The Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is a landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique. Most travelers that visit Eswatini, use this small Kingdom as a shortcut to get from Hluhluwe (KwaZulu-Natal) to Kruger National Park in South Africa or vice versa. That’s totally understandable as it’s the fastest route, plus you get a glimpse of a different country and a new passport stamp.
However, since I recently explored Eswatini on a 6-day itinerary, it’s fair to say that the Kingdom of Eswatini is surprisingly amazing and well worth it to spend more time than only passing through.
In this article, I will share the best places to visit in the Kingdom of Eswatini, including activities and places to stay. Be prepared for amazing wildlife encounters, stunning nature, fun adventurous activities, and cultural experiences that enable you to learn more about the Eswatini culture and the Swazi lifestyle. You can visit all these places in a minimum of 6 days itinerary.
This Eswatini travel blog is written by Traveltomtom team member Kim Paffen. Feel free to contact me through my Instagram @ourplanetinmylens with all your questions about traveling to Eswatini.
Good to know: I entered the Lavumisa border of Eswatini as I was traveling in KwaZulu-Natal before I traveled to Eswatini. If you are flying to Johannesburg or you want to visit Eswatini from Kruger, you can enter the Ngwenya Border Post. You can also fly to Eswatini from Johannesburg or Durban. Eswatini is a safe country to travel and the border crossings from and to South Africa went very smoothly! Even in times of COVID-19, it was a friendly way of crossing the border without the hassle of doing extra PCR tests on arrival. To not confuse tourists, Eswatini basically handless the same COVID-19 requirements as South Africa.
1. KaMsholo Bushveld Safaris
Upon arrival at the Lavumisa Border Post, it’s a 45-minute drive (40 km) to get to the first stop: KaMsholo Bushveld Safaris in Ndzevane. It was formerly known as Nisela Safaris, but with Eswatini’s Big Game Parks taking over the park it got new management and a new name. You could tell there’s still some upgrading to do, but overall, this park has a lot of potential and I was happy I got to explore this piece of nature.
There are no predators in the park, only impala, nyala, kudu, reedbuck, wildebeest, zebra, giraffes, ostriches, common duiker, warthogs, and lots of birds, including raptors.
What impressed me the most was the beautiful backdrop of the Lebombo mountains and the many iconic ‘umbrella’ acacia trees. Picture these together with animals like giraffes on a foggy morning or an orange African sunset, and you find yourself in a picture-perfect African atmosphere; a good start to your Eswatini itinerary with sceneries you will find nowhere else in the Kingdom.
KaMsholo Bushveld Safaris also has a 2-level hide overlooking a water pool where you can spot many birds and even water monitors! We experienced an afternoon game drive with a stunning sunset, as well as an early morning game drive on a foggy winter morning.
Where to stay in Ndzevane?
As we were visiting KaMsholo Bushveld Safaris, we stayed inside the park in Tinsele Rest Camp, a self-catering cottage. However, it’s also an option to go for dinner in their restaurant. The camp also has a swimming pool.
KaMsholo also offers accommodation in traditional beehive huts; an experience on its own!
2. Royal Hlane National Park
From KaMsholo it’s a 60-minute drive (90 km) to Hlane Royal National Park where you can find 4 out of the Big Five: Rhino, Lion, Elephant, and Leopard. You can also find various species of birds including vultures, and marabou stork.
Before entering the park gate, you can already spot animals along the road, so keep your eyes open. Hlane National Park also offers accommodation, for example in Ndlovu Camp, but we just went there for a game drive. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to overnight there as well.
Game drive in Hlane Royal National Park
We spotted a herd of elephants, several rhinos, two male lions with a female, a rock monitor, and several small game and birds, like the Martial Eagle. At Ndlovu Camp, you can enjoy hippos and rhinos at the waterhole while eating your lunch.
Day visitors are also welcome to self-drive and picnic in the camp, but the self-drive doesn’t allow you to go to the area where you can find the lions, as this is a separate area only accessible by guided game drives.
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3. Shewula Mountain Camp
After a good lunch in Hlane National Park, we followed our way to Shewula Mountain Camp on top of the Lubombo Mountains on the edge of the Shewula Nature Reserve with amazing views. From Hlane, it’s a 70-80-minute drive (44 km) and the last 10 km or so on a dirt road.
The Shewula Mountain Camp experience is the first community eco-tourism project in eSwatini where all profits go to the community. The total Shewula community consists of 14,000 members.
Shewula was one of the highlights of my trip to Eswatini. I love the fact that it’s run by the community. Apart from that, the camp is a very peaceful place with some of the best views I’ve seen in Eswatini as it offers a 100 km panoramic view of Mozambique and Swaziland. If you plan to visit Shewula Mountain Camp, be there in time to enjoy a magical sunset and wake up early to witness the sunrise.
What I also liked about the camp is that you are able to taste their traditional food - which was really tasty - and enjoy cultural dances and music performed by the kids that are part of the Shewula community.
Shewula Village Tour
After enjoying a local breakfast, we did a village tour to two homesteads that are part of the Shewula community. You friendly ask the owners to visit their home by shouting ‘Ekhaya’. These visits are not touristic at all as you really get to see the homes of these wonderful, friendly people. Other activities you can do from there are several hiking trails and biking.
Where to stay in Shewula?
Shewula Mountain Camp is accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles or local busses. Be prepared for an African massage up to the camp as it’s a dirt road, but the views and talks to the locals make this definitely one of the best things to do and best places to stay in eSwatini.
The huts have their own bathroom with hot water. The camp has no electricity in the basic comfy huts, but you are able to charge your gear in the dining area. Forget about your phone, chat with the friendly staff and local villagers and gaze at the million stars of the magical night sky in Shewula!
After the Shewula cultural village tour in the morning, make your way to Manzini (roughly a 2.5-hour drive) for a city tour with Bush Travel Tours. It’s a local tour operator that supports nature conservation and learners in schools to be entrepreneurs of the Kingdom of eSwatini.
Doing the Manzini City Tour was a fun and educational experience as you learn more about the history of eSwatini and the cultural city of Manzini that offers various historical sites. For example, the Old Stone Church Museum, a historical building dating from 1926 that is now a museum that features Eswatini’s history.
Other interesting places in Manzini are the Somhlolo Park with a statue of King Sobhuza I who is considered the father of the Swazi nation, King’s tree, Manzini’s colorful local markets with handcrafted products and foods, and the refuge sanctuary of ANC freedom fighters at Kwa Magogo at Number 43 to witness the bravery of a woman who defied great odds because she believed in freedom.
Bush Travel Tours is located next to the Old Stone Church Museum, where they also have a cozy place to have lunch or get takeaways: the Bush Pizzeria & Café. I had a lovely wood-fired pizza with Avocado. Definitely worth a try!
5. Mantenga Falls & Cultural Village
After a delicious pizza and a mocktail, we went to visit the Mantenga Cultural Village, a 40-minute drive from Manzini. It’s one of the top cultural tourist attractions in Swaziland, where locals wear traditional clothing and perform dances.
After the show you’re able to visit a replica Swazi village where a guide will tell you all about the materials used to build the huts, the Swazi-life and who lives where. Obviously, this is quite commercial and created for tourists to learn more about the Swazi-culture and traditions.
I personally preferred visiting the local villages in Shewula, for a more authentic feel, but for first-time travelers in eSwatini it is a good stopover to see the beehive huts and traditional dances of Swati covered in traditional clothing.
Mantenga Nature Reserve
Mantenga Cultural Village in Swaziland is located near Mantenga Falls in Mantenga Nature Reserve. Mantenga Falls is well worth a visit as it has the largest body of water in eSwatini by volume. A short hiking trail will lead you to the falls. If you have time, it’s also nice to spend some time near the various pools along the southern boundary with Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. You could easily spend half-day in this area for a mix of cultural experiences, nature, and spotting small game like vervet monkeys, and nyalas.
Where to stay near Mantenga?
One of the best places to stay near Mantenga is the Happy Valley Hotel & Casino. They recently built a new wing. Those rooms are just perfect with a huge lounge area, flat screen TV, King sized comfortable bed and a bathroom with rain shower and a bath. The Wi-Fi worked very well.
The hotel also has a casino that is visited by many locals, especially in the weekends. They also have a great bar and a huge swimming pool. The hotel also has a curio shop and a spa. The buffet-breakfast was amazing with fresh eggs of your choice and a lot more to choose from, like fruits, yogurt, muesli, etc.
6. Umushi weNkosazane: Quad biking experience
After the delicious breakfast in Happy Valley Hotel, we visited the Ngwenya Glass Blowing factory where you can see workers make handmade products from 100% recycled glass. Around the complex you could also find various other curio shops with handmade products from eSwatini. Great spot if you want to take some souvenirs from eSwatini.
From there, drive for about 15 minutes to Umushi Wenkosazane Resort and spa, Eswatini for a fun and adventurous activity: quad biking! This is a must-do in eSwatini; even if you’re only passing through.
The off-road quad biking is fun, but the views make this quad biking tour one of the best things to do in eSwatini. The 1-hour tour will take you to a spot with amazing views of a waterfall. Because I loved the mountain views that much, the 1-hour tour could easily be 2 hours for me, as I would have liked to spend a bit more time photographing and taking in all the beautiful views. I will definitely visit again next time when I travel to eSwatini.
7. Malolotja Nature Reserve
Malolotja Nature Reserve is located in the highlands of Eswatini and has beautiful views everywhere you look. It is also a base for adventurous activities in Eswatini, like the Malolotja Canopy Tour. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in eSwatini. The canopy tour is in the middle of the Malolotja Nature Reserve with stunning views everywhere you look. The tour has 10 slides and 1 suspension bridge.
Before you arrive at the actual slides, you first drive for about 25 minutes in a safari vehicle through the nature reserve with magnificent views and small game like Eland, Blesbok, etc. Then there’s another soft hike to the start of the first slides. Truly an amazing and fun experience.
I loved the views in the nature reserve so much that I would have loved to stay longer and also do a hike to for example the Malolotja Falls. The nature reserve also offers various accommodations, like the self-catering cabins at the entrance of the park or various camping sites. Malolotja Nature Reserve is one of those unique places in Eswatini, I would love to explore more in-depth next time I travel to Swaziland. They also offer multiple-day hikes and camping trips.
Where to stay near Malolotja National Park and Piggs Peak?
After the canopy tour, we made our way to Piggs Peak because of a short hiking trail to Phophonyane Falls the next morning. If you’re heading for Piggs Peak, you can sleep in Piggs Peak Hotel & Casino. It’s the oldest hotel in eSwatini and needs to be upgraded. They used to have a casino, but not anymore. They do have a large pool and the breakfast was good with eggs of our choice. It wasn’t the most charming hotel on the trip as it was outdated and the Wi-Fi was bad, but regarding the itinerary, it was a good location to stay.
However, if you decide to stay near Piggs Peak, also have a look at the Eco Lodge of Phophonyane Falls.
8. Phophonyane Falls
Visiting the Phophonyane Falls in Piggs Peak is only 10 minutes from Piggs Peak Hotel. It’s a nice easy loop where you first hike down to the falls, and after crossing a wooden bridge with beautiful front views of the falls, you make your way up again. There are a few stairs involved, but the hike is not too strenuous.
9. Nsangwini Rock Art
The Nsangwini Rock Art isn’t too far from Phoponyane Falls. The hike to these historical rock paintings is a short hike down to the rocks where you find amazing Bushmen paintings. A local guide will tell you more about the Bushmen paintings, the meaning of their drawings, and their lifestyle. It’s very interesting to learn more about Eswatini’s history.
The Nsangwini Rock Art isn’t a protected place yet, but it should definitely be on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list to preserve this special place for future generations. After the Bushmen paintings, it’s also possible to extend the hike to the nearby Potholes.
10. Maguga Dam
From the rock art, drive to Maguga Dam and the Nkomati Valley. Maguga Dam is the largest reservoir in Swaziland with a 115-meter-high wall. Make a short photo stop on the dam and opt for a boat tour or a fishing activity. As part of our 6-day itinerary, Maguga Dam was a perfect lunch spot after the two hikes in the morning.
Maguga Lodge is the perfect place to have a good lunch on its outdoor terrace with panoramic views of the dam. Keep your eyes open for hippos. If you don’t see them, you will probably hear them. If you have more time, you can also plan a hike from the bushmen paintings to Maguga Dam or vice versa.
11. Silverstone Falls & Lodge
After a healthy lunch at Maguga Dam, we followed our way to Silverstone Lodge located on the banks of the Mbuluzi River in the serene and peaceful Pine Valley. Silverstone Lodge is without a doubt one of the best places I’ve stayed in eSwatini, and it’s only a 10-minute drive to the center of Mbabane.
The staff was extremely friendly, and I enjoyed one of the best diners and breakfasts in Silverstone Lodge. It’s also the place with the best room views in Eswatini, as I had first-class views of the river and the amazing Silverstone Falls from my private balcony.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t with us, as it was really grey and rainy the morning I woke up. I would have loved to have my breakfast outside, enjoying the falls. Or have a walk around the falls to have a closer look. A place to remember for the next time I visit eSwatini and worth it to spend at least two nights.
Recommended 6 day itinerary for Eswatini
Visiting The Kingdom of Eswatini is a royal experience. To cover all these 11 best places in Eswatini, you need a minimum of 6 days. With this 6-day itinerary including places to stay, you are well prepared for your upcoming visit to Swaziland:
- Day 1: Lavumisa Border Post - KaMsholo Bushveld
- Day 2: Hlane National Park - Shewula Mountain Camp
- Day 3: Manzini - Mantenga Cultural Village
- Day 4: Ngwenya - Umushi Wenkosazane - Malolotja Nature Reserve
- Day 5: Phoponyane Falls - Nsangwini Rock Art - Maguga
- Day 6: Silverstone Lodge & Falls - Ngwenya Border Post
Even after a 6-day itinerary, there were some places in Eswatini we weren’t able to visit, for example, Dombeya Game Reserve or Mkhaya Game Reserve, Ewatini’s most exclusive safari retreat.
Eswatini has great things to do and see for each type of traveler. Active travelers might want to visit Eswatini for its adventurous activities, like white water rafting, hiking, zip lining, mountain/quad biking, caving, and climbing. Wildlife enthusiasts will love going on safari in Eswatini’s game reserves, and there are lots of cultural experiences to learn more about the Swazi-lifestyle and the various communities.
I hope this article helped you to plan your trip to Eswatini; either as a short holiday in Eswatini or as part of a two or three-country visit, together with South Africa and/or Mozambique.
This article was written by travel and wildlife photographer Kim Paffen, part of the Traveltomtom team. She also wrote amazing Africa articles about South Africa, Uganda, and Madagascar.
In case you have any questions about visiting Eswatini, please leave us a comment below.
Enjoy your trip to Eswatini!