If there is one thing that Swaziland is known for around the world it is the magnificent traditional festivals that the country hosts- particularly the Umhlanga (Reed Dance) and Incwala ceremonies. Both are living cultural events that, bar the odd wristwatch and mobile phone, have hardly changed in two hundred years. Visitors are allowed to watch, but neither ceremony makes any concession to tourism; even the precise dates are not published in advance, being dependent on the vagaries of ancestral astrology. The main events happen at the royal parade grounds at Ludzidzini but the mood of celebration sweeps the nation, and visitros to the country around the time of the events will doubtless see wandering bands of warriors or maidens decked out in full regalia as they head to or from the festivities.
The modern event that has gained an international reputation in far fewer years is the MTN BUSHFIRE Festival – a performing arts festival held every May.
For further information about Swaziland's key festivals and events see the calendar below and also this informative PDF: download PDF
Swaziland’s 2016 calendar:
(Please note all dates in italics are last years dates. Some dates for annual events are yet to be confirmed)
The Marula season begins each year in mid-February and continues until early march, bringing with it a celebration of the harvest of the marula fruit.
The Swazis hold an annual Marula Festival celebrated at the Royal Residence of the King at Hlane in the Lubombo Region of Swaziland. Both the King and the Queen Mother are presented with Marula beer from each household, in keeping with it being a 'fruit fit for kings.' Only afterwards can Swazis drink their home brew.
King's Birthday (22th April)
Celebrating King Mswati III's Birthday.
National Flag Day (25th April)
Another Swazi holiday remembering this day in 1968, when the country's very own flag was hoisted, replacing the British flag after gaining independence.
City Cycle Tour (April - Manzini to Mbabane)
Starts in Manzini with two road route options available.
Simunye Country Fair (May - Simumye Country Club)
This three-day weekend of family fun is held every year at Simunye Country Club and attracts thousands of visitors from around Swaziland and beyond. There are games, rides, children's entertainers, beer tents, goat races and circus acts. A line-up of bands take the stage, and manager Thea Litschka even gives a snake handling demonstration.
MTN BUSHFIRE is an annual performing arts festival held over a long May weekend at House on Fire, Malandela’s. It is one of the biggest and best of its kind in southern Africa, with everything from live music and theatre to film, workshops and a global food fair – in short, everything you’d expect from Swaziland’s answer to Glastonbury. You can find out more about the MTN BUSHFIRE Festival by clicking here.
Imvelo (4th June - Mlilwane)
Imvelo is an annual mountain biking competition held every June at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary sponsored by Nedbank Swaziland and Big Game Parks. It comprises a series of races over different distances, the longest being 64km, and is followed by a party for all cyclists.
There are four routes allowing cyclists of all abilities to enjoy Mlilwane: The International Tool Hire 64km Classic, The 35km Challenge, The Spur 22km Family Fun Race and The 12.5km Hoglets. Online entries open on the 7th April.
Yellow Epilepsy Pro-Am Golf Day (6th June - Nkonyeni)
The Swaziland Epilepsy Organization is a non-for- profit organization that was established in 2003 and is currently under the leadership and guidance of the Patron, His Royal Highness Prince Bandzile, and its operations directed by Mbusomuni Mahlalela. The organisation caters for the needs of individuals with epilepsy and further educates and raises awareness about the condition. The Epilepsy Prom-Am Golf Day is a fund-raising and awareness raising event held at the Nkonyeni Golf Estate. For more info click here to go to the Swaziland epilepsy Organisations Facebook page
Ngwenya Glass Mountain Bike Challenge (9th July - Ngwenya)
Race held annually at the Ngwenya Glass Factory. The challenge has three different Routes to take part in - the 70km Marathon, 40km Classic and 27km Family Ride.
Profits from the Ngwenya Glass Mountain Bike Challenge will be used to develop community projects in the Motshane Valley.
Sibebe Survivor (7th August - Mbuluzi)
Sibebe Survivor is an annual charity event, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Mbabane/Mbuluzi, which challenges participants up and down Sibebe Rock, the world’s largest granite dome. In order to minimise the environmental impact there is a limit of 5,000 particpants. Water is provided to all walkers, as well as breakfast following the walk at the foot of the rock. To visit the Sibebe Survivor website please click here.
This is Swaziland’s best known cultural event, and has a more open feel than the Incwala. In this eight-day ceremony, young girls cut reeds, present them to the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi) – ostensibly to repair the windbreak around her royal residence – and then dance in celebration. Up to 40,000 girls take part, dressed up in brightly coloured attired - making it one of the biggest and most spectacular cultural events in Africa. It is largely private, but has two days of amazing public spectacle (Days 6 and 7). Dates for the event are announced relatively close to the time as the precise timing of the event is determined using ancestral astrology.
The precise dates for the Reed Dance are only finally fixed a month or two before it happens. The main day is usually a Monday, which becomes a public holiday. It has been Sept 3, 2, 1 and then 31 August in the last 4 years. Because 2016 is a leap year it is harder to make a prediction. It could be 29 August or 5 September as the main day (day 7). The most likely is 29 August because Independence Day is on 6 September and so there is likely to be a gap between that and the main day of the Reed Dance.
Bikers Rally (26th-28th August - Sidvokodvo Rider Ranch)
This is an annual biker’s event which is always held at Riders Ranch, in Sidvokodvo, Swaziland. The Rally has always been held over the last weekend in August. Riders Ranch caters for on and off road riders making it a fun place for all riders.
Friday - set up camp and relax enjoying the ambiance of our home grown rally with lots of entertainment available.
Saturday - You can go for a mass ride and engage in games & competitions with many prizes to be won. Afternoon Activities include drags, stunts, burn-outs, wheelies, car spinning and drifting.
Sunday - depart after another amazing Swazi Rally experience. Have a safe ride back home!
For more details about the Swazi Rally visit the website here.
Swaziland International Trade Fair
(26th August - 6th September 2015 - Mavuso)
This annual exhibition event is held over ten days at the Mavuso Trade and Exhibition Centre in Manzini and receives support from the king and government. It attracts over 35,000 exhibitors from different private and public sector institutions, as well as foreign companies and governments. Visit the SITF website for more information - www.sitf.co.sz.
Somhlolo Day (6th September)
Independence Day (Somhlolo), a national holiday named after King Sobhuza I (Ngwane IV), who was king between 1805 and 1839, and often referred to as 'Somhlolo' (The Wonder).
King's Cup Golf Extravaganza (2nd September - 3rd September - Royal Swazi Golf Club)
This annual golf tournament is held at the Royal Swazi Golf Club, one of only two 18-hole courses in the country. A product of King Mswati’s 2004 Job Creation Summit, it attracts business people from South Africa and around the region, and tends to pack out the hotels in Ezulwini.
The INYATSI Swazi Frontier (13th - 15th October - Malolotja to Piggs Peak)
This is a pair’s stage race held over 3 days in the North West corner of Swaziland. The route is carefully designed to showcase some of Swaziland’s most spectacular and scenic mountains and valleys, from Malolotja to Pigg’s Peak. The 2015 Swazi Frontier race will start on the 14th October and end on the 17th. Click here to go to the Swazi Frontier Website.
Incwala (late December / early January)
This is Swaziland’s most important cultural event. A ceremony that has lasted for hundreds of years, it is one of the last remaining examples of what was previously common practice in many African countries. It has a spiritual power that is largely lost on outsiders, and indeed many of its inner workings remain shrouded in secrecy. Although often translated as ‘first fruits festival’, the tasting of the first of the season’s bounty is only one part of this long rite. Essentially this is about cleansing and renewal, and – above all – celebrating kingship. Although not a tourism event per se, visitors with an interest in Swaziland culture are always welcomed. Respect for total privacy is required on certain special days when the nation gathers for its own focus, without outside interference. Dates for the event are announced relatively close to the time as the precise timing of the event is determined using ancestral astrology. Further details of the Incwala can be found here.