Eswatini is a Big 5 destination, with lions and elephants in Hlane Royal National Park, and both black and white rhino in both Hlane and Mhkaya Game Reserve. Game drives are very rewarding, but there are also opportunities to safari on horseback, mountain bike or on foot, if you want to get up close and personal. This even applies to the rhino, which can be tracked on foot – one of the most thrilling safari experiences there is. But, in Eswatini it’s not all about being big, with some rare species of smaller flora and fauna to be discovered. As for the bird-watching, the variety of species found across Eswatini’s varied habitats matches that of the much larger Kruger Park just to the country’s north.
Eswatini is home to numerous of Africa’s wild animal species with some 132 species of mammal recorded, many protected in the Game Parks and Nature Reserves found across the country. High on the wish-list of most visitors are such ‘charismatic megafauna’ as rhinos, giraffes, hippos and elephants – and you can certainly see many of these in Eswatini, alongside a small number of predators, and numerous antelope and smaller mammals and reptiles.
The emphasis in Eswatini is to provide visitors with a more intimate wildlife experience in areas of natural beauty, and to allow them a certain amount of freedom to explore on their own terms. In a number of the reserves visitors are free to move around independently, without the need for a guide or ranger. There are even self catering options amongst the accommodation that allow you to be in charge of your own ‘safari lodge’ in the bush. There aren’t many places in the world where you can head off for your own bike ride and encounter zebra and bushbuck along the way, or take a stroll to see the giraffe before settling down to your own bush barbecue.
For traditional African big game viewing, Hlane Royal National Park and Mhkaya Game Reserve are the best places in Eswatini. Both are home to a variety of big mammals, including hippo, giraffe, zebra and rhino. Mkhaya is one of the best places on the continent to see both black and white rhino and Hlane is also home to elephants and everyone’s favourite big cat – the lion. Numerous antelope and smaller mammals are also found in both places. Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary has a similarly diverse offering of fauna, though without the biggest of the animals except for hippos.
Experiences in the Eswatini National Trust Commission reserves of Mlawula and Malolotja are more focussed on the natural scenic beauty than their wildlife, but, without the danger of big predators or megafauna, hikes and walks in both will still offer the possibility of animal encounters.
The privately run game reserves of Mbuluzi and Dombeya may not offer ‘Big 5’ safaris, and are also generally without major predators and the largest of the mammals, but both have giraffe and a diversity of mammals, and both offer relaxed and intimate safaris with you in control. Wildlife viewing at Dombeya Game Reserve is up-close and personal. You can explore the reserve at your own pace- in your car, or on foot and Dombeya is a wonderful place if you want to walk to a wildlife watering hole with a glass of wine or cup of coffee in hand (for overnight guests only)