Things to do in eSwatini
eSwatini also has a number of adventure activities on offer, spectacular landscapes to savour (like the second largest monolith in the world after our very own Uluru) and souvenir shopping to enjoy.
We highly recommend checking out the handicrafts at markets set up across the country. It’s great to buy locally made goods because it supports women’s cooperatives and local artisans.
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Whitewater rafting and caving
Thrill-seekers will love white-water rafting on the Great Usutu River, the largest river in eSwatini (also called the Lusutfu River). It’s the country’s most popular adventure activity, and no wonder. On a remote stretch of the Usutu, in the vicinity of Mkhaya Game Reserve, there’s a mix of rapids that offer exciting rafting all year round. For most of the year the level of difficulty is Grade III (medium), but in some sections, when the river’s in full flow, it can rise to Grade V and even VI. As the river thunders through wild gorges, you’ll negotiate rapids, waterfalls and maybe even a small crocodile or two. You will also get drenched – you have been warned! Full-day and half-day river rafting trips are available; abseiling and cliff jumps are also possible in the winter months.
Adrenaline junkies will also want to head a few kilometres east of Mbabane, to Gobholo Cave. You’ll walk, climb and slither through this vast granite cave system, which remains 98% unexplored. Adventure caving is a rush for both amateur and experienced explorers – you can go during the day or in the evening, when the tour also includes a soak in a hot spring, pizza and beer.
Malolotja Canopy Tour
The ruggedly beautiful Malolotja Nature Reserve in the northwestern highlands is one of the top hiking destinations in all of southern Africa. Hikers can lose themselves in 18,000 hectares of genuine wilderness, the centerpiece of which is the Komati River. There are waterfalls streaming down ancient mountains, deep forested river gorges and rocks that are more than 3.5 billion years old. It’s a twitcher’s paradise with nearly 300 different species of birds, including the rare forest canary, ground woodpecker and endangered blue swallow. Big-name wildlife may be absent, but you can see zebra, eland, wildebeest, various species of antelope and rare wildlife such as aardwolf.
Deep within this pristine mountain wilderness, adjacent to the famous Malolotja Falls, is the country’s only canopy tour – a series of white-knuckle ziplines cutting through the treetops. The three-hour Malolotja Canopy Tour experience consists of 11 elevated platforms, 10 slides and a 50-metre-long suspension bridge over the Majolomba River. It’s set within the forested Sihlotswane gorge, one of the last mountain wilderness areas left in eSwatini. It’s a thrilling, don’t-miss activity in a glorious setting and is a must for any adventure-lover visiting eSwatini.
About eight kilometres north of Mbabane, you’ll find eSwatini’s most famous geological feature, the massive Sibebe Rock. Rising to a height of 1,488 metres and covering some 16,500 hectares, this is the world’s largest granite dome. It’s also the world’s second-largest monolith, after Uluru. Far fewer people visit this three-billion-year-old rock, but they are allowed to climb it. Just take care: much of Sibebe is completely sheer (it’s also known as “Bald Rock”) so can be dangerous, especially if it’s wet or during a lightning storm as it’s so exposed.
But you absolutely can climb Sibebe – actually, it’s more of a hike, not a climb. It will take you about an hour, with steep trails leading you to huge boulders, wild flowers and amazing views at the top. Community guides operate guided hikes – just ask at the visitor centre.
In central eSwatini, lies the Ezulwini Valley, the “Valley of Heaven”. Stretching for about 30 kilometres, it’s located between the city of Manzini and the capital Mbabane, and easily accessible from either of these places in about 10 minutes.
The cultural and spiritual heart of eSwatini, Lobamba, is located in the valley. Attractions here include the National Museum, the Parliament Building, the King Sobhuza II Memorial Park and the Ezulwini Handicrafts Centre. The home of the King and the Queen Mother, the Ludzidzini Royal Village, is also located just a few kilometres to the south.
Elsewhere in the Ezulwini Valley you’ll find hotels, restaurants, shops, backpacker lodges, handicraft centres, a thermal spa, golf course, casino, riding stables and the country’s only cinema. Mantenga, at the eastern end, has a craft centre, waterfall and cultural village.
There’s also a number of notable wildlife sanctuaries, including the 4,500-hectare Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, eSwatini’s oldest conservation area. There are no big predators in the area, so you’re free to wander the trails on foot or horseback and take in the splendid scenery. There are sweeping plains in the south and rugged mountains in the north, dominated by the Nyonyane Mountain with its striking granite peak called the Rock of Execution. The beauty of a horse riding safari is that you can get much closer to the resident zebra, impala and kudus on the back of another animal than you can in a 4×4, and there are no rumblings of vehicles to drown out the sounds of nature. It’s an intimate, tranquil safari experience and should not be missed.
Colourful cultural events
Don’t miss two of eSwatini’s most intriguing and compelling cultural events. The Incwala ceremony is the country’s most important cultural event and has lasted for hundreds of years. It’s usually translated as the “festival of first fruits”, but it is more of a ceremony celebrating kingship. It takes place over six days in late December/early January, on a date determined using ancestral astrology. The country’s most colourful traditional ceremony, meanwhile, is Umhlanga, a.k.a the Swaziland Reed Dance Festival, a.k.a the Dance of 100,000 Virgins.
Every year in late August or early September, tens of thousands of young Swazi women take part in this eight-day ceremony. It culminates in two days of dancing and singing in front of the king, giving him an opportunity to pick a new wife (he already has 15). Tourists are welcome to watch this ceremony, which takes place in the royal stadium within the grounds of the Royal Residence in Lobamba – one of the very rare occasions when it’s open to the public.
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