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Hippos <i>(Hippopotamus amphibius)</i> contemplating movement in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

The smallest country in the southern hemisphere is also one of the most easy going - laid-back Swazis are more likely to celebrate for fun than demonstrate for reform. A progressive and hands-on attitude towards wildlife preservation has endowed it with a striking bunch of national parks.

Black and white rhino, elephant, and more recently, lion, have been reintroduced into the collection of national parks and game reserves. You can trek, horse ride, raft on wild rivers or cycle through many of the parks and get surprisingly close to a huge variety of wildlife.

While one or two towns get a little rough around the edges after dark, the tension palpably lifts if you have crossed into Swaziland from South Africa. Some of the more important festivals turn the Ezulwini ('Heaven') Valley into a brilliant spectacle of dancing and singing a couple of times a year, as tribespeople decked out in flamboyant costumes reaffirm their belief in the monarchy and their culture. There may be only one museum in the country and little in the way of night-time diversions besides gambling in the casino, but the countryside's thriving and the life's wild.

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