“We are going to Swaziland next,” I told my parents while describing our upcoming travel plans.
“Where?” They asked. “Swaziland, you know, they still have a King there.”
“Oh, that’s great, be safe!”
Needless to say, they had absolutely no idea where we were heading – just that it was somewhere in Africa. It’s okay if you also haven’t heard of the Kingdom of Swaziland, because to tell you the truth up until a couple of years ago I hadn’t either. Now we can provide others with some of the best things to do and see in Swaziland.
So Where Is Swaziland Located?
The Kingdom of Swaziland is a landlocked country in Southern Africa between Mozambique and South Africa. It is a small country, but packs in a whole lot of character to make up for its size. Swaziland is in fact one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. Yes, that means a real African King, and a Kingdom.
Besides being small and having a King, Swaziland is home to many unique artisan products, incredibly friendly people, a plethora of hippos, and even an impressive highway network. Actually, for such a relatively unheard of country we found Swaziland packed with interesting facts.
- Swaziland has one of the highest numbers of people struck by lightning per capita in the world. And we made sure to ask everyone we met if they knew of someone who had been struck. “Of course,” seemed to be the general response. “It’s something in the ground.”
- A speeding ticket in Swaziland will cost you 60 Emalangeni. Or about $4 USD, trust us we know. If you don’t have cash, try carrying around some chocolate bars or Coca-Cola for the police…
- Swaziland is a predominantly Christian country, and yes, there are churches EVERYWHERE.
- Tragically, Swaziland has the highest AIDS/HIV prevalence in the world.
- Do you need medicine? Don’t worry about going to the doctor for a prescription, the pharmacist will assist you right at the counter and drugs are very affordable.
- You can get anywhere and back in Swaziland in one day.
Things to do in Swaziland
Besides witnessing everyday life in Swaziland and chatting with the friendly Swazi’s, there were a number of highlights that we experienced while traveling the small country.
1. Hike Up Sibebe Rock
Just north of the unimpressive capital of Mbabane is Swaziland’s famous rock, Sibebe. Sibebe isn’t just famous in Swaziland, oh no, it is actually the second largest freestanding rock in the world! You can either admire Sibebe from ground level or spend a morning hiking it. There are numerous hiking trails to get anyone up the mountain in a couple of hours time. If you start your walk at Mbuluzi Gate then entrance will cost somewhere between E20-E30 – depending on the mood of the workers. There are local guides there willing to take visitors as well if they do not want to go without one. Don’t forget to bring some Sibebe beers with you so you can enjoy them at the top!
2. Have a Sundowner at House on Fire
House on Fire is an amazing venue located at Malandela’s Farm it houses an entertainment complex, shops, art gallery, restaurant, and accommodation with a picturesque African backdrop. One must go to House on Fire and admire all the fantastic art sculptures. Afterward, have a sundowner and snacks at Malandela’s restaurant. We ate here and few times and the food is delicious! If you’re looking for WiFi, Malandela’s Farm also has decently fast connection although it is not free. Besides eating and entertainment there are some great shops here too. Our favorite was Gone Rural. A social enterprise that’s main focus is empowing the local women of Swaziland. Gone Rural gives Swazi women jobs that allow them to work and create handcrafts in their home villages. Meaning they can care for their homesteads and also work. The Gone Rural shop at Malandela’s Farm sells these products and the handcrafts are amazingly beautiful and unique!
3. Go Shopping at the Swazi Candles Center
Swaziland has an astonishing collection of handmade products made by the locals throughout the country. If you’re looking to spend a little money then an afternoon at Swazi Candles is just what you need. Once stepping into Swazi Candles all eyes will be fixated on the hundreds of different candles that they produce. Every candle is handmade and each has it’s own unique style, texture, and color.
There are many other shops in the center once you are down admiring all the pretty candles. A true shopaholic could easily spend an hour or two strolling in and out of Baobab Batik, Black Mamba, and Sambane Cafe.
4. Make Friends with Zebras at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in Ezulwini Valley, is the quiet Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Spending a day here certainly won’t disappoint anyone who has just come from Kruger National Park in South Africa. Unlike Kruger, you can actually get out of your car and stretch those legs at Mlilwane. There are no predators (Or barely any. We heard talk of a leopard when we were there.) wandering the grounds. We enjoyed being able to view nature without the car windshield in between us. For lunch, we ate at the Hippo Haunt Restaurant which served up amazing vegetable curry! If you aren’t in Ezulwini then there are plenty of other reserves in Swaziland like the Mkhaya Game Reserve.
5. Stop at Ngwenya Glass after the Border
Did I mention that Swaziland has some amazing handcraft products? Right after coming over the Oshoek Border Post from South Africa is the town of Ngwenya. We recommend stopping at Ngwenya Glass to watch the glassblowers make beautiful glasses, paperweights, and all types of glass amazements. There is even a cafe for those that need a “pick me up” from the long drive into The Kingdom.
6. Sniff the Asbestos in Bulembu Town
Just kidding, don’t sniff anything! Bulembu used to be a Swazi mining town producing mass amounts of asbestos. Back in the day Bulembo was booming with schools, housing, a club and even a movie theater. Then the world found out the dangers of asbestos and in 2001 the mine completely shut down, turning Bulembu into a ghost town. Now the town has been revitalized into an initiative giving a safe haven for Swazi orphans. The town has a museum, bakery, and interesting abandoned buildings for visitors to gallivant around now. Our visit to Bulembu was one of our favorite things to do and see in Swaziland.
7. Straddle South Africa and Swaziland Border Free!
Hike Emlembe mountain for your chance to be a rule breaker At the top of the peak you can cross borders freely, just don’t tell anyone! After this 2 hour hike up from Bulembu hikers will be rewarded with a beautiful view over Swaziland and South Africa.
General info for visiting Swaziland
- Many visitors don’t need a visa for entering Swaziland and can stay for 30 days as a tourist. The border crossings into Swaziland are seamless and the customs officials are surprisingly friendly.
- MTN is the only cell phone operator in Swaziland. They run a bit of a monopoly in the country so purchasing data won’t be as affordable as neighboring South Africa or Mozambique.
- SiSwati is the local language, but many people in the main cities can speak good English.
- The Emalangeni is the Swaziland currency, but almost anywhere and everywhere will take the South African Rand at 1:1.
- The Swaziland Reed Dance usually takes place late August or September (all depends on the weather), and it is one of the country’s greatest spectacles. A visit here will give a true insight into Swazi culture.
- Do you need to go to church on Sundays? Don’t worry, there is one on almost every block in Swaziland. The country is predominantly Christian, so dress modestly.
We had a great time visiting the Kingdom of Swaziland! Have you traveled to Southern Africa?