On the road in Swaziland

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p1020549Niamh and Giles Sacramento begin their adventure in this small kingdom, paddle boarding on the Great Usutu River and exploring the country’s caves

Persuaded by the glamour of being pioneers, we decided to join Darron from Swazi Trails in his attempt at the first-ever stand up paddle boarding (SUP) of the Great Usutu River. We pumped up our inflatable SUPs (never let it be said that we travel unprepared) and headed out. In spite of (or maybe due to) the river being low in September, it was a thrilling experience!

Intent on exploring every nook and cranny of Swaziland, we also went caving. I imagined a little stroll around some open caverns with lots of talk of stalactites and stalagmites. Dressed as ghostbusters (white overalls and helmets with head lights) we scrambled up a forested hill to the caves: so far, so good. A thorough safety briefing later: still good. An invitation to follow the guide down a dark hole: not so good. Suddenly I realised that I am a little claustrophobic. I hesitated. Everyone else dived in, delighted with the adventure. I mustered some false bravado and gingerly followed.

Squeezing through rocks, shimmying down crevasses and sliding past granite slopes we went deeper into the cave. And deeper. And deeper. My heart rate was climbing, palms sweating, chest tightening and panic building. I crawled on my belly through a 3m tunnel that felt longer than the Eurostar, quietly swearing to myself: “Never again!” Meanwhile, everyone else was having the time of their lives admiring the beautiful rock formations and interesting spiders. When we finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel, the guide laughed knowingly, “Your eyes grew wider and wider!” so he had stayed by my side the whole time. Everyone else had a pleasantly thrilling experience and would definitely recommend it. As for me, well, let’s just say I am glad we are doing an overland trip.

 

Swaziland top tips

  • Give Swaziland time and you will be rewarded. Many people choose to spend a day or two here only but I would recommend at least a week to get a taste of the adventure, safari and culture.
  • Ezulwini Valley is a hive of activity for adrenaline seekers. Swazi Trails and Legends Backpackers are sister companies that both offer discounts.
  • Don’t skip the chance to visit Swaziland’s easily accessible and affordable safaris. Cycle past zebra in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary or wait at a waterhole in Hlane Royal National Park for the rhino to come to you.
  • Tourists often group South Africa and Swaziland together, but culturally they are very different. As well as the famous festivals and regular organised dances, take time to chat to the friendly and welcoming people – it may be the most enjoyable part of your trip.
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