With its outstanding scenery and abundant wildlife, the Kingdom of Swaziland is a nature lover’s paradise. One of the world’s few remaining monarchies, the tiny country, which is almost completely surrounded by South Africa, has no shortage of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding opportunities, and its many national parks offer glimpses of everything from rare birds to endangered black rhinos. Known for being especially friendly and laid-back, the Swazi people are committed to preserving their culture in the face of modernization, which means that traditional customs play a large part in everyday life. Visitors to Swaziland are in for a unique and authentic African experience.
1. Mkhaya Game Reserve: Home to rare species like the black rhino and the Nguni breed of cattle, as well as antelope, elephants, and a host of other animals, this small, private reserve in southeastern Swaziland is also notable for its many mkhaya, or knobthorn, trees, which bear a type of fruit that Swazis use for brewing beer.
2. Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary: This secluded park in the Ezulwini Valley, in central Swaziland, is known for its relaxed atmosphere and lovely hiking trails through grasslands, eucalyptus forests, and some of the highest points in the kingdom. Catch glimpses of giraffes, zebras, and more on self-guided tours, horseback, or in open Land Rovers.
3. Sibebe Rock: Located just north of Mbabane, Swaziland’s most famous geological feature is a huge granite dome rising out of the countryside. Thrill seekers may scramble up the nearly 1,000-foot rock and its surrounding boulders; the less adventurous may check out the Bushman paintings marking the rocks at the summit.
4. Malolotja Nature Reserve: The country’s least touristy park, in the northwestern highlands, is full of excellent finds: ancient mountains streaked with waterfalls, nearly 300 different species of birds, and the world’s oldest mine.
5. Local Customs: Every year in late August or early September, young Swazi women take part in the Umhlanga, a fertility dance that culminates in the women’s singing and dancing before the king and the queen mother, giving the king an opportunity to pick a new wife. Tourists are welcome to observe the ceremony.
6. Mbuluzi Game Reserve: Hippos, wildebeests, and more roam freely in this small reserve in northeastern Swaziland; the southern portion is free of predators, so visitors may explore a handful of trails on foot.
7. Mlawula Nature Reserve: This park near the Mozambique border is so large that it comprises both dry savannas and tropical forests; it’s widely regarded as one of the best, most varied hiking spots in the country.
8. Ezulwini Valley: The country’s royal heartland and tourism center is worth a quick visit for its gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and its fantastic selection of locally made handicrafts.
9. Hlane Royal National Park: You’ll find leopards, lions, cheetahs, and other awe-inspiring animals at this park near the former royal hunting grounds.
10. Bulembu: A historic town in the northern part of the country, Bulembu, which once housed a thriving mine, provides a fascinating look back in time, with its abandoned homes, Art Déco buildings, and long cableways. The nearby mountains are thought to be some of the oldest in the world.
The ideal time to travel to Swaziland is between the months of May and October. Try not to visit the country at any time between November and April, when it’s hot and rainy and there’s an elevated risk of contracting malaria, or in December and January, when crime often spikes.
Visas: Visas are not required for tourists and business travelers visiting Swaziland for fewer than 60 days. Most people traveling to Swaziland enter through South Africa. Travelers heading to South Africa are strongly encouraged to have several unstamped visa pages in their passports. For additional information on Swaziland's visa requirements, contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Swaziland.
Transportation: There are flights to Swaziland (landing at Matasapha International Airport) from Johannesburg and Durban in South Africa and from Maputo in Mozambique. Swazi Express Airways and its sister company, Steffen Air Charters, offer flights within the country. There's also a reliable network of buses and minibuses throughout the country and private taxis in Mbabane, the Ezulwini Valley, and Manzini.
Mobile Phones: You can use GSM mobile phone in Swaziland; consider buying a prepaid SIM card at the airport if you don’t have an international plan.
Public protests and demonstrations about labor issues are sometimes held in Swaziland and should always be avoided. Petty and occasional violent crime is the most common in Mbabane, the capital city, and Manzini, Swaziland’s urban center. Visitors are cautioned against wearing jewelry or carrying expensive valuables in public. Be sure to accept rides only from authorized taxis, and do not enter a taxi already occupied by anyone other than the driver. Also not to be disregarded is the fact that Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV infection. Always practice safe sex.
The Swazi are descendants of the Nguni people, Bantu-speaking tribes from central Africa that migrated to the southern part of the continent in the late 15th century. In the mid-18th century, the king of one of the clans, Ngwane III, settled his people in present-day southern Swaziland; today the Swazis consider Ngwane to be their first king. Over the next century, Swazi kings continued to bring together separate tribes and to expand the kingdom, and by 1870 the future for the young nation looked promising.
Over the next several decades, though, Europeans seeking farmland began flooding the country, and soon the British were competing with the Boers for power and land in the area. The conflict led to the second Anglo–Boer War, in 1902, whose outcome was the Boers’ defeat and the British seizure of control over Swaziland as a protectorate. From then on, Swazis, under the leadership of King Sobhuza II and his mother (who guided the country when he was still a boy), struggled to regain their independence and reclaim their land through nonviolent means. Thanks largely to Sobhuza’s efforts, Swaziland became an autonomous nation again in 1968. Shortly after Sobhuza passed away, in 1982, his son Mswati III, known as The Lion, took the throne. Since then, Mswati has continued to maintain the traditional Swazi way of life but is widely criticized for his lavish personal spending and crushing of opponents.
1. The Kingdom of Swaziland is a land-locked country, bordered by Mozambique to the east and by South Africa on the other sides. The smallest country in the Southern Hemisphere, Swaziland is split into four regions: Hhohho, in the north, Lubombo in the east, Manzini in the central part of the country, and Shiselweni in the south.
2. Swaziland’s local currency is the Lilangeni (SZL), whose value is equal to that of the South African rand. (Rand dollars may be used in the country as well.) One U.S. dollar is equal to approximately seven Lilangeni.
3. The Times of Swaziland, a privately owned daily newspaper, and the pro-government Swazi Observer are the country’s main publications.
4. English and siSwati (also called Swati or Swazi) are the official languages in Swaziland.
5. Smoking in public places is currently permitted in Swaziland, though there’s a bill awaiting Cabinet approval that proposes a ban on it in public and in private workplaces.