Expert Reviews – Swaziland

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The Unknown Kingdom
Overall rating
4/5

I’d wanted to visit the mysterious Kingdom of Swaziland (now known as the ‘Kingdom of eSwatini’) for as long as I could remember, so I was delighted to cover a story on conservation in the country for BBC Earth magazine. eSwatini is home to many rare and fascinating creatures…but perhaps none so unique as 80-year-old conservation legend Ted Reilly.

eSwatini boasts 750km2/290mi2 of protected parks (and another 800km2/309mi2 of wildlife farms and conservancies) yet half a century ago it was a virtual wasteland, devoid of almost all its wildlife. Wildebeest had been declared vermin by the British colonial government and had died by the hundreds of thousands (along with almost everything else) at poisoned waterholes. With the support of the Swazi royal family, a dedicated young conservationist by the name of Ted Reilly turned the whole thing around, finally introducing viable populations of 22 large wild animal species – including lion, elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo, sable, hippo, tsessebe and eland.

As the second-smallest country on the African mainland (only Gambia is smaller), eSwatini is an easy country to visit. While it might lack the scale of Africa’s vast wilderness areas, it is a microcosm of the African bush and is easily underestimated: it boasts the Big Five along with most of Southern Africa’s iconic species; it’s home to 503 bird species (about the same as France…which is 30 times bigger); and, thanks to a tough no-tolerance anti-poaching strategy, it’s one of the best places in the world to get close to wild rhino (white and black).

Along with unforgettable landscapes and spectacular sightings, it provides a fascinating insight into African ecology for anyone looking for an out-of-the-ordinary safari experience.

Home of the Big Game Parks
Overall rating
4/5

Pint-sized Swaziland is unchartered safari territory for most Africa aficionados. Sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, just to the south of Kruger National Park, this tiny African monarchy offers an impressive array of wildlife, culture and safari adventure. It might not have the conservation areas and wildlife concentrations to challenge its more illustrious neighbours, but it makes up for any shortcomings with its uniqueness and variety of visitor experiences.

Whether on a rewarding Big Game Parks game drive, enjoying up-close sightings of rhino and elephant, zip lining in the forest, appreciating Swazi culture and tribal dancing, or exploring the kingdom on foot, bike or horseback, the Kingdom of eSwatini has a safari offering to suit all tastes and budgets. Despite its impressive diversity, Swaziland remains almost unknown to the wider safari community, making it a destination that you should endeavour to experience before the wider world discovers it.

The Swazi conservation pioneer, Big Game Parks, is the custodian of three of the nation’s finest safari offerings: Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve. Despite the rhino being one of the most endangered species on the planet, you will likely see an astonishing number of black and white rhino while on safari in Swaziland.

Swaziland is not just a rhino and wildlife destination – it also boasts rich cultural offerings. The annual Umhlanga festival is Swaziland’s biggest cultural event and is attended by the King and royal family. During this eight-day ceremony, young maidens cut reeds that they symbolically present to the Queen Mother. Many Swazis, dressed in traditional attire, partake in the local song and dance festivities.

The Kingdom of eSwatini is a little-known African safari gem, oozing safari intimacy and boasting unparalleled rhino-viewing opportunities.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.5/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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