Riding in the Vast Kingdom of Eswatini

Riding in the Vast Kingdom of Eswatini

Africa / Practical info / Ride reports 0
Eswatini is a country that had been on my list ever since I met Ann Riley a couple of years ago during an online meeting. I was very excited to finally visit her and the local team with whom we’d been working for a little while.

On my way...

The journey to get to Eswatini is a bit long, but absolutely worth it! After a long-haul flight to Johannesburg, I hopped on the bus that crosses the border over to Eswatini. The drive takes around 5 hours, including a short bathroom break, plus the border procedures. The final location is the Gables. There, I was met by Valentine, one of the members of the local team. I only had time to ask a few questions before we arrived at the Mlilwane Reserve.
Usually, you should get to the lodge in time for a short ride but I was a bit late, so I met everyone for sundowners instead.

That week only one other guest joined the trail, Natalia from Germany. Some travellers may prefer larger, more social groups, but I quite enjoy smaller groups. I find that it sets a more intimate atmosphere to the holiday. With a drink in hand and a lovely sunset in the backdrop, Ann told us a bit more about the week to come. That’s when the excitement really started to kick in!

Before heading to dinner, I had a few moments to take in the peaceful atmosphere and check my Rondavel. The cabins are very comfortable and big enough to accommodate up to 3 people. You will not be short on comfort.
Inside of the cabin in Mlilwane
Inside of the cabin in Mlilwane

Guides and horses in Mlilwane

Throughout the week we had two different guides – Maja and Nati. They were both lovely and very eager to share their knowledge with us. We had a short conversation about our expectations for the holiday, including the pace. We were very happy to have a relaxing yet active ride, and that’s exactly what we got – plenty of trots and canters to get the blood flowing!

On this holiday you will rarely ride the same horse twice on the same day. This gives them plenty of time to recharge and get ready for the following day. My first horse was Chocolate (aka Chokie), a lovely 12-year-old Boerperd mare. Not only was she gorgeous but also very responsive. A true pleasure to ride!
Francisca and Chokie with the zebras!
Francisca and Chokie with the zebras!
Later on, I was introduced to baby Moyeni. He is a 5-year-old gray Lusitano cross who immediately stole my heart! As most youngsters he was still getting used to a few things, but he was one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever met.
I also got to ride Mulberry and Luna, two lovely mares.
It is evident that Ann and her team take very good care of the horses. They are all in great shape and have plenty of space to “horse around”.
The horses roaming in the pasture
The horses roaming in the pasture

Exploring the Mlilwane reserve...

Riding in Mlilwane was a sweet spot between a riding safari and a trail riding holiday. The terrain is quite varied, there are vast grasslands, forests and a few mountainous tracks that we got to explore. The wildlife is quite diverse, and we saw a lot, from wildebeest, to crocs, kudu, nyala, and more! What I loved about riding in this reserve were the wildlife encounters. They feel safe given the absence of dangerous game, so it is easy to get closer than usual, and we even got to enjoy a few canters with Zebra!
A lovely family of zebras
A lovely family of zebras
The stay at Mlilwane also includes a game drive, during which our guide Caro shared his knowledge of the wildlife, and further details about the programme they run to help maintain the numbers of a few endanger species. The drive finishes at a sundowner spot with a lovely view of the mountains. Unfortunately, the weather got quite grey and foggy, but we still enjoyed our drinks and snacks around the table.

In the evening, I was surprised to learn that the local team hosts a little performance for the guests. The singing and dancing are very fun, and I personally love to see how people express themselves through music. On the last song, everyone was invited to join and dance around which was super!

Another aspect that accents the focus on the Swazi culture and sets this holiday apart from other safaris is the community ride on day 5. Me and Natalia left the reserve led by Maja and rode by the village. We got to learn more about the local traditions and ceremonies like the Reed Dance, and the Marula Festival. We stopped for lunch at the “House on Fire”, a lovely location where many events take place, and then rode back to the reserve.

Riding in KamSholo

The last two days of the holiday are spent in KamSholo which is a different reserve located 2 hours away from Mlilwane.
After we got introduced to our horses, we went out to see the wildlife. I got matched with Ruby – a trustworthy bay mare. I was quite surprised because the landscape is fairly distinct from what we had experience in the first days. The bush here is more dense and “thorny”, so the riding gloves really came in handy. Aside from the game we had already seen at Mlilwane, here they also have both giraffe and ostrich.
A few giraffes we saw at KamSholo
A few giraffes we saw at KamSholo
Our guide, Thabo, was a bit shyer than the previous two, but he still managed to share quite a few interesting facts about the reserve. He was also open to taking our photos with the wildlife which was very nice.

At the end of the ride, we were actually driven to our rooms. At KamSholo, the cabins are located further from the reception area so expect a 5-minute drive before meal and refreshment times between rides.

Final thoughts

All in all, I loved my stay in Eswatini, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in something different from the “safari norm”. Don’t get me wrong, you will still see plenty of game, but there are other components that are highlighted along the way which add lovely layers to the experience.

It’s good to keep in mind that some parts of the Mlilwane reserve are located close to a village. While riding you do get to more secluded areas, but sometimes you will see a few homes from afar. Additionally, this reserve is not exclusive for riding guests. There are many visitors that stay there to enjoy the hiking trails, and other activities. It can get a bit busy during certain times of the year, but it’s not hard to manage.

Worth noting...

  • Some departures include 2 nights in a tented camp which makes the experience even more complete.
  • The Wi-Fi and phone reception are very limited. I recommend bringing a book or downloading some content to your device ahead of time.
  • There are pools available at both reserves. Don’t forget your swimming costume!

More information...

You can find further details about this riding holiday, here. If you have any questions, please contact Francisca at francisca.monteiro@equus-journeys.com or at +44 (0)1905 388 974.

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