Swaziland was our first stop on our African Overland Tour. This country is no more than 200 km (120 mi) North to South and 130 km (81 mi) East to West making Swaziland one of Africa’s smallest countries. Although very small in size, the wilderness, outdoor activities, locals, arts, crafts, festivals and rich culture make this country a really special place.
Unlike parts of South Africa, Swaziland has managed to hold on to that slow down TIA (this-is-Africa) feeling. Everything remains small and personable, and the atmosphere and people are very relaxed. Unfortunately, we had only 2 days in the Kingdom of Swaziland but if you have the time, consider staying longer to really give the country a chance. If you plan a visit during the winter months, check out the Umhlanga Festival, one of Africa’s biggest cultural events.
After passing through the stunning countryside and small villages, we made our way down the bumpy roads towards Swaziland’s main tourist hub, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Although not as extravagant as some of the other African parks, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary still offers a diverse range of wildlife without the danger of the big game (no swimming or you’ll encounter the hippos & crocs).
We stayed at the popular hostel, Sondzela Backpackers. A little different to the backpackers we’re used to in Europe and South America! Upon arrival, we were greeted with smiles from ear to ear by some of the nicest ladies we’ve ever met. After a brief welcoming, they took us right to our rondavel. This was the first time we’d stayed in a rondavel before and we loved the concept of them immediately.
A typical rondavel is a small hut, usually round or oval in shape and is made with materials that can be locally found in the raw form. Its walls are often constructed from stones whilst the mortar may consist of sand, soil, or a combination of them all, mixed then with cow dung. Many of the rondavels we stayed in were made of cement or stone with a straw roof but they always had the same traditional structure.
Roaming right outside were zebras, cows and pumbas (warthogs). We had a door similar to that of a farm door and it allowed us to keep the animals out by closing the bottom yet still viewing the wildlife from the top. Welcome to Africa!
There isn’t a whole lot around the hostel in terms of restaurants so we chose to sit by the fire outside and watch the ladies cook up a traditional dinner on the outside fire. The mornings, we awoke to the smell of sausages and enjoyed an early morning breakfast by the fire and enjoyed watching the traditional cooking techniques outside. Who needs a kitchen these days?
Mantenga Cultural Village
Mantenga is a small protected area of 725 hectares in the corner of the Ezulwini Valley. It is here that we were able to experience first hand the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the Swazi people.
The Mantenga Cultural Village is a museum representing a classical Swazi lifestyle during the 1850’s. Inside is a mini-complex of sixteen huts, each with its own specific purpose, kraals and byres for cattle and goats, reed fences, and various other small structures. Our tour guide took us around, showed us inside the huts, told us stories and explained how and why it was laid out the way it was. Such a different way of life and so fascinating to listen too.
Traditional singing and dancing is still very prominent in the Swazi Culture. The Swazis are proud but peaceful people with happy, easy-going, and fun personalities. Their old traditions are still carefully followed today and colourful ceremonies regularly take place to mark special occasions. After a 30 minute performance of some impressive dancing by the locals, we were chosen to get up and learn a dance alongside the women. Thankfully it wasn’t too complex or I could have made a complete fool of myself.
We really enjoyed our visit to the village and it really gave us the chance to see these traditions first hand along with learning some of the local language, dances, rituals, customs and general way of life.
The Beginnings of the African Wildlife
When there are roaming animals outside your doorstep, how can you leave? Swaziland had an array of choices for optional activities but all that was on our mind was spotting wildlife and photographing the stunning scenery that was right before us. Nothing else really mattered.
The rest of our group headed out on a caving adventure, but we left on foot towards the Mlilwane Rest Camp. 5 m down the road we spotted our first animal and what was my favourite (until the lion overtook). A small family of Zebras grazed the grass and apart from looking up every now and then, they weren’t phased by the presence of us so close at all. The detail on a Zebra is so exquisite I could stare at them all day!
At the rest camp, there was a range of accommodation choices from camping and rondavels to self-catering lodges, along with a restaurant and a variety of different hiking trails. The hiking trails are free and range with their distances. The rangers can explain what’s what and help you decide where you wanted to go based on distance, time and difficulty.
After signing the log book and deciding which trail we would take, we went off by foot to the Hippo pools. So much excitement with any wild animal we saw, Jacob was fairly keen to be up close but I was still quite wary and had no desire to have to run if need be so I stayed back, quite back and assessed from afar 😉
Our walk wasn’t long but it was enough to see warthogs, zebras, wildebeest, kudos, impalas and the biggest crocodiles we’ve ever seen.
Swaziland was just a taste of what Africa has to offer and it only made us more excited for the following adventures. Next up, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Married days survived: 436