I would hope that after reading my 7 Reasons Why Swaziland is Africa’s Best Kept Secret article, you have already packed your bags and are ready to travel.
Even if you have not reached that stage yet, I hope that you are planning to visit this charming country. Swaziland is the perfect addition to a trip in South Africa, and you can easily see a lot of Swaziland in 48 hours.
If you only plan to stay in Swaziland for a day or two, the area you stay in will prove to be crucial. Yes, the country is small so no activity will be too far from your base, but you will save yourself time and money in choosing the right location.
For me, there is only one area I would stay in. That area is:
Located in northwest Swaziland, the Ezulwini Valley is the country’s tourism hub. There are a number of reasons why you should stay in the Valley of Heaven (yes, Ezulwini literally means heaven):
1. Ezulwini is close to other areas. Mbabane, the capital city, is only a 20 minute drive from Ezulwini. Lobamba, where King Mswati III resides, is a 5 minute drive to the east. Consequently, attractions like Sibebe Rock and events like the annual Reed Dance will only be a short distance away. If you plan to take public transport to Mozambique, you’re 30 minutes away from Manzini, where the local buses depart from.
2. Attractions are abundant. Ezulwini is filled with bars, restaurants and casinos, as well as the Gables Shopping Centre, which has a cinema, banks and supermarkets. If that’s not enough, a hot springs is not too far from the Gables, and a local craft market is only down the road. You’ll likely find everything you need in Ezulwini, but the area maintains a tranquil environment.
3. Tours often begin and end in Ezulwini. Usually, tours will only pick you up from your hotel if you stay in Ezulwini. If you decide to stay elsewhere, you will need to find a taxi or public transport to get to a pick up point. I was advised by Swazi Trails to stay in Ezulwini for this exact reason, which saved me a lot of money as they took me on three tours. I’d advise against travelling to Swaziland and not taking at least one tour, especially if you do not have a car. If you would like to book a tour with Swazi Trails, a popular tour operator, click here to see what activities they offer.
4. The area is improving. The Swazi government understands how special Ezulwini is and are spending money to develop the area. At the time of writing, an upscale conference centre and a 5* hotel are being built. I believe that the area will vastly improve within the next 10 years – not that Ezulwini really needs improvement.
5. Ezulwini is an easy drop-off point if travelling from South Africa. As mentioned in my previous article, two shuttle companies offer services from Johannesburg to Swaziland and vice versa. Both stop and pick up at the Gables shopping centre, in the heart of Ezulwini. Therefore, it makes sense to find accommodation in the vicinity.
6. Some of the best accommodation is located in Ezulwini. I wanted to stay in a hotel and so two popular hotels, Royal Swazi Spa and Happy Valley Hotel & Casino, kindly hosted me during my stay in Ezulwini. I’ll go into detail below. However, if you are looking to stay in a hostel, Legends Backpackers Lodge is a good option.
Where I stayed
Royal Swazi Spa (Melanin Travel rating: 4.5/5)
Although Royal Swazi is a 4* hotel, you’ll receive a 5* stay. Located a few minutes away from the Gables shopping centre, Royal Swazi Spa offers three restaurants, a spa and a casino. The word “royal” is not used lightly, as this Swazi hotel has been the choice of stay for heads of states and the Swazi King himself, Mswati III. The service of staff is what you would expect from those who cater to royalty, and I was kindly taken around the premises to become fully acquainted with the facilities.
I stayed in the standard king room, which had a comfortable bed, air conditioning and a balcony overlooking the grand swimming pool and distant mountains.
The breakfast buffet was extensive, with different stations offering made-to-order eggs, waffles, and cold breakfast options. In the evening, you can choose between three restaurants that provide a buffet style or à la carte.
Be prepared to spot a monkey or two as you walk through the grounds to Royal Swazi’s renowned 18-hole golf course.
the vain ones those who want an Instagrammable picture, the hotel has an outdoor event space outside that is set up like a traditional Swazi setting!
Last but not least, a luxury spa with a variety of services is located at the back of the hotel to tend to your needs.
Happy Valley Hotel & Casino (Melanin Travel rating: 4.5/5)
With spacious rooms, stellar service and a lively casino, the 4* Happy Valley Hotel & Casino is located in the heart of Ezulwini Valley.
I stayed in the junior suite, which had an extended lounge area, an ensuite bathroom with a separate bath and shower, and air conditioning. A balcony is also part of the room to look over the pool on sunny days.
With two restaurants, a pizzeria, and a cafe, food options do not run short. Happy Valley’s breakfast is presented in a buffet fashion with a range of hot and cold dishes available. And if you feel like something different, you can cross the road and check out the Gables shopping centre, which is situated opposite the hotel. Location is definitely Happy Valley’s strong point.
The casino is an attraction in itself, which remains vibrant and energetic in the evening, but does not encroach into the peaceful room areas. The staff were very friendly during my stay and were prompt to respond to my queries.
They also quickly became my fashion team, as the housekeeping staff down to the receptionists in the lobby would confirm my outfit choices as I left the hotel. It’s the small things that usually add to my experience, and this was one of them.
Both hotels are equally great. Royal Swazi Spa stands unparalleled for its scenery and luxury service, meanwhile Happy Valley’s location and friendly staff cannot be beaten. Let me know which one you’d stay in!
Just a little note about WiFi in Swaziland…
While both hotels provide complimentary WiFi, it’s not particularly strong. However, this issue is not unique to Royal Swazi Spa or Happy Valley Hotel & Casino – this is throughout Swaziland. Royal Swazi Spa does offer WiFi cards for purchase, but the costs will quickly add up.
For this reason, it’s best to save your money and buy a MTN starter pack sim card once you arrive in Swaziland. This will ensure that you avoid any internet issues.
If you stayed in another area of Swaziland, let me know how your experience went!
Special thanks to Royal Swazi Spa and Happy Valley Hotel & Casino for collaborating with Melanin Travel and hosting us during our stay. Thank you to Swazi Tours for sponsoring Melanin Travel’s tours in Swaziland. All views are our own – we’ll always keep it real!