The Kingdom of Swaziland There's something magical about Swaziland – a beautiful and diverse Kingdom that begs to be explored. Ruled over by King Mswati III, this peaceful Kingdom is rapidly becoming a traveller's favourite on the trail through Southern Africa. Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, yet there is a surprisingly diverse landscape – with dramatic mountains, spectacular valleys and prolific game reserves, that offer the visitor a wide range of adventure activities.
One of the most striking things about the Swazi people is the importance of their culture. Traditional events, such as the Reed Dance are spectacular ceremonies attended by the country as whole, many in national dress.
The Incwala is the most important festival of the year – a celebration of the harvest, where the King gives permission to eat the first crops. The ceremony lasts for day, beginning around the start of the new year.
The Umhlanga (Reed Dance) is held at the end of August. Young Maidens from across the nation travel to Lombamba to perform the dance in tribute to the Queen Mother. The King himself traditionally uses this opportunity to choose a new wife.
And slightly less traditional…
The Manila season begins in mid-February and runs through to May, and is a celebration of the harvest of the marula fruit. The fruit is distilled into a high alcohol content beer and the entire country gets drunk, and we're talking really, really drunk, for weeks to come. Interestingly, the economy is reported to plummet at this time of year.
The Sikavuka is an annual festival held in mid-August, celebrating local music, crafts and theatre. Sikavuka is the Siswati word for 'waking up' or 'uprising'.
There are a huge range of activities in Swaziland including white water rafting, caving, climbing, horse riding, abseiling, hiking and paragliding. All of these can be arranged in advance or by your accommodation.
Sibebe Rock is the second highest monolith in the world, after Uluru, located 8km outside Mbabane. Exploring Sibebe with its caves, rock paintings and spectacular views, is a definite highlight. The main face is some 300m high and reputed to be the steepest climb in Africa. This climb is best attempted with a professional guide. For those less masochistic, take one of the more scenic routes, which are far less strenuous. Ask at your accommodation for maps and advice on the best routes, and transport. Take a lot of water.
Milwane Game reserve offers a range of rides through the reserve, depending on experience.
White Water Rafting
On the Great Usutu River with all its resident crocodiles.
The latest adventure activity in Swaziland is caving in the The Gobholo Cave system in the Mdzimba Mountains – this is a great alternative way to spend an evening.
Something less strenuous…
The Cuddle Puddle is a pool in the Elzuwini Valley, supplied with water from the natural hot springs. Both Sondzela and Swaziland backpackers take groups up here every evening for R30. An evening spent here with a group of friends, swimming under the stars, is nothing short of sheer bliss.
The Main Towns
Lobamba in the heart of the Elzuwini Valley is worth visiting for an insight into Swazi culture. The Royal Palace, National Museum and Parliament buildings are all located here. Lombamba is also the setting for traditional events.
Mbabane is the capital city, but of no particular interest. Here you'll find banks, internet cafes and the main bus station. There is also a small craft market, though not comparable to that at Manzini or the roadside market in the Elzuwini Valley, where the quality and range is far better.
Manzini is just another big town really. Not too dissimilar to Mbabane and again, not too much interest. There is however, an excellent local market, which sells a great range of traditional crafts. Whilst here, visit the traditional healers stalls, selling weird and wonderful looking remedies.
Swaziland has an excellent policy of environmental conservation that can be seen in the Kingdom's numerous Game Reserves.
Set in the Elzuwini Valley, Milwane is the oldest of the game reserves and a successful non-profit trust. Within the reserve, there is a range of accommodation, including the wonderful Sondzela Backpackers. You can walk or drive through the reserve and expect to see zebra, antelope and giraffe. The Hippo Haunt restaurant within the reserve is situated by a lake inhabited by hippos and crocodiles, and has traditional Swazi Dancing in the evenings.
In the East is the largest reserve and boasts lion, rhino and elephant. You can choose to visit on a day trip or stay overnight on the reserve, although there is no budget accommodation.
In the South East is a conservation reserve for endangered species, including both black and white rhino. Accommodation is provided, but is not geared toward budget travellers. You can take one of the day trips through the reserve.
Phopyane Nature Reserve
A little visited and peaceful park, famed for its huge variety of bird life. The park is close to Piggs Peak in the North West of the country.
Malalotja Nature Reserve
Also within the North West, along with Hlane is probably one of the best places for bird watching in Swaziland. Outdoor accommodations are available, as well as more upmarket rest areas.
The Roadside Market in the Elzuwini Valley and the Craft Market at Manzini are excellent and very easy to get to. If you are particularly interested in traditional crafts, Gone Rural in the Malkerns Valley is a store and workshop for crafts by Swazi women from the rural areas. You can watch some of the traditional methods used and purchase the wares in the store.
The Mantenga Craft Store, in Eveni (near Manzini), is run with the same idea – to promote the development of rural crafts. Although there is no workshop here, there is a wider range of crafts.
* Photos courtesy of Raw Africa Image Library ——–