With a growing population of wildlife and affordable safari experiences, a visit to Hlane National Park in Eswatini can be the safari you are looking for
Whether I was having breakfast in the early morning, relaxing before lunch, or sipping a drink in the afternoon, there were always at least one or two rhinos on a plain sight at the waterhole in front of Ndovu Camp in the Hlane National Park. They were not further than 100 meters away from me, and even though there was a fence between us, this view always left me with a smile and never got boring. I got used to it so much that I was still missing it during my next safaris. I went to the Hlane National Park in Eswatini, where observing several rhinos and lions becomes normal each day.
Even though most travelers visit Eswatini for a day trip and see it as an opportunity to simply tick off a country of their list, I found out that this country is better to enjoy at a slow pace, and the Hlane National Park is the best place for that.
What you need to know
Located on the eastern side of eSwatini, the Hlane National Park is the largest national park in the country. Way smaller in size than Kruger, Etosha, or Chobe, it’s not fair to compare these iconic parks to Hlane. The experiences you get from each of these parks are entirely different, and while Etosha is the place to go if you want to see rhinos, Chobe for elephants, and Kruger for lions, Hlane is the place to see them all in a more calm and relaxed environment.
There are no lines of cars waiting their turn to spot a lion, lodges full of families, or long distances to cover every day to see something outstanding. Here at Hlane, I was the only guest most of the time, and game drives were as private as possible. Additionally, Eswatini itself is not as touristy as the rest of southern Africa, and at least for a day, I had whole Hlane just for myself.
Visiting Hlane was also not complicated at all. Travelers can simply arrive with their vehicles and book safari drives inside the national park. The road to Hlane is in excellent condition and even though self-driving is allowed inside the park, going on a safari vehicle is cheaper, better, and easier.
Where to stay
With only two camps inside its premises, you can stay at the Ndlovu Camp or the Bhubesi Camp.
Ndlovu is located right on the central part of the park, a few meters from the main gate, while Bhubesi is around 15 km further away on the northern side of the park. Accommodation options are great in both locations. While Ndlovu offers a great range of options with camping spots and family houses up to 6 people, Bhubesi is more private and only has six lodges for small groups.
NOTE: If you want to camp at Ndlovu Camp, don’t forget to bring your camping equipment. The national park does not have tents or sleeping bags for rent.
Ndlovu Camp is also located right next to a waterhole. Here, hippos, rhinos, impalas, and birds spend the whole day. While observing this waterhole from the restaurant in Ndlovu, I saw rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests and heard hippos day and night.
“Either Ndlovu or Bhubesi are perfect for disconnecting from the outside world,” said one of the waitresses working at Ndlovu Camp.
There are a few significant differences between Ndlovu Camp and Bhubesi Camp. Ndlovu is way closer to the action (I saw rhinos around the camp almost all the time, every day). However, there is no electricity inside this camp, and you can only charge your cameras, phones, and electronics with one single plug during the daytime. Bhubesi does have electricity and feels more private, but the range of activities is limited. Bhubesi Camp does not offer sunrise and sunset drives.
These are the prices for accommodation inside the Hlane National Park in 2022
You can use Eswatini Lilangeni (SZL) or South African Rand (ZAR):
- Camping – 135 ZAR per person
- Wisteria Village – 800 ZAR for 2 people sharing
- Ndlovu Camp Double Huts – 930 ZAR for 2 people sharing
- Big Hut – 950 for 2 people sharing
- Group Cottage – Starting 1500 ZAR for 4 people
- Camp Cottage – 950 ZAR for 2 people sharing
Concerned about food while camping or staying at Ndlovu or Bhubesi Camp? Don’t worry, Ndlovu has a full restaurant offering breakfasts starting at 50 ZAR (3 EUR) and main courses starting 65 ZAR (4 EUR).
NOTE: You can either book your accommodation and activities beforehand by calling or writing an email to Hlane National Park or through a tour operator. Tour operators charge a small fee for this service, but this can be the best choice if you are not available for too much planning and calling.
I used Total Experience Tours, a local company I contacted while looking for transfers around the country.
How to stay connected inside Hlane National Park:
- Phone signal is minimal inside the national park. You can send WhatsApp messages but don’t expect to watch a video or do video calls.
- Wifi is available at Ndovu. They sell internet packages of 350 MB for 50 ZAR (3 EUR). However, the internet is almost as slow as mobile data and only works in the restaurant area.
- MTN sim cards with different internet packages are available everywhere around the country. Internet packages start at 2 EUR.
What to do:
Divided into three sections: a white rhino section, a black rhino section, and a lions’ area, the best way to explore Hlane National Park is not by driving independently and hoping for the best. You have to book accommodation inside the park for a few nights simply and once you get there, relax for a bit and discuss what kind of activities you want to do with the rangers.
You can choose to explore all three sections in one single game drive. Also, you can focus on several safari experiences in a more extended period and better understand what makes each part of this park so unique. If you are fortunate enough, you might encounter a leopard, an animal the rangers spot about once every six months.
There are three different activities inside the park:
Sunrise and sunset drives
Taking place either at 5.30 am or 4:00 pm and lasting 2.5 hours each, a sunrise or sunset drive is perfect for catching the animals in the middle of the action. These timings are ideal for spotting lions looking for prey, hippos and rhinos searching for green grass, and spot a hunt if the time is right.
Depending on how long you are in the park, these drives can focus on finding a particular animal or experience you want to see or simply getting a good glimpse of everything the park offers.
The price of a sunrise or sunset drive in Hlane National Park in 2022 is 375 ZAR per person, including two drinks of your choice.
Lasting between 2 hours and 2.5 hours, these drives are more flexible for the traveler. They can start almost anytime you want and focus primarily on showing you the park’s beauty. Expect to see all kinds of antelopes, elephants, zebras, and rhinos.
There is also a big chance to see lions while doing this drive. However, expect to see them sleeping and lying on the grass, as the days in eSwatini are so hot, lions barely move while the sun is out.
The price of a game drive in Hlane National Park in 2022 is 200 ZAR for 1 hour, 265 ZAR for 1,5 hours, or 350 ZAR per person for 2 hours. This activity includes one drink of your choice.
Lasting 2 hours, game walks are the best way to understand better how big and complex the ecosystem in Hlane National Park is. Here, you will walk inside the national park with a professional ranger and try spotting big animals like the rhino, giraffe, and elephant while also searching for tiny creatures like the snakes, spiders, and small mammals living in Hlane. Don’t worry, the section of the park you are walking around does not have lions.
Game walks are one of the most unique activities in a safari, and here in Hlane, you can it is one of the most affordable places to do it.
The price of a game walk in Hlane National Park in 2022 is 130 ZAR per person for 1 hour or 190 ZAR for 2 hours.
NOTE: Even though they are not available yet, the park plans to introduce more activities for travelers, such as a night drive and even a bicycle game visit. Hopefully, once tourism property restarts in eSwatini, these experiences will be possible.
I visited Hlane National Park and fell in love with it. I was able to try all the different activities this park offers and ended up wanting to see more. Hlane is not where you should come for a day trip or a short stop. The Hlane National Park is a place to reconnect with nature and enjoy a calm safari experience. It’s true, and this is not the national park to see thousands of species. However, for those who have done enough safari drives all over Africa and are already tired of the overly long drives and hundreds of travelers taking a photo of a sleepy lion, Hlane is the right place to go.