The land-locked kingdom of Swaziland is tucked between South Africa and Mozambique but is very different to each. Conservative and traditional in some respects, it is also easy-going and relaxed, with a low crime rate and a very warm and friendly welcome.
This is an absolute monarchy, and although there have been a some political rumblings over the last few years King Mswati III remains a popular and respected figure. He is perhaps best known on the world stage for being a polygamist, with 14 wives at the last count, but it has to be said his father had many more. The people are proud of their king and proud of their culture, and traditional dress, clothing, beadwork and dance still survive.
Most visitors only use the country as a stopover and shopping opportunity en-route to Kruger National Park, but this is to do Swaziland a terrible disservice. This is a very easy destination for the traveller, a microcosm of southern Africa that has the culture, heritage, game reserves, scenery and activities that merit a stay in its own right. It might not have the awesome scale of its sprawling neighbours but at 200km across it’s not tiny either. And don’t they often say that the best things often come in small packages?
The climate varies according to altitude, but summer (October to March) is hot and wet, while winter is mild and dry, with occasional frost at higher altitudes.
Matsapha International (MTS) is 5km northwest of Manzini.
The roads are generally good, driving is on the left and distances are small so hiring a car is a good option. There are few signposts once you are off the main roads but people are helpful if you need directions. Buses and minibuses are plentiful and cheap, but standards of driving can be rather scary.
There is a good and varied range of accommodation in Swaziland as it has so many visitors from South Africa. Recommended places to stay include The Foresters Arms Hotel in the highlands, 27km from Mbabne, Reillys Rock Hilltop Lodge, Phophonyane Falls Lodge and Malandela’s B&B in Malkerns.
Traditional Swazi food is meat served with pap (maize) although international cuisine, including good curry, is widely available. The quality of meat, fish and vegetables is generally good. South African wine is widely available and excellent value.
Malaria is found in the low-lying areas of eastern Swaziland in the wetter summer months (November to April). Bilharzia is found in stagnating sections of some rivers. The water is safe to drink. Unfortunately Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV/AIDs in the world – and consequently the lowest life expectancy.
As for crime Swaziland is generally very safe and friendly, but take the usual commonsense precautions against petty theft and muggings.
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