When I visited Eswatini with a friend in 2014 it was still named Swaziland (the renaming occurred in 2018). It’s a small country but has a lot of offer! To get around, we used a local guide, Myxo, who picked us up in Maputo, Mozambique, and gave us a tour throughout Swaziland, hitting several key sights of interest along the way. It was a very memorable adventure with plenty of surprises!
We met Myxo in Maputo, climbed into his van, and headed towards the border. After clearing customs, we drove through rolling hills and alongside fields of sugar cane, stopping to pick up a few stalks of cane that fell off the back of the truck– it was warm from being in the sunlight and made for a nice road trip snack. We stopped in a small town and loaded up on provisions at a shop before going on a safari.
Hlane National Park
Our first stop was Hlane National Park, where we went for a short safari with the goal of seeing the White Rhino, which is known to be in the park. The park allows for self drive, so we toured in the minivan, which made for quite a bumpy ride! The shocks on that vehicle had seen better days, and the rough, warped mud roads resulted in a flat tire and a few lost lug nuts, but we made it through!
Pro tip: A 4X4 is probably the better option if you’re going to do this on your own : )
We eventually found the White Rhino munching on some grass. The park wasn’t crowded at all, which gave us plenty of one-on-one time with the rhino! We also encountered several Nyala — an animal that looks like a deer but with long, white markings on its back and large, plate-sized ears.
We stopped at a campground, changed out a flat tire, rotated the remaining lug nuts, and cooked up some meat. We initially had lunch under a traditional grass hut structure but I moved outside after seeing the bat droppings on the floor underneath us– as well as plenty of sleeping bats overhead. I didn’t need any guano falling into my burger!
After our safari, we headed west to “House on Fire”, an arts community that hosts concert performances and sells artwork — situated in scenic botanical gardens. They had several tree-house style shacks which you could climb around and from which you could watch a live performance. I definitely would like to go back and see a show there sometime!
Our next stop was the Mantenga Cultural Village, located on the eastern edge of the picturesque Mantenga Nature Reserve, with its waterfalls and the Nyonyane Mountain in the background. We arrived just in time to watch a traditional dance performed successively by groups of men and women. After watching a few performances, we were invited to join in the fun! The village also had exhibits on the ancestral lifestyles, including traditional grass huts that were common in the previous century.
After the village, we did a quick swing through Mbabane and bought a few souvenir at a local mall. Afterwards, we headed up a hill into the woods outside of town, where we were to spend the night with a local family.
Part of our package was to stay with a local homestay. We came to the home of Myxo’s friend, who had a very interesting background! He was as an Afrikaner and served as a Buffalo Soldier in South Africa, but in retirement he moved to Swaziland where he got married, had kids, and settled down in a self-made house outside of Mbabane. Having gone off the grid, he arranged for the local trash company to stop by weekly to give him the opportunity to take anything that might be of use. From doing this, he renovated an abandoned home and continued to expand upon it. He had his own pig farm, chickens, and garden, as well as a built-in hot-tub and fire pit. We had dinner and listened to his (actual) war stories, as well as about more recent, mellowed-out stories about his and Myxo’s performances in the Swazi music scene. All in all, it was an unexpected — and really fun– evening, which sort of felt like a camp out.
We woke up early the next morning to head to the Manzini Market, where we caught a long, crowded minivan for Durban, South Africa. All in all, our brief visit to Swaziland was a short but outstanding trip!
Something for Next Time: I’d like to go back for the famous Umhlanga Reed Dance, an eight-day celebration that typically takes place in late August or early September.