Swaziland’s politics deter many tourists from visiting the country, but put politics aside for a moment and you’ll see that the little landlocked country has much to offer. The flashy places in Swaziland include the Royal Swazi Spa Valley, which consists of luxury hotels, casinos and golf courses. But if you want to get to the nitty-gritty of Swaziland, travel to the Great Usutu River.

Usutu River White Water Rafting

Image by Swazi Trails

The river starts in Mpumalanga in South Africa and flows east until it reaches Swaziland and the 13km gorge of the Lubumbo Mountains. It travels another 20-odd km as the border between South Africa and Mozambique after which it flows into the Ndumo Game Reserve and becomes part of the Pongola River. It’s the largest river in Swaziland and is perfect for white water rafting.

Usutu means “dark brown” which is apt considering the river is dark brown in colour. A number of white water rafting tour operators make their home along its banks. White water rafting is available from around October to August, but the best times are between January and March, during the summer rains.

A typical tour operator offers white water rafting adventures for the whole family. Half day tours as well as full day tours are usually available. Full day tours generally include a picnic lunch. All tour operators provide basic safety training before the rafting starts.

This ensures that even those with no prior experience are equipped to manage the rapids. Absolute beginners or those with a nervous disposition hit the river with experienced guides, while other participants pair off.

Depending on the location of your tour operator you’re likely to see a smattering of rural settlements, forests and, of course, plenty of mountains. If you’re very lucky, your operator will include some after rafting drinks so you can laugh about the day’s adventures and misadventures.

Water Rafting at Swaziland’s Great Usutu River in 2015

If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground but want to stay around the Usutu River, you can explore the Usutu Forest. The forest occupies approximately 65 000 hectares of ground around the river. Unfortunately, most of it is man-made but that doesn’t detract from the beauty and serenity of the trees.

Bird watching is a popular activity. There is route through the forest that will take you past several roadside markets offering arts and crafts and traditional food.

If you want to take a break from all the trees and water you can pop into the Hlane Game Sanctuary or the Mlilwane Nature Reserve, which border the forest. If you’re so inclined you can even visit Piggs Peak casino.

Sandy the author of the “White water rafting on Swaziland’s great Usutu river” writes for a number of different sites, including blogs on Swaziland travel and other African adventures.