Despite being the smallest landlocked country in the Southern hemisphere, and the second smallest country in continental Africa, Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, more than makes up for its lack of size with a hugely diverse range of attractions and activities.
As one of the few remaining monarchies in Africa, culture and heritage are deeply ingrained in all aspects of Swazi life, ensuring an unforgettable experience for all who visit. As well as the rich culture, the overwhelming friendliness of the people makes all visitors feel truly welcome and very safe. Add to that stunning scenery of mountains and valleys, forests and plains; plus wildlife reserves across the country that are home to The Big Five; and a fascinating mix of modern and traditional festivals, ceremonies and events, and you have all that’s best about Africa in one small but perfectly formed and welcoming country.
Central Eswatini (Swaziland) offers a remarkably varied collection of experiences that any visitor to the region can indulge in. Although the smallest of the tourism regions, this is where the country’s capital city Mbabane, second largest city Manzini and main industrial area Matsapha are found. The two cities lie just 25 miles (40km) apart and are connected by a valley that has become Eswatini’s tourism hub – Ezulwini Valley, also known as the Valley of Heaven. Close by is the traditional Royal heartland Lobamba, also home to the country’s parliament buildings.
Eswatini’s most easily accessible wildlife reserve – Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is also in this region, alongside the Mantenga Nature Reserve, home to one of the country’s most popular attractions, the Mantenga Cultural Village. The fertile and pretty Malkerns Valley with its arts and crafts attractions is also very close by.
Perched on the edge of the escarpment, just a short drive from the South Africa border, Mbabane is both an attractive town, with all the amenities a visitor might require, and a convenient gateway to the Kingdom’s main visitor attractions beyond. The city’s hilly streets offer accommodation, shopping and eating out, while alongside the modern malls are traditional markets, colorful street traders and art galleries. And just a few miles out of town lies the scenic grandeur of Pine Valley and the mighty Sibebe Rock.
Ezulwini means ‘place of heaven’, and the panoramic valley that bears this name certainly offers its share of hedonistic delights. This is where tourism in Eswatini began, and today its attractions include hotels, restaurants, hot springs, casinos, craft markets, art galleries, riding stables and a golf course.
Overlooking the Valley and providing some stunning views are two well-known mountains, both of which have trails to reach their pinnacles – Sheba’s Breasts & Execution Rock (Nyonyane Mountain).
Immediately adjacent to the Ezulwini Valley, midway between Mbabane and Manzini, are two small, adjoining nature reserves. Mlilwane is effectively where conservation in Ezulwini began. It has a good selection of wildlife, plenty of outdoor activities, and is popular with locals and visitors alike. Mantenga is an Eswatini National Trust Commission property. It centers upon the picturesque Mantenga Falls and incorporates a cultural village, where Swazi history, culture and tradition are brought alive for visitors.
Ezulwini’s spiritual, cultural and political heart lies at Lobamba, just east of the Ezulwini Valley. This area has been playing host to the country’s royalty for over 200 years and it is where the nation still gathers for the annual Incwala and Umhlanga ceremonies, against the imposing backdrop of the sacred Mdzimba mountains. To the north of the main road the visitor will find Parliament, the National Museum, National Stadium and King Sobhuza II Memorial Park. To the south, beyond the cluster of Lobamba village,lies Ludzidzini and the royal kraal.
The Malkerns Valley lies at the heart of the middleveld, midway between Ezulwini and Manzini. This large, fertile expanse of farmland, bristling with the spiky grey-green leaves of the pineapple estates, is Eswatini’s breadbasket. Among the fields are some excellent craft markets and workshops, guest houses and riding stables. The Malandela’s complex is one of the country’s premier tourist spots and the Swazi Candles Centre is one of the best places to find Eswatini’s famed arts & crafts. Manzini is the country’s busiest city, with plenty of hustle & bustle, including a lively market. Nearby Matsapha is Eswatini’s industrial heartland and between the two lies the beautiful Summerfield Botanical Gardens.
At the western edge of Central Eswatini lies Mhlambanyatsi, a sleepy forestry town surrounded by beautiful scenery and home to the renowned Foresters Arms Hotel.
The North West region of Eswatini (Swaziland) lies primarily in the highveld and is a beautiful landscape of dramatic rolling uplands. The impressive hills and winding river valleys form the eastern edge of South Africa’s Drakensberg escarpment and are topped by the country’s two highest peaks – Emlembe (1,862m) and Ngwenya (1,829m). Winter nights are chilly and mist often cloaks the high ground. The region is very easily reached from Mbabane and Central Eswatini just to the south, or from South Africa via one of three road borders.
Among the region’s attractions are the stunning Malolotja Nature Reserve, Eswatini’s greatest wilderness and home to its only zip-wire treetop canopy tour, and Ngwenya, with its ancient mine and glass factory.
North of Malolotja, the MR1 highway from Mbabane winds steeply down into a spectacular valley, where the Nkomati river – Swaziland’s second largest – carves its winding way east across the top corner of the country towards the Indian Ocean. The small town of Piggs Peak sits among cool forestry plantations on the northern side, offering a convenient pit-stop between Mbabane and South Africa’s Kruger Park. Scattered around the picturesque surrounding countryside are a number of visitor attractions. These include the wide waters of Maguga Dam, the ancient rock art at Nsangwini, the natural haven of Phophonyane Falls Nature Reserve and the rehabilitated mountain mining town of Bulembu.
This region of Eswatini (Swaziland) is primarily lowveld. This is quintessential Africa: undulating thorn bush, scattered mud-and- thatch villages, and blue hills lining the horizon. It seems a world away from the cool western highveld. Those blue hills, the beautiful, flat-topped Lubombo Mountains, form the eastern border with South Africa.
The advent of the sugar industry from the late 1950s brought development and the region is now characterised by vast sugar estates, most of which have country clubs offering a variety of activities to guests and visitors. There are few towns of any notable size, with the largest being Siteki, on the western edge of the Lubombos, en route to the Mozambique border.
Most visitors come to this region of Eswatini because it is home to the country’s greatest number of nature/wildlife reserves, which collectively make up the Lubombo Conservancy. Hlane Royal National Park is the best known and most visited but Mlawula Nature Reserve and Mbuluzi Game Reserve also offer some wonderful wilderness and wildlife experiences. Within the Conservancy, visitors may spot a vast diversity of animals, including the Big Five and bird life that is second to none, all within protected bushveld areas that incorporate wonderful indigenous plants and trees. The bird life in this region is among the most prolific in the country with more than 350 species and due to the extent of the conservation areas, there are many majestic raptors as well as brown-headed parrots in their hundreds. A wide choice of accommodation is available within the reserves at the various rest camps.
Atop the Lubombo mountains is the Shewula Nature Reserve, also part of the Conservancy and home to one of the country’s most successful community tourism projects. The Lubombo Eco Trails project aims to establish even more community-based enterprises that will allow visitors to experience the mountains to the full.
As with the North East, this region of Eswatini (Swaziland) lies largely in the lowveld. There is only scattered settlement, with one large town of note, Big Bend. A number of sugar estates are irrigated from the country’s main river, the Usuthu.
This corner of the country is home to two game reserves, one of which is widely regarded as Eswatini’s best. It is also the location for one of the country’s top adventure activities – white water rafting on the Usuthu River.
Mkhaya Game Reserve offers a case study of the challenges involved in African conservation and stands as a beacon of what can be achieved, safeguarding a shrinking natural environment in the face of burgeoning human pressures, after a history of uncontrolled exploitation. Home to a variety of big game and with just one intimate but excellent camp, it now offers some of the best rhino experiences found in the whole of Africa. Nisela Game Reserve also offers game viewing and other activities on an area of acacia savanna.
The magnificent rolling highveld uplands of South West Eswatini (Swaziland) extend west over the border into South Africa and are cut by the Great Usuthu, the country’s largest river which flows east across the region. That grand river is joined by its tributaries, the Ngwempisi and Mkondvo, along impressive valleys from the south. Today this is perhaps the least visited region in Eswatini, much of its traffic being in transit. However, this belies its historical significance. Ngwane III, founder of the Swazi nation, established his first ceremonial capital near Nhlangano, today the region’s only large town. It was via this route from the south that many early settlers arrived, including Eswatini’s first missionaries, who established the country’s first church, which can still be visited at Mahamba.
The region’s dramatic and beautiful scenery can be accessed most readily at a handful of locations. Ngwempisi is a truly stunning, wild and untouched wilderness area which can be explored with the help of community guides. Nkonyeni is a beautiful area that has been developed as a golf estate and now offers a few extra activities. And in the far south, Mahamba Gorge has trails through some impressive scenery and is a great location for birds. It also has community-run accommodation.
To give Eswatini the justice it deserves, you really need more than the one or two nights that visitors in transit find themselves with as they are whisked through to their next destination. Eswatini has so much to offer and tourists can benefit greatly from the fact that, with it being so small, every major attraction can be found within just two hours of Mbabane, the Ezulwini Valley or Manzini. Whilst you can tick off plenty of the ‘must-see’ attractions in a couple of days, a longer time is really needed to give both these magical experiences, and Eswatini, justice.
Below are a number of suggestions for your itinerary. The beauty of Eswatini’s size is that you can change direction or revise your plans on a whim (advance bookings notwithstanding). Wherever you are in the kingdom, you’re never far from where you want to go.
As suggested above, the itineraries listed are no more than 2.5hrs away from each by car. Bear this in mind when planning your trip, and whilst it’s important to relax in Eswatini and really take in your surrounds, make the most of your days and pack in a couple of attractions when possible. Try to plan your days well, using the mornings to get started on a days trek, ensuring the majority of your strenuous walking is done in the morning before you’re caught by the midday heat. The majority of wildlife is seen at either dawn or dusk, so making sure you get an overnight stay in reserves you visit is important to give you the best chance of seeing something special.
Hire a car or book a tour from a central location within Mbabane. Using this as your base, explore Pine Valley and climb Sibebe Rock. Head down to the Ezulwini Valley for craft markets, Mantenga Falls and the Cultural Village and perhaps spend some time in Mlilwane, Eswatini’s pioneer conservation area. A beautiful, secluded sanctuary situated in Eswatini’s ‘Valley of Heaven’, the Ezulwini Valley. Finally visit the glass factory and ancient mine at Ngwenya for a sense of Eswatini culture.
Base yourself in Ezulwini Valley. Visit craft markets, the spa and Mantenga Falls and Cultural Village. Continue to Lobamba for the National Museum and Sobhuza Memorial Park, then Malkerns, for Malandela’s (House on Fire, Gone Rural) and the Swazi Candles complex. Visit Mlilwane for a braai, horse-riding and a game walk.
This scenic route takes you through some of Eswatini’s most rural communities. From Mbabane head north to Piggs Peak, taking in the scenery at Malolotja and stopping for lunch Maguga Dam. Head east after Piggs Peak, passing back down into the Nkomati Valley heading for Manzini. Continue through Manzini and overnight in Malkerns, taking in the craft centres and perhaps a performance at House on Fire. Then return to Mbabane along the ‘Tea Road’ loop, for another scenic slice of rural life and an excellent view of the sacred Mdzimba Mountains and royal parade grounds below.
Make the most of a single night stay in Ezulwini to visit the craft markets, Mantenga Cultural village and the National Museum at Lobamba. From there, head up to Malolotja, visiting the glass factory and mine in Ngwenya, and make an over night stop before taking a day hike into Malolotja Nature reserve. On route to the reserve you can horse ride in Hawane or hold back in Malolotja for a canopy trail.
Starting from Manzini, head south along the Scenic Grand Valley taking in the views and scenery. With an overnight stop in Mahamba staying in community chalets, start your next day with a hike to the gorge as well as visiting the historic mission. Ending your tour with an overnight stay at Foresters Arms, enjoy horse riding, fishing and forest trails.
Splash out an enjoy a bit of pampering at some of Eswatini’s top hotels. Spend one night in the Ezulwini Valley, at the Royal Swazi Spa complex or Royal Villas. Visit top local restaurants, including the Calabash, Malandela’s or – for a classy take on traditional Swazi fare – Edladleni. Next, an optional visit to the botanical gardens at the Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge with a possible stopover as an option. Then to Summerfield, beyond Malkerns, for opulent surroundings in botanical gardens and an excellent restaurant. Both areas are good bases for sightseeing and handicrafts; from Summerfield it is a short excursion to Rosecraft for mohair weaving, with a sculpture trail in the hills.
For that true Safari expience, spend two nights at Mkhaya Game Reserve, tracking rhinos and elephants in the bush (or, for a cheaper alternative, Hlane). Then transfer to Sidvokodvo for a half- or full-day’s white water rafting on the Usutu river. Follow your water adventure up with caving or quad biking, both of which can be incorporated through Swazi Trails. Expect to get very wet and dirty!
Take a view of Eswatini from a bit higher up in the saddler of a horse! Visit Hawane Resort for riding in the highveld or Nyanza stables (near Malkerns) for riding in the middleveld. Full-day trails and accommodation available at both. Then move to Mlilwane for the Chubeka trail, riding among wild game and overnighting in a cave below Execution Rock. Rides are available for all ability levels.
A full exploration of Eswatini’s scenic western highveld. Starting from Mbabane, head north to Malolotja Nature Reserve and stay in the cabins or campsite. Ideally spend two nights, allowing for one full day hike, plus smaller walks and a canopy trail. Mountain bikes and horse riding are available at nearby Hawane Resort. Continue north to Maguga Dam for a restaurant meal and views of Nkomati Valley. Optional overnighting at Maguga allows for a sundowner cruise on the lake. Continue north to Piggs Peak, stopping to view Nsangwini rock art. Spend two nights at Phophonyane Falls, enjoying the restaurant, waterfall, pools, trails and abundant birdlife. Phophonyane can arrange optional local excursions, including hiking or mountain biking. Peak craft centre (including Coral Stephens’s mohair weaving) is a short drive away.
The best of Eswatini’s hiking, for those who want to stretch their legs on the trail. Start with at least two days at Malolotja, including at least one full day hike – or overnight hike, with your own camping gear – following the Malolotja River down to the Nkomati River. Continue north and west, via Piggs Peak and Tshaneni, to Mlawula Nature Reserve. Overnight at Siphiso campsite and hike a selection of day trails, including up into the Lubombos. Return southwest, via Manzini and Luyengo, to Ngwempisi Gorge. Hike day trails from Kopho Lodge. Finally finish off with a more gentle walk around the game rich plains of Mlilwane, or a more strenuous hike up its infamous Execution Rock.
A tour of the lowveld’s main game reserves, starting in the northeast. Stock up with supplies at Simunye then head to Mlawula and/or Mbuluzi: the former is wilder; the latter has better accommodation and facilities, and easier-to-see game. Then continue to Hlane, for game viewing around Ndlovu Camp, guided rhino walks and drives into the lion enclosure. Head south to Mkhaya, for one or more nights at Stone Camp and excellent black rhino tracking, plus white rhino, elephant and other game. Then south again to Nisela safaris, for giraffe and other wildlife in the shadow of the Lebombos. Allow at least one night to get the best from each park you visit.
Starting at Malolotja, explore the short trails for highveld specials, including blue swallow (summer only), and hike to Malolotja Falls for forest birds and the southern bald ibis breeding colony. Continue to Phophonyane Falls for middleveld and forest specials, including narina trogon. Head east from Piggs Peak on the northern circuit to spend a night at Mlawula or Mbuluzi, looking for raptors and local specials, including the African finfoot. Then head up to Mabuda Farm, near Siteki for forest birds and Lubombo specials, including twinspots. Return via the Ezulwini Valley where, if time allows, Mlilwane and Mantenga have plentiful birds around the visitor camps, while the hillier sections offer a chance of black and crowned eagle. Birding is best in the rainy season, from October to March.
A full immersion in the hottest corner of the country. Spend a few nights between Mkhaya, Hlane, Mlawula and Mbuluzi, for wildlife, hiking and bush nights around the campfire. Continue to Shewula mountain camp for traditional Swazi hospitality, rural village life and the most stunning views in the country – right down to the Indian Ocean. Recharge batteries and supplies at Simunye Country Club, with swimming pool and an excellent restaurant, then head up to Siteki, where Mabuda Farm offers mountain breezes, homespun hospitality and excellent Lubombo trails.
Northwest highlights (Malolotja, Maguga, Nsangwini, Piggs Peak etc), followed by Northeast highlights (Hlane, Mlawula, Mbuluzi, Shewula etc). Return via Malkerns, Mlilwane, Lobamba and Ezulwini Valley for a day or two of crafts, culture and other activities.
So, please have a look and speak to us and we will formulate an Itinerary that fits your pocket and time available. We work with registered locals in Swazi Tourism to complete your package and we are registered Eswatini Tourist Guides and can do the tour with you or, you can self-drive. The choice is Yours.
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