Despite its minute size, this African country is a must-visit for standout safari and authentic Swazi experiences.
Kingdom of eSwatini
Bordered by Mozambique to the east and South Africa to the west, this tiny African country - so small that it could fit inside South Africa's Kruger National Park - rarely registers on the tourist trail, except for a brief stint in 2018 when it made global headlines as it changed its name from Swaziland to eSwatini in celebration of 50 years of independence. With its diverse geography and infectious energy, helped by a fierce dance culture that runs deep in the community life, in-the-know travellers will soon be flocking to this lesser-explored nirvana.
Flat-topped mountains, verdant rainforests concealing hidden waterfalls and lush valley landscapes look like they could've been the inspiration for the Land Before Time, while the searingly hot savannahs in the east are a verdant stomping ground for Africa's Big Five. Forget long game drives; sightings are a regular occurrence.
Ezulwini Valley, nicknamed the Valley of Heaven, is the country's main tourist hub and the gateway to deep gorges and jagged canyons. It's here you'll send yourself careering down zip-lines and cascading across heart-quickening white water rafting routes. Don't worry, this isn't just something to tick off the tourist to-do list. It's actually one of the best ways to view the country's striking topography. Close by is eSwatini's political, cultural and spiritual centre, Lombama. Set against the towering Mdzimba mountains, it's home to the country's parliament building, National Museum and King Sobhuza II Memorial Park - all worth a visit.
Safari. Mkhaya Game Reserve is a shining example of community conservation and is a sanctuary for endangered species such as the black rhino. Few tourists mean drives are more personable and the chances of spotting elusive leopards, getting up-close with a dazzle of zebra and spying on prides of lions playing in thorny bush are high.
Where to stay
Split your time between Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary for intimate encounters with elephants as you eat breakfast and Mogi Boutique Hotel in Ezulwini where you can enjoy the multitude of outdoor activities on offer in the valley.
Where to go for dinner…
eDladleni is the place to go to try traditional specialities and is largely responsible for reviving Swazi delicacies such as mutton curries spiked with locally grown spices and mealie bread (similar to cornbread) to soak it up with. Sandwiched between two luscious hills in the Ezulwini Valley, the setting is as spectacular as the food. Book a table during the day to really appreciate the surroundings.
And for a drink…
Most of the late-night action takes place in the casinos. Don't worry, this isn't Africa's answer to Vegas and everything operates on a very small scale. Order a bottle of Sibebe, the country's local lager, and try your luck on the retro looking slot machines.
Who to take with you
Someone who's keen to go on safari but doesn't want to deal with the Disneyfication (and overtourism) other African parks have fallen victim to. This is the chance to embark on an African bush trek without the unnecessary add-ons.
When to go
Essentials to pack
Channel Jackie O on safari in this Marni twill jacket.
How to get there
Fly direct into King Mswati III International airport from Johannesburg. Flight time is 45 minutes.