SWAZILAND TRAVEL GUIDE
Eswatini, officially the Kingdom of Eswatini and also known as Swaziland, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. Eswatini, one of the last absolute monarchies (Umbuso weSwatini) in the world, is one of the smallest countries in Africa and has a well-earned reputation for friendliness in Southern Africa. It also contains several large game parks and reserves, which are sponsored by the government and are popular tourist destinations.
Deep purple mountain peaks dressed in a cloak of fine grey mist look down on rolling Savannah and the deep valley of Ezulwini, mighty rivers crash and explode their way down gorges and waterfalls flash silver in a tiny landlocked country in southern Africa.
Pretty as a picture and as exotic as any fantasy, Swaziland is Africa epitomised. This is where you can meet people that are warm, friendly and hospitable enough to make complete strangers feel at home, you can watch nimble fingers weave magic out of ordinary threads and see a hunk of wood transform into a smooth, shiny bowl.
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SWAZILAND QUICK FACTS
Capital: Mbabane; Lobamba is the royal and legislative capital
Government: Commonwealth monarchy
Currency: Lilangeni (SZL), plural Emalangeni
Area: 17,363 km²
Population: 1,136 million (2018)
Language: English & siSwati (official)
Religion: Zionist 40%, Roman Catholic 20%, Traditional beliefs 15%
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz (type M plug)
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SWAZILAND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 19 April, King’s Birthday
- 25 April, Flag Day
- 1 May, Workers’ Day
- 22 July, King Father’s Birthday
- 6 September, Independence Day
- 26 December, Boxing Day
Also, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension, Umhlanga Day, and Imcwala Day
FESTIVALS IN SWAZILAND
- Incwala (also known as Ncwala) is the most sacred ceremony of the Swazi people. It is a ‘first fruits’ ceremony, where the king gives permission for his people to eat the first crops of the new year. It takes place in late December/early January and lasts one week: dates are announced shortly before the event. It's a fiercely traditional celebration and visitors should take note of strict rules, including restrictions on dress and photography.
- The Umhlanga (reed) dance is Swaziland's best-known cultural event. Though not as sacred as the Incwala, it serves a similar function in drawing the nation together and reminding the people of their relationship to the king. It is something like a week-long debutante ball for marriageable young Swazi women, who journey from all over the kingdom to help repair the queen mother’s home at Lobamba. It takes place in late August or early September.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SWAZILAND
Swaziland has a subtropical climate with wet, hot summers (approximately 75% of annual rainfall occurs from October to March) and cold dry winters (April-September).
- December to April - Full rivers and lush vegetation. Incwala festival takes place in Lobamba.
- February & March - Buganu season – enjoy home-brewed marula beer in rural Swaziland.
- May to September - Wonderful wildlife viewing in the lowveld. Don't miss the Umhlanga festival.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN SWAZILAND
You can enjoy outdoor activities in Swaziland throughout the year, depending on the altitude of where you are. The dry season from June to August makes it easier to spot wildlife.
HEALTH RISKS IN SWAZILAND
Be aware of possible health risks in
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
SWAZILAND TRAVEL COSTS
If you plan on visiting loads of National Parks in South Africa and Swaziland you might benefit from getting a Wild Card which provides access to 80+ Parks and Reserves around Southern Africa valid for one year. Internationals may only purchase an International All Parks Cluster unless in possession of a valid South African residency/work permit.
SWAZILAND TRAVEL TIPS
- Getting around is best done in your own vehicle, although if you travel light there is a good network of mini-bus shared taxis covering Swaziland. They run almost everywhere, with frequent stops en-route. They leave when full; no reservations are necessary.
- For car rental it usually works out cheaper to rent a vehicle in South Africa and drive it over the Swazi border (you’ll need a permission letter from the rental company to cross the border).
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF SWAZILAND
- Mkhaya Game Reserve - Watch wildlife, including rare black rhinos, at this excellent reserve.
- Malolotja Nature Reserve - Walk or hike in this enchanting wilderness area.
- Great Usutu River (Lusutfu River) - Shoot over white-water rapids on a day-long adventure.
- Ezulwini Valley - Browse the valley's craft shops.
- Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary - Explore on foot, horseback or by bike and relax in the comfortable lodges.
- Sibebe Rock - Climb this massive granite dome just outside the capital and soaking up the lovely views.
- Hlane Royal National Park - Come face-to-face with a pride of lions or watch white rhinos congregate at the accessible watering hole.
Swaziland’s capital and second-largest city, Mbabane is a relaxed and functional place perched in the cool highveld. There’s a handful of good restaurants and places to stay, but for the traveller the nearby Ezulwini and Malkerns Valleys have most of the attractions and, on the whole, a better choice of accommodation.
About 8km northeast of Mbabane is Sibebe Rock, a massive granite dome hulking over the surrounding countryside. It's the world's second-largest monolith, after Australia's Uluru, but is considerably less visited. Much of the rock is completely sheer, and dangerous if you should fall, but climbing it is a good adrenaline charge if you’re reasonably fit and relish looking down steep rock faces. Community guides operate guided hikes – ask at the visitor centre.
The country's tourist hub, central Swaziland is a heady mix of culture, nature and epicurean indulgences, and has plenty to keep you occupied for a few days. There are wildlife reserves to explore, museums to visit, great restaurants to sample and quality handicrafts to bring home.
Swaziland's tourism centre, the Ezulwini Valley, begins just outside Mbabane but feels a world away from the hullabaloo of the capital. With an excellent selection of places to stay and wonderful craft shopping, it's a convenient base for many visitors.
- The tranquil, thickly forested Mantenga Cultural Village & Nature Reserve offers a guided tour of the Swazi Cultural Village, a ‘living’ cultural village with authentic beehive huts and cultural displays, plus a sibhaca dance (performed daily at 11.30am and 3.15pm) and a visit to the impressive Mantenga Falls - all included in the entrance fee . The reserve is also great for hiking; day hikers pay only E50. Although it's not a big wildlife park, it offers a chance to see vervet monkeys, baboons, warthogs, nyalas and duikers.
- Lobamba is an area that has played host to Swaziland’s monarchy for over two centuries. It’s home to some of the most notable buildings in the country. Despite its importance, Lobamba feels surprisingly quiet – except during the spectacular Incwala and Umhlanga ceremonies, when the nation gathers on the surrounding plains for several days of intense revelry.
MALOLOTJA NATURE RESERVE
One of Swaziland’s premier natural attractions, the beautiful Malolotja Nature Reserve is a true wilderness area that’s rugged and, for the most part, unspoilt. The reserve is laced by streams and cut by three rivers, including the Komati, which flows east through a gorge in a series of falls and rapids until it meets the lowveld. No prizes for guessing that this spectacular area is a fantastic playground for nature-lovers and ornithologists, with more than 280 species of bird. Don’t expect to see plenty of large mammals, though. It’s the scenery that’s the pull here, rather than the wildlife.
Malolotja offers some of the most inspirational hiking trails in Swaziland, so pack your sturdy shoes. Walking options range from short walks to multiday hikes. Well-known and much enjoyed walks include the 11.5km Malolotja Falls Trail, with superb views of the Malolotja Valley, and the 8km Komati River Trail.
Within an easy drive of the Mozambique border, this remote corner is the country's top wildlife-watching region: you'll find a duo of excellent wildlife parks – Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve – as well as lesser-known Mlawula Rature Reserve that also begs exploration. If it's action you're after, the superb rapids of the Great Usutu River (Lusutfu River) provide an incredible playground.
The country’s largest protected area, well-organised Hlane Royal National Park is home to elephants, lions, leopards, white rhinos and many antelope species, and offers wonderfully low-key wildlife and bird-life watching. There's plenty to keep you occupied, including bush walking, wildlife drives, mountain biking and cultural tours.
The low-key Mlawula Nature Reserve, where the lowveld plains meet the Lubombo Mountains, boasts antelope species and a few spotted hyenas, among others, plus rewarding birdwatching. Keep your expectations in check, though; wildlife is more elusive here than anywhere else in the country and visitor infrastructure is fairly limited. The park's real highlight is its network of walking trails amid beautifully scenic landscapes.
The crowning glory of Swaziland's parks, the top-notch and stunning Mkhaya Game Reserve is famous for its black and white rhino populations. Its other animals include roan and sable antelope, giraffes, tsessebe, buffaloes and elephants, along with a rich diversity of birds. If you’re lucky, you might spot the elusive narina trogon and other rare bird species. Note that children under 10 are not allowed in the park.