Swaziland was our second country of the trip. If you are driving across South Africa, it is a no brainer to make a stop in Swaziland. It is a tiny country which is super easy to navigate and has a very friendly, welcoming population. What makes Swaziland unique is the landscape – the country is almost entirely made up of rolling hills and mountains. In contrast to the rough and jagged peaks of Lesotho (which is another tiny mountainous country landlocked in South Africa), Swaziland is very lush, green and the mountains are much smaller and rounded.
There aren’t a lot of big name sites to see in Swaziland. Really, the biggest attraction is just seeing the landscape. There are multiple ways to do this. The quickest is just to drive like we did. However you can also do multi-day camping trips via hiking or horseback riding across the countryside. Driving should have been easy….but with our Defender loaded to the gills with supplies, we could hardly chug our way up even the small hills!
Then once we made it to the top, coming down was just as stressful! Garrett has not master the stick shift yet and the brakes were really struggling to hold up our heavy load. The car was overheating and our brakes started to smoke. We had to take multiple breaks to allow the car to cool down. But with patience and perseverance we made it through the highest mountain passes and back down to the capital Mbabane.
Our first stop was Mantenga Cultural Village which is inside Mantenga Nature Reserve. We learned all about traditional Swazi life by touring a typical house. There were many overlapping features with Batswana culture, especially the way a single household includes a large extended family with multiple huts for different purposes.
Swazi huts are very impressive beehive shaped structures. A round frame is fashioned out of young pliable saplings by men. Then women tie together reeds to make the outer covering. The beehive huts are waterproof and naturally insulated. The outer reed covering needs to be replaced every 3 years.
It was quite interesting to learn about how patriarchal traditional Swazi life was. Men were allowed as many wives as they could afford, men would always enter a room first, women had to always greet men by bowing, etc…. Just like in Botswana, cattle were at the center of focus for daily lives and rituals. Most households had their own traditional healer who cared for the spiritual and physical health of the family and who could also predict the future!
We watched a cultural show which included traditional dancing, singing and choral music. I love seeing local dress and customs so this was awesome. The dancing was again similar to Botswana styles, however a predominance of kicks and jumping was a unique feature to Swazi dances.
Within the reserve a short hike takes you to a Mantenga Falls which is a lovely site to visit. It is the largest volume waterfall in Swaziland.
We spent one night in Mlilwane Nature Reserve which is just outside the capital. The biggest draw of this location is the chance to sleep in traditional beehive huts. There are 3 beehive villages made up of about 7-10 huts. Each hut has a bed, nightstand, a fan and a small attached bathroom. It was simple and comfortable.
Warthogs, Nyala and Zebra roam free across the property. I absolutely loved waking up to a menagerie of animals on our front porch.
Mlilwane has a many activities including horseback riding, game drives, nature walks, mountain biking and bird watching. There is also a restaurant on the property which overlooks a swamp rich with birds and crocodiles. They do not have any big game in the park, however they do have plentiful roan and sable antelope which are hard to find in most nature reserves.
We visited Swazi Candles which is located in a small craft market about 15 minutes outside the capital. Swazi Candles makes a beautiful array of hand crafted candles in the shape of wildlife with intricate and colorful wax patterns. It is worth a visit if you are in the area.
My favorite thing to shop when traveling is fabric, so I was pleased to find a large fabric store. I bought some of the traditional patterns in beautiful colors to add to my insane stockpile of African fabrics!
We initially planned to stay 2 nights but felt like we did everything we wanted to do in a day and a half – so we headed out the southern border back into South Africa. Such an easy enjoyable stopover (except for driving through the hills!).