For all intents and purposes, little Lobamba in the hills is the capital of Swaziland.
Actually, it kind of shares the title with Mbabane down the valley, but it’s here that travelers will discover all the machinery of state: the beautiful Lozitha Palace, home to the Queen Mother; the Swaziland Parliament; the honorific memorials to the country’s independence hero, King Sobhuza II.
A mere 95,000 people call Mbabane home, which should give you just a clue as to how large Swaziland is as a whole! After all, this town of low-rise bungalows and palm-dotted streets is the official capital, even if it’s sat more than 1,200 meters up in the Mdzimba Mountains.
The altitude is great for avoiding the scorching heat of the tropical plains below though, while the heritage and cultural attractions here are pretty good too.
Check out the endless bazaars and emporiums of the Swazi Maket, where wicker creations and soapstone whittlings meet fresh veg and fruit.
Once upon a time, the beautiful areas around the village of Mantenga were known simply for their waterfalls, which – to be fair – are amongst some of the most awesome in the country. However, in more recent years, the spotlight has shifted to include the cultural experiences offered by the Mantenga Village too. It’s the place to go if you want to encounter the Swazi people and learn all about their rich heritage; if you want to see the famous reed dances in action, or want to witness the age-old style of hamlet construction used by the tribal folk here. And of course, the waterfalls are still close by for that end of the day activity!
One of the main urban centers on the meanders of the Maputo River, appropriately-named Big Bend (the town does actually occupy a big bend on the water) has been a center for Swaziland’s important sugarcane farming industry for decades.
It’s a charming place, with a clutch of shops and inns, but the setting is what really counts.
In the distance, the grass plains and agricultural land give way to the rugged rises of the Lubombo Mountains.
Right on the doorstep of the Mlilwane Reserve, the pint-sized town of Malkerns is a great place to while away a couple of days in the shadow of the eastern Swaziland mountains.
Encompassed by swaying fields of corn and other crops, the center here boasts a lovely clutch of earthy Swazi homestays, not to mention a range of country pubs (that’s the English influence, no doubt!). However, it’s the immersive craft stalls and traditional arts centers here that really take the biscuit.
Once, this bustling industrial depot in the highlands of central Swaziland bore the name of explorer Arthur Bremer, who was one of the first colonial figures to designate this cool and temperate place an official trading post way back when. Today, the city hasn’t shed its mercantile character, and it continues to reign as perhaps the most important economic powerhouse in the nation. There are business hotels, trade fairs, and the Matsapha International Airport is just a stone’s throw away.