Eswatini National Parks: A Comprehensive Guide to Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve, and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is one of those African countries that only a few people know about. The lack of information also includes wildlife, as many people tend to visit the parks in South Africa and Botswana. However, within the small territory of Eswatini lies some of the best-preserved and richest national parks in Africa.

Eswatini National Parks: A Comprehensive Guide to Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve, and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

The most sort after national parks in Eswatini (Swaziland) include Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve, and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. These African National Parks will completely change your perspective of Eswatini, as you appreciate the unspoiled flora and fauna.

Hlane Royal National Park

You can start your Eswatini – national park mission at the largest protected area of the Kingdom of Eswatini. Initially a hunting ground, Hlane was declared a national park by King Sobhuza II in 1967.

Today, it constitutes the largest groups of big games in Swaziland, including lions, leopards, elephants, white rhino, as well as an astonishing birdlife including the highest density of nesting white-backed vultures in Africa.

Other large mammals in the park include giraffe, hippo, zebra, marabou stork and antelope.

A photo of a animal in the wilderness in Hlane Royal National Park. You will also have great african safari photo opportunities in Mkhaya Game Reserve and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Hlane Royal National Park (source)

Highlights of Hlane Royal National Park

  • You must visit the open-air restaurant where there is a game viewing deck with panoramic views of the most famous landmark of the park, the watering hole where rhinos and elephants regularly stop by to drink water.
  • To protect the rest of the wildlife and conserve their numbers, lions are kept in a separately fenced area.
  • Look for the ancient hardwood vegetation abundant in the game park.

Fun Facts about Hlane Royal National Park:

Did you know that the word Hlane means “wilderness” in siSwati?

Things to bring:

It is highly recommended that you come with proper hiking clothes, picnic basket for occasional picnics, malaria pills approved by your doctor, international passport and your international driver’s license if you are self-driving. Check out our detailed packing list for more.

Cost of Visiting Hlane Royal National Park:

Conservation Fee: ~$4 p/adult, $1.80 for children.

Book your campsites through the park’s website here.

Need to know:

  • There are two campsites within the park: Ndlovu Camp and Bhubesi Camp with a restaurant and barbecue facilities for self-caterers.
  • Guided game drives depart from Ndlovu Camp
  • Self-drive is also possible with departure from Ndlovu Camp and other selected areas such as Bhubesi Camp
  • For day visitors, the park is only open between 6 am and 6 pm.

How to get to Hlane Royal National Park:

Below is a list of instructions for directions for people entering the country through any of the Eswatini borders.

Directions
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Right Gear to Tackle the Top of the National Park:

Proper shoes and knee-pads are essential especially for mountain bikers, while sunscreen is essential for everyone because the vast plains lack sufficient shade to protect you from midday-sunlight.

Tips and Tricks on Visiting:

If you have a valid Wild Card for African game parks, you can gain free entry to the park!

Park is Best For:

The flat terrain of the vast Lowveld area makes it perfectly suitable for mountain biking, especially during dry winter months.

Accessibility & Audience:

The park is accessible to anyone including people in wheelchairs. Hlane National Park is particularly ideal for families with kids, since guided game drives are very well-organized and frequent, making it safe and informative for kids.




Mkhaya Game Reserve

Mkhaya was only a humble conservation park for Eswatini’s indigenous Nguni Cattle. Through numerous donations from wealthy individuals as well as animal rights organizations, it grew exponentially.

Known as Swaziland’s Refuge for Endangered Species, Mhkaya is a conservation park for many mammals. In fact, the park is known to accommodate the largest population of black rhinos in the Kingdom of Eswatini, as well as the only buffalo and sable antelope species in the country.

Mkhaya Game Reserve is also regarded as the big game park in Africa with the best anti-poaching security unit (source). It has even earned AA’s “Travellers Value Award for Top-End Leisure Travellers” and “AA Highly recommended accommodation” awards (source).

Mkhaya Game Reserve, a
Mkhaya Game Reserve (Source)

Highlights/Be Sure to See:

  • The special Land Rover Tour between 10 am and 4 pm is the most popular attraction. The guided tours drive through separate fenced units where endangered species are protected from predators.
  • There are also guided game walks through the bushveld
  • The park has an interesting collection of birds from purple-crested lourie to pink-throated twinspots. You can visit various bird-viewing points to watch them from the perfect angle.
  • Look out for the indigenous vegetation like tall fig, leadwood, and Knobthorn trees.

Fun Facts:

The park was named after Senegalla (Acacia) Nigrescens tree typical of year-round subtropical climate. Mkhaya means “home”; and this tree was the construction material of houses in Swaziland.

Things to bring:

You must bring proper hiking clothes, picnic basket for occasional picnics, malaria pills approved by your doctor, international passport and your international driver’s license if you are self-driving. See our African packing lists for more.

Cost:

There are different packages for people sleeping over. The prices range between $130-330 and include everything from guided tours to accommodation and conservation fees.

Entry to the park and the tour packages must be arranged before arrival. Visit here for detailed information.

Need to know:

  • Accommodation is provided at Stone Camp that has the campsite built on a dry river bed. The semi-open stone and thatch cottages at the campsite are made of indigenous dolerite rocks that have been used by the locals since the beginning of human history. This type of stone provides insulation for ideal temperature and sound.
  • No children under 10 years are allowed to participate in the game drives. The minimum age for joining the hikes is 13.
  • Remember to pre-book for guided tours before arrival.

How to get to Mkhaya National Park:

Directions

From borders:

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From within Eswatini

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Right Gear to Tackle Mkhaya Game Reserve:

Hiking shoes with solid soles to prevent thorn penetration, sun hats, insect repellant, long sleeve, and long cotton trousers to protect yourselves from thorns and insects, binoculars and cameras.

Tips and Tricks on Visiting [park-name] Parks:

If you have a valid Wild Card for African game parks, you can gain free entry to the park!

Park is Best For:

  • Black Rhino viewing
  • Viewing of endangered antelope species
  • Guided walks

Accessibility & Audience:

The park is highly preferred amongst solo travelers and small groups who are looking for a peaceful retreat in nature. They are particularly satisfied with the primitive atmosphere of the campsite and the perfect isolation of the area.




Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

African wildlife has long-suffered from hunting and poaching activities; however, countries like South Africa are taking the initiative to provide the ultimate protection for wild animals.

Eswatini’s very first attempt is the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary established in 1961 in the breathtaking Ezulwini Valley stretching between Mbabane and Manzini.

The park quickly became Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area with the 11,490 acres and diverse wildlife.

Compared to the Hlane National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve, the dangerous big game animals are much fewer, so it’s arguably safer and flexible for self-guided drives and scenic hikes.

Bikers in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. You can also bike in Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (source)

Highlights/Be Sure to See:

  • For those of you wanting to hike, there are two main trails. The route in the southern section leads to the granite peak of Nyonyane Mountain with dramatic views of the southern grassland plains. In the north, you can hike on Chubeka Trails that lead to the Luphohlo Peak. Horse riding is also possible on Chubeka Trails.
  • The game drives during sunrise and sunset will get you in the mood as you drive amongst zebra, wildebeest, nyala and blesbuck species.
  • If you are an adventurous soul, you can also try the guided mountain biking trails.

Fun Facts:

Mlilwane in siSwati means “little fire”, symbolizing both the frequent fires caused by lightning strikes on the Mlilwane Hill and the sparks that initiated the conservation movement in Eswatini.

Things to bring:

Hiking shoes, insect repellants, sun-block cream, international passport, and your international driver’s license if you are self-driving. Need help deciding what to pack? We’ve got you covered!

Cost:

The daily conservation fee is ~$4 per person.
Visit the park’s website for accommodation fees and booking.

Need to know:

  • The park has three main campsites, the main one being the Rest Camp in the south. The traditional beehive-style huts provide an authentic atmosphere, while the restaurant, the swimming pool, and the lookout points complement the comfort with luxury and tranquility.
  • Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge is a bed & breakfast-type place suitable for families. You can enjoy the dazzling birdlife and the scents of the botanical garden.
  • Budget accommodation is also possible at Sondzela Backpackers.
  • You can book the Hippo Haunt restaurant for private functions, weddings, and conferences.

How to get to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary:

Directions

From Borders:

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From Within Swaziland:

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Right Gear to Tackle the Top of Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary:

Hiking shoes with solid soles to prevent thorn penetration, sun hats, insect repellant, long sleeve, and long cotton trousers to protect yourselves from thorns and insects, binoculars and cameras.

Tips and Tricks on Visiting this Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • If you have a valid Wild Card for African game parks, you can gain free entry to the park!
  • You must visit the park in June to witness the international mountain biking race, Imvelo MTB Classic sponsored by Nedbank Swaziland.
  • In your spare time, you must visit the Interpretation Centre to find out more about the conservation history of Eswatini and the Swazi cultural heritage.

Park is Best For:

Horse riding and mountain biking
Antelope and hippo viewing.
Self-guided hikes

Accessibility & Audience:

The park is suitable for both luxury and budget travelers thanks to its various accommodation and game drive options. The self-guided trails and drives appeal to independent travelers, while the families prefer the guided tours.


Swaziland National Parks Wrap-up

Although Eswatini is a small country with lesser-known national parks, you will be surprised how underestimated they are.

The diversity of wildlife thanks to the enormous conservation attempts will make you appreciate the beauties of Eswatini even more.

For additional resources on Eswatini (Swaziland), our Eswatini Travel Guide will provide everything you need to know to plan your trip. The guide includes links to the perfect Eswatini Packing List and a comprehensive city guide on Lobamba and Mbabane.

If you plan on visiting other countries in the region like Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, or Botswana, we have comprehensive travel guides for each country. Or you can browse our destinations page for more inspiration.

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