziland Convention of 1881 ensured the areas independence it made the kingdom s great deal smaller. This independence was largely on paper and in 1894 Swaziland became a protectorate of the Transvaal Colony, which was under British control following the Second Anglo Boer War. This arrangement continued until 1906, when the kingdom became a High Commission Territory under the rulership of a British Commissioner.
For the next 66 years Swaziland remained under British control. Many Swazi men left their homes to raise money as mineworkers to buy parts of their land back. British rule in the kingdom was peaceful and by 1963 limited self-government was allowed. On 6 September 1968 Swaziland was granted complete independence. It was still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the king, Sobhuza II who had come into power in 1921, became the Head of State. The country was administered by a Cabinet and Prime Minister selected by Parliament.
The Swaziland constitution was a product of its previous British rulers and in 1973 King Sobhuza II suspended it. He felt that it did not reflect the culture of the Swazi people. A new constitution was drawn up and presented in 1977. This new constitution made the king the absolute ruler of the kingdom.
Sobhuza stayed in power until 1982 when Prince Makhosetive Dlamini was selected as his successor. He was crowned as King Mswati III in 1986 and rules the kingdom with a small group of advisors called the Council of Ministers.
In 1982 South Africa and Swaziland came to a formal agreement regarding each other’s security interests. Swaziland would deport all African National Congress (ANC) members to South Africa. This did not prevent raids by the South African police in search of ANC operatives.
Sever drought in 1992 pushed Swaziland to the verge of famine. The 1990s also saw a great deal of civil action in favour of democracy put pressure on the king to change his state structure. The first Parliamentary elections in the kingdom were held in 1993. Opposition parties were, however, illegal and in 1995 the National Assembly, homes of the Prime Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Swaziland were burned down during riots.
Towards the end of 1997 the king’s powers were slightly reduced and talks were held with the Heads of State of Mozambique and South Africa to formulate a plan to move the kingdom towards democracy. Elections were held in 1998, but the king still held most of the power. Opposition parties were still banned and unions began organising strikes and bans on imported goods. IN answer the government restricted trade union activities. The Public Order Act was also passed and forbids party politics in the kingdom and stipulates police permission to hold a meeting.
Pressure from opposition groups for the limitation of the king’s powers and a democratic government have increased in the 21 st century. The king has been refusing to change the system of rule.
In 2001 the king prohibited men from having sex with teenage girls for 5 years in an attempt to stem the spread of AIDS. Another drought struck in 2002 and the United Nations (UN) distributed food assistance. The drought continued unabated and in 2004 the Prime Minister declared a humanitarian crisis.
People And Culture
A tiny country with a big heart and warm, friendly people aptly describes Swaziland – a country that is one of the few remaining Executive Monarchies in Africa and embraces and upholds its own unique and ancient traditions. Both the monarchy and the people of Swaziland actively maintain and preserve a remarkable cultural heritage that is probably unmatched anywhere in Africa.
Visitors can get a better idea of traditional African culture here than pretty much anywhere else in the region, and what is seen, including spectacular festivals, has not simply been resuscitated for the tourist dollar but is the real deal. The famous Umhlanga (Reed Dance) and Incwala are traditional ceremonies that involve tens of thousand of Swazis, and attract visitors from all over the world. But traditional attire, ceremonies and dancing are to be found throughout the country at all times of the year.
The Swazis are a proud and extremely friendly people. They welcome visitors with a beaming smile and take pleasure in showing off their beautiful country. As well as a number of community-run tourism initiatives, visitors are able to experience daily life in Swaziland by calling in at a local homestead, where they will be made very welcome. Alternatively, Mantenga Cultural Village is an excellent working reconstruction of a traditional homestead from around the 1850s, which gives an experience of all the complexities and nuances of traditional Swazi life; as well as a quite tremendous dancing display by a group that tours the world.
Music and dance are embedded in traditional Swazi culture. Women sing together in the fields; men sing or utter praise poetry as they pay tribute to their chiefs or kings. There are traditional songs for every occasion: weddings, royal rituals, coming-of-age ceremonies and national festivals. Sibhaca dance is the best known of various dance forms. The dance is highly strenuous: teams of dancers step forward in turn to perform a barefoot high-kicking and stomping, while their companions behind beat drums, chant and sing. All wear traditional dress, with colourful tassels and embellishments. A typical session can last two or three hours, with different songs and styles performed.
Swaziland has a rather quiet contemporary music scene by comparison with South Africa, partly because the industry is still in its infancy and there are few recording facilities or live venues. The exception to this rule is House on Fire, an extraordinary venue that has invigorated the local music scene since it opened less than 10 years ago. Its annual Bushfire Festival, held every May attracts top acts and artists from all over the region, and audiences of up to 20,000.
On a slightly smaller scale, getting chance to watch one of Swaziland’s many school choirs sing is certainly an opportunity not to be missed! Described by some as having the most beautiful voices in the world, they are truly a delight to listen to! You can see a clip of St Francis school in Mbabane singing below.
How To Get Around
The local means of transportation is by foot, often covering large distances, or taking a bus or Kombi (taxi), but for a short two-week stay, often the best way to see Swaziland is by hiring a car. Swaziland is such a small country (equivalent in size to the UK’s Wales) that attractions are within easy reach of one another.
Hiring a car in Swaziland is certainly recommended in order to give you the freedom to explore, giving you access from any central location to the majority of sites and hotspots. Alternatively, a local tour/safari company will be able to put together a Swaziland itinerary for you and take all the hassle out of accommodation bookings as well as transport from place to place.