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When's the Best Time of Year to Visit eSwatini?

Malolotja Nature Reserve
Malolotja Nature Reserve | © John Hale / eSwatini Tourism Authority
For a tiny country, eSwatini has a packed annual calendar and is known around the world for its many festivals, both traditional and contemporary. Here’s a guide to what’s going on through the year, to help you decide when to go.

January

eSwatini often starts its year with its most sacred festival: Incwala, which takes place in late December or early January, depending on ancestral astrological dates. This important cultural event follows traditions that are hundreds of years old and there remains much secrecy around its inner workings. The festival has many elements, including cleansing and renewal, celebrating kingship and tasting the season’s first fruits. While this event isn’t actively promoted to tourists, visitors are able to watch some parts of the events.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): 13 days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): eight days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 59–77F (15–25C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 70–90F (21–32C)

February

Head to the Lubombo Region for the marula festival, which is called Emaganwini in the siSwati language. This event celebrates the harvest of the marula fruit and begins mid-month when the green fruits fall to the ground and are collected, stored and distilled into a potent home-brewed beer called buganu (marula beer). Households come to the Ebuhleni Royal Residence to present their home-brewed beer to the king and queen mother (because marula is said to be a fruit fit for kings). The nation is allowed to drink their beer only once the royal family has tasted it.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): 11 days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): seven days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 59–77F (15–25C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 70–90F (21–32C)

March

Bulembu mine, eSwatini © eSwatini Tourism Authority

The Lowveld can get quite warm at this time of year, so it’s a good idea to head to the cooler climates of the highlands. This is a good chance to visit Malolotja to see the world’s oldest mine (Ngwenya) and take a treetop canopy tour.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): 10 days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): seven days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 55–75F (13–24C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 66–88F (19–31C)

April

The celebrations kick off again in April with the king’s Birthday (19 April) and National Flag Day (25 April) both taking place. National Flag Day remembers the day the country gained independence from the British in 1968 and were able to raise their own flag for the first time.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): seven days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): five days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 52–73F (11–23C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 61–84F (16–29C)

May

Festival lovers should think about visiting House on Fire in Malkerns in May for the globally renowned Bushfire Festival, eSwatini’s answer to Glastonbury. Bushfire is one of southern Africa’s largest live music and performing arts festivals, drawing in around 20,000 music lovers over three days. Expect to enjoy pan-African and international live music, film, theatre, poetry, circus, dance, visual arts, a handicrafts market and a food fair. People from all around the world come to the festival, and it’s family-friendly, too.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): four days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): three days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 46–70F (8–21C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 54–81F (12–27C)

June

During the African winter months, it’s dry season in eSwatini; the Usutu River flows more gently, making it a good time to try out white-water rafting (although daredevils might prefer the more challenging conditions in January). It’s also a good time for keen mountain bikers to visit, as early June is when the Imvelo MTB Classic, eSwatini’s first mountain bike race, takes place. The family-friendly race takes place in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and aims to raise awareness of, and funds for, big-game conservation and community projects. There are races of various different lengths, followed by a party for the cyclists who take part.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): two days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): two days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 41–66F (5–19C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 46–77F (8–25C)

July

Execution Rock, Swaziland © eSwatini Tourism Authority

There’s another mountain biking event in July, too: the annual Ngwenya Glass Mountain Bike Challenge. It’s held at the Ngwenya Glass Factory, and you can choose to take part in a family ride, a classic ride or a 70-kilometre (43-mile) marathon. Profits are put towards community projects in the Motshane Valley. Lovers of the outdoors might also enjoy Sibebe Survivor, which takes place in July or August each year. Participants of this annual charity event are sponsored to trek to the top of Sibebe Rock and back (the views on the way are a bonus!) before enjoying breakfast at the foot of the mountain. Fans of hip-hop should check out Hipnotik Festival, which also takes place in July.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): two days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): one day

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 41–68F (5–20C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 46–79F (8–26C)

August

The last weekend of August is when bikers from within eSwatini and abroad gather at Riders Ranch in Sidvokodvo to take part in the annual Swazi Rally. This popular biking event was founded in 1993 and has been going strong ever since, with lots of races, competitions, stunts and wheelies as well as food and drink stalls.

Umhlanga, or the Reed Dance Festival, usually takes place on the same weekend. This traditional festival is the country’s biggest holiday and thousands of people come together to celebrate. Tens of thousands of young ‘maidens’ bring cut reeds to renovate the walls of the royal residence as a way of honouring the queen mother before dancing at the Ludzidzini Royal Residence. While it is a somewhat controversial event (this is often where the king announces his newest wife), the immense scale of the spectacle is hugely impressive.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): three days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): two days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 45–70F (7–21C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 52–81F (11–27C)

September

Celebrated on 6 September, Independence Day (Somhlolo) is a national holiday named after King Sobhuza I (Ngwane IV). Sobhuza, who was often called Somholo (‘the wonder’), was king between 1805 and 1839. For keen golfers, the King’s Cup Golf Tournament takes place in September at the Royal Swazi Golf Club, attracting a huge number of businesspeople from across South Africa. Cyclists can take part in the Swazi 3 Reserves MTB, a selection of cycle races of various distances that take place along the picturesque game trails of Mbuluzi Game Reserve.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): six days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): four days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 50–73F (10–23C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 57–84F (14–29C)

October

Safari sights in Hlane National Park © eSwatini Tourism Authority

There’s another mountain bike race that takes place every October: the three-day LOGICO Swazi Frontier through the stunning scenery from Malolotja to Piggs Peak. October is also the end of the dry season, with the rainy season beginning at the end of the month and lasting until March, making it a good time to visit Hlane National Park to see big game before the temperatures get too high.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): 10 days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): six days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 52–73F (11–23C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 63–84F (17–29C)

November

Birdwatching tends to be better in the rainy season, which begins at the end of October, so November is a great time to visit eSwatini’s national parks to see some of the country’s birdlife.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): 14 days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 10 days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 55–73F (13–23C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 64–86F (18–30C)

December

Dancers performing a traditional Swati dance © Melissa Hobson

December tends to be one of the busiest tourist seasons in eSwatini, particularly over the Christmas holidays. However, as the country is still off the beaten track for many tourists, it doesn’t get particularly overcrowded. The Incwala festival – eSwatini’s most important festival – takes place in late December or early January.

Average rainfall in the Highveld (Mbabane): 13 days

Average rainfall in the Lowveld (Big Bend): seven days

Min/max temperatures in the Highveld (Mbabane): 57–75F (14–24C)

Min/max temperature in the Lowveld (Big Bend): 68–90F (20–32C)

When not to go to eSwatini

A warthog at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary © Jonathan Ramael / eSwatini Tourism Authority

Swaziland is a great year-round destination, but if you’re after the best chance of seeing wildlife, avoid October to April, as the dry season (May to September) drives animals to the water holes and you’ll be more likely to see them.