Safaris for budget backpackers: Swaziland

As backpackers, we realise that safaris are a serious expense. Seeing a zebra or a hippo had just been taken off the budget traveler bucket list!

But fear no more! We found some fantastic budget options where you would be spending between $40 to $80 dollars a day! Not bad for a guided safari with great accommodation inside nature reserves. Rhinos, hippos, lions, crocodiles, elephants, zebras, and many more wild animals will cross your path in these amazing parks we recommend below.  

Mlilwane, Mkhaya, Hlane cover the mid northern stretch of Swaziland. Under the control of Big Game Parks, they are three incredibly rich and diverse parks for travellers. Mkhaya is an option for people willing to spend a bit more money, they have day tours for around $175- $230.

The best budget options are:

1. Hlane

Getting to the park is easy as it is only 300 m away from the main road where the combi van from Manzini to Simunye will leave you, a big sign will guide you in. The rooms at this game park are not as affordable as they don't have a backpackers, so the cheapest possible accommodation besides camping is 390 r (39$ per night per person). This was out of our budget so we decided to camp for 95 Rand (9$ per person a night) and as we didn't have a tent, the hammock was our home for the night and our enemy in the morning when it broke, waking us up early with a 1.5 meter drop.

The camp site and all of us in it are fenced into an area, allowing nature to contain it. Impala were abundant in the campsite, but the real excitement is arriving and instantly seeing a Rhino, within 20 minutes, seeing 4, an elephant and 2 hippos. What a madness, just from the comfort of the tables of the restaurant.

We are positive that in the first 2 hours we had taken 200 photos without leaving the campsite! A kitchen and hot showers are readily available to use but don't expect too much from the kitchen, we just eat lots of fruit we bought in the markets. Meals can be affordable in the restaurant too, you just need know the right things to order ($2 pasta napolitana in the children's menu).

In the game drive ($30 per person) we jumped on a safari car and started our journey in search of the wild creatures. As the fences close behind the car you open your eyes to elephants, beautiful creatures, big and tranquil. Rhinos come soon after, followed by the the queens of the reserve. 2 beautiful female lions with their cubs eating a male Impala after a hard day of hunting in the intense African sun. We were so close we could smell the fresh meat. One of the most exiting and beautiful moments in Africa. 

2. Malolotja

From Mbabane take a 70 rand combi to Pigg's peak and get down at Malolotja nature reserve. A 10 min walk from the entrance takes you to the reception where there is a restaurant with a view of the beautiful topography. The rooms are $25 and camping is $10, but as our hammock was not in shape to be our bed for the night, we decided to go for the room, and what a good decision. A perfect private hut overviewing the mountains with a fireplace, a bathtub, a living room and a kitchen.

The hikes are long and exhausting, but the landscapes stunning and the wildlife abundant. We took the canopy tour that we had heard so much about.

We had 2 amazing guides for the two of us, so we had a lot of freedom and lots of time. The 2 guides were clever men that had helped build the structure themselves, they were extremely kind and insightful into Swazi culture. Sliding from side to side on 11 lines attached to the huge mountains shaped with enormous rocks and decorated with trees and flora of all kind gave us an enjoyable afternoon. There is no words for the feeling of thrill one feels when sliding meters up high in the air overlooking the African lands, with the sound of nature in the background and your heart pumping hard.

Highly recommended 🙂

3. Mlilwane

Mlilwane is not more than a 20 minute drive from Ezulwini. You can actually hike there from the cleavage of Sheba's breasts if you are up for an adventure.

A dorm with park fees included costs 147.50 Rd ($15) per bed. We had the whole 2-story dorm for ourselves and it was amazing. The hippo hike is an excellent 2.5 hour hike you can do for free, we highly recommend it: you can see zebras, crocodiles, impalas, warthogs etc.

 

The game drive started around 4 and we were the only ones in the old-school roofless Land Rover. The guide, Richard, showed us around the reserve telling us interesting facts about the different animals and the land itself. We adventured very close to the crocodiles and a hippo, also bumping into a few zebras and wilder beasts on the way. When it was time for the sunset we had made our way up the hill too the execution rock, where we had a snack and watched the sun set while the birds flew toward the horizon.

Safaris CAN be done on a budget! Buy food from the markets and cook, camp, hike, use public transport.... There is no excuse not to go!! It's the best gift you can give to yourself, we promise!

If you have any questions, comments or just want to add something, comment below or Contact Us 🙂

For more information on Swaziland and the wonders within head to our Swaziland page.