Lodges offering Cultural Activities:
With Swaziland’s rich culture and strong traditions, this is a wonderful country to partake in some fascinating cultural activities. The monarchy and the people of Swaziland actively maintain and preserve a remarkable cultural heritage, allowing visitors to get a better idea of traditional African culture here than pretty much anywhere else in the region. What is seen, including spectacular festivals, has not simply been resuscitated for the tourist dollar but is the real deal.
Music and dance are embedded in traditional Swazi culture. As well as being part of everyday life, there are traditional songs for every occasion: weddings, royal rituals, coming-of-age ceremonies and national festivals. Sibhaca dance is the best known of various dance forms. The dance is highly strenuous: teams of dancers step forward in turn to perform a barefoot high-kicking and stomping, while their companions behind beat drums, chant and sing. All wear traditional dress, with colourful tassels and embellishments. A typical session can last two or three hours, with different songs and styles performed. Such singing and dancing performances can be seen throughout the country, though the best is at the Mantenga Cultural Village, which has a dance group that tours the world. Of course, the most impressive cultural experiences are to witness one of Swaziland’s major festivals or ceremonies. More on those can be found on the Events pages.
The Homestead is the basic building block of Swazi society. Traditionally this comprises a number of huts, each built for a particular purpose - sleeping, food storage, brewing, etc. At the centre of a homestead is a circular enclosure, the sibaya, fenced with solid logs and branches, where the cattle are housed each night. This has symbolic importance as a store of wealth and prestige. Opposite it is the great hut, indlukulu, occupied by the mother of the headman and used as the family shrine. The huts in such homesteads would once have been ‘beehive’ huts. Today most rural homesteads are a mixture of traditional huts and more modern, brick-built dwellings. Either way, you can visit and enter homesteads when exploring rural Swaziland, and will receive a warm welcome, providing you show suitable respect and follow correct protocol. Most lodges and hotels can arrange a visit to a local homestead for their guests. There are a few places where communities are more accustomed to such visits, and where visitors will therefore be given a more comprehensive tour and explanation of traditions and daily life in rural Swaziland. These are still very much genuine, real homesteads, not tourist creations. Shewula Mountain Camp, Myxo’s Waza Nowe Cultural Tours, and Umphakatsi Cultural Experience are probably the best places to get a genuine and comprehensive local homestead visit. Alternatively, the Mantenga Cultural Village is a re-created homestead from around 1850 that is easy to visit to learn quickly about daily life.
Swaziland has a rich and historic culture and provides a chance to immerse yourself in the real culture of Africa in a safe and friendly environment. A number of projects have been set up in recent years that are specifically aimed at involving local communities directly in tourism operations – form craft markets to lodges; from managing ancient rock art sites to hiking tours on the country's best-known peak. In order to view examples of Swaziland's Community Tourism projects, please click here.
Swaziland's young people are also famous for their stunning voices, and if you have to visit a local school and listen to their choir, you'll be in for a real treat. To watch a video of St Francis Choir of Mbabane in action, please click here.
Swaziland has a remarkably impressive range of traditional arts and crafts with many of its products now found in trendy ethnic boutiques around world. Throughout the country men and women are at work creating the finest handicrafts that are so popular with visitors. Creative basket ware in vibrant colours, wood and stone carvings, glassware, exquisite candles, batik items, jewellery – all uniquely Swazi. In many places that they are on sale, there is also chance to see the craftspeople at work, and even some opportunities for visitors to ‘have a go’ themselves. Many are socially responsible outlets which provide both income and empowerment for their craftspeople from poor rural communities. More about Swaziland's Arts & Crafts can be found here, with shopping opportunities also listed here.
Numerous international organisations and local charities, are at work in Swaziland helping the most vulnerable in society, and working to conserve the country’s natural riches. In most cases, projects are about helping people to help themselves, rather than simply providing handouts. This creates opportunities for volunteers, and there are many ways in which to become actively involved during your trip to Swaziland. This needn’t be a long-term commitment, and can easily be incorporated into what for the rest of the time is a normal holiday. Most companies in the tourist industry are involved in one project or another to ‘put something back’ and assist local communities so such opportunities are not hard to find. Further informaiton can be found here and two organisations orientated specifically to volunteer work are: All Out Africa Volunteers and Bulembu.
Nightlife & Casinos
For those seeking more modern, after dark, cultural experiences, Swaziland has its fair share of offerings. In the 1970s and 1980s Swaziland was the place to come for South Africans seeking casinos and nightlife experiences that were not to be found in their own more conservative country at the time. The liberalization of the new South Africa has stemmed the weekend flow from over the border, but a number of the more popular establishments remain, now in a more ‘respectable’ form than in the past. There is a smattering of casinos across the country, nightclubs in the more populous areas, and many hotels have evening entertainment on offer. House on Fire at Malandela's is perhaps the best known and most impressive of Swaziland’s entertainment venues, with a regular programme of performances and event, the most celebrated of which is the internationally acclaimed Bushfire Festival – an annual music festival held over 3 days each May.
If you're into your films you can visit the Moviezone Cinema at the Gables Shopping centre in Ezulwini Valley. Make sure you keep up to date with whats showing at Moviezone by downloading the Swazi Flicks App here.