When I initially planned my visit to Swaziland, the aim was to make a quick stopover on my journey from South Africa to Mozambique. I had no idea what to expect, but I wasn’t entirely stoked. Little did I know that Swaziland would become my favourite part of my Southern Africa adventure. When the day to leave finally came, I was eager to extend my stay.
Swaziland made me feel like a kid again; excited to play with the new shiny toy – or destination – left at my disposal. As the smallest country in Africa, landlocked and neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland has a lot of character and is a delightful place to visit.
Let me tell you why you need to visit Africa’s hidden gem.
Adventure, adventure, adventure
In Swaziland, the adventurous possibilities are endless!
Swazi Trails, a popular local tour company, kindly took me adventure caving and quad biking and the experience was sublime.
The adventure caving was pretty strenuous and started off with a 45-minute hike, but our guide’s morale-boosting attitude got us through. He also took loads of pictures because we couldn’t take our phones into the cave, ensuring that our memories were captured.
Be prepared to crawl, climb and slide through holes and cracks, but you’ll feel like a champion by the end.
As if the caving experience wasn’t fun enough, Swazi Trails took us to a local hot springs afterwards. They supplied us with boxes of pizza – we got to choose our pizzas before the tour – while we swam and hung out with locals.
Tip: Adventure caving is a messy affair – bring clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Also bring your swimsuit and a towel. Even if you can’t swim (like me), you’ll have a lot of fun in the hot spring. But Swazi Trails will inform you on all the deets.
During my quad biking adventure, I drove through parts of Swaziland that I wouldn’t have ventured into by foot. I drove through dirt trails, laughed with kids and waved at the aunties and uncles, while taking in mountain views along the way.
My guide went above and beyond his role, quickly transforming into my photographer/videographer as well. Even though it was my first time on a quad bike, I left feeling like a pro.
Swazi Trails organises numerous activities for you to take part in, including white water rafting, canopy tours and the famous Sibebe Rock hike. It’s the steepest hike in the world and you have to walk sideways to complete it!
If you love adventure, waste no time heading to Swaziland. I already have a list of all of the activities I plan to do with Swazi Trails when I return.
Swaziland is incredibly safe
You’ll be pleased by the fact that the crime rate in Swaziland is extremely low, especially in comparison to its neighbouring countries, South Africa and Mozambique. Locals will happily reiterate this.
The biggest danger apparently seems to be accidentally hitting a cow, as they tend to run into the street out of nowhere…
While I don’t buy into the idea that Africa is dangerous, I understand that safety is an important determinant when travelling. As a solo traveller, couple, or group, there is a very slim chance that you will run into trouble in the Kingdom of Swaziland.
A local explained why he thinks this may be: given that the population is so small at only 1.3 million, everyone seems to know each other (or at least knows someone who knows someone).
As a result, it would be difficult to commit a crime in your town and get away with it. This was a relief after spending time in South Africa, where crime and safety were popular topics of conversation.
Swaziland is home to some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. Within hours of arriving in Swaziland, I felt as if I found a new home. Everyone I engaged with was friendly and laidback, and I often found myself feeling embarrassed by how formal I was trying to be.
My name was abbreviated in seconds and my attempt at shaking hands quickly became a thing of the past.
If long, deep conversations with someone you’ve just met is something you look forward to while travelling, strike up a conversation with a Swazi and see where it takes you.
An added bonus is that English is one of Swaziland’s official languages – the other being Siswati – so language shouldn’t be an issue when meeting people.
…and the culture
This small country has a larger-than-life culture. A distinguishing factor is Swaziland’s vehement love and respect for their king, Mswati III.
As the only country in Africa with an absolute monarchy, you’ll see the King’s face plastered on Swazi native material, which locals frequently wear. But the biggest example of Swaziland’s cultural beauty is the famous Umhlanga, aka the Reed Dance.
The Reed Dance is an eight-day ceremony where unmarried and childless girls cut reeds and present them to the Queen Mother, aka the King’s mother. There’s loads of singing and dancing involved from approximately 40,000 girls, come rain or shine, and wearing bright colours is the norm.
The main day to attend the celebration is day 7 at the King’s palace in Ludzidzini Royal Village. The king also attends on day 7 to watch the performances.
The ceremony starts at the end of August so try to plan your trip accordingly. I missed the Reed Dance in Ludzidzini, so the Swaziland Tourism Authority kindly took me to an additional Reed Dance that took place in Nhlangano, the fourth largest town in Swaziland.
Cultural experiences really don’t get more authentic than this. There are hardly any tourists and locals genuinely celebrate the event. Plus, watching the girls sing and dance in perfect timing is incredibly beautiful to watch.
If you aren’t able to attend the Reed Dance, there are other opportunities to catch a glimpse of traditional Swazi culture. Stop by Mantenga Cultural Village, where two performances take place at 11.30am and 3.15pm. Afterwards, you are taken around the village and given an introduction into the Swazi way of living.
You can see a lot of the country in one day
One of the perks of travelling around a compact country is that you can see many sights in a short amount of time.
In an 8-hour Swaziland highlights tour with Swazi Trails, I saw a lot of the country. In 4 days, I crossed everything off my bucket list apart from doing a safari drive. You may not be able to cover a lot unless you have a car or a tour guide, which is why I truly appreciated the tour.
I was also given the opportunity to influence the 8-hour itinerary, so I witnessed locations that were on my bucket list as well as local gems suggested by the tour guide.
Swaziland is absolutely stunning!
I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves:
These are the views that are waiting for you in Swaziland…. So go and live your best life!
Swaziland is only a road trip away from South Africa
Only a 4-hour drive away from Johannesburg, Swaziland is the perfect addition to your itinerary when visiting its bigger sister. 48 hours is a great amount of time in Swaziland, although you may want to stay longer.
There are two shuttle services operating between Joburg and Swaziland, and are very reasonable. Siyeswatini Transmagnific and Skyworld both depart from Sandton or O.R. Tambo airport and cost 600 South African rand for a one-way ticket.
To make Swaziland even more appealing (is that even possible at this point?!), the rand is widely accepted. That means you don’t even have to change your currency when adding Swaziland to your itinerary!
However, if you do withdraw money in Swaziland, you might receive the Swazi lilangeni. Don’t worry, the lilangeni is equal to the rand so they have the same value. Make sure to convert any lilageni to rand before you depart though, as it will be hard to exchange the currency outside of Swazi borders.
So, do you plan to visit Swaziland?
Special thanks to Swazi Trails and the Swaziland Tourism Authority for collaborating with Melanin Travel for tours and experiences. All opinions are our own – we’ll always keep it real!