Not everyone has heard of this tiny little African country. Sometimes when someone says they are visiting Swaziland, people reply "Switzerland?" Well, this country is a little (sic) different from Switzerland. In 2018 this small African country renamed itself "Eswatini" - that's "Swazi-land" in the Swazi language. Eswatini is a landlocked country in southern Africa surrounded by South Africa on three sides and Mozambique on the other. It is generally overlooked by people going to southern Africa, but for those willing to get off the beaten track a little more, visiting Eswatini can be very rewarding naturally and culturally.
Introduction To Eswatini
Eswatini: The Facts
- Population: 1,160,000
- Capital And Largest City: Mbabane
- Independence: 1968 (From United Kingdom)
- Currency: Swazi Lilangeni (Pegged To The South African Rand, South African Rand Also Accepted)
- Official Languages: Swazi And English
Eswatini is a very small country and as such, it is chill and easy to get around. While South Africa is much larger with a lot more going on, Eswatini is more mellow and relaxing. The main attractions to this little country are their game parks (wildlife Safaris), resorts, and cultural performances and festivals. The Swazi people are all very welcoming and you will see many enthusiastic and broad smiles on the faces of people here.
- Visa: Visa-Free
Eswatini is visa-free for all Western countries for one year. To get to Eswatini you can fly into the country's small international airport King Mswati III International Airport, this airport only has flights to Johannesburg. One can also cross overland from neighboring Mozambique. But the most common is just to fly into South Africa and make Eswatini a side trip as you drive around South Africa (Eswatini is close to South Africa's largest national park, Kruger National Park).
- Time Needed: 3-5 Days To Explore Eswatini
Once in Eswatini you will not need to exchange your South African Rand, you can just spend it there. Visiting Eswatini is generally hassle-free and the border crossing is professional.
If you are visiting South Africa's national parks, well the national parks in Eswatini are generally smaller and less glamorous but they are still fun and rewarding. Eswatini has three wildlife or game reserves (but remember there are more things to do in Africa than go on a Safari). These game reserves are:
Hlane Royal National Park - The Largest In The Country
Mbuluzi Game Reserve - Great For Hiking, Birdwatching, And Seeing Different Kinds Of Animals
Mkhaya Game Reserve - Has Giraffes And Rhinos
Eswatini does have a range of wildlife, these include around 507 different species of birds (11 of which are deemed globally threatened) and 107 mammalian species - including the critically endangered South-central black rhinoceros
It's worth noting that Eswatini is one of the very few countries in the world and the only country in Africa that still has an absolute monarchy. Most monarchies in the world are constitutional monarchies like that of the United Kingdom. The current king is King Mswati III. At the time of writing, there are protests against his rule or this current governance.
- Fun Fact: Eswatini Is The Only Country In Africa That Recognises The Republic of China (aka Taiwan) As The Legitimate Government Of All Of China
Festivals And Cultural Performances
Main Traditional Festival Of Incwala
The main festival in Eswatini is the kingly festival of Incwala (if there is no king, there is no Incwala). The festival symbolizes spiritual renewal and purification centered on the monarch. This is held every summer solstice for about a month. At this festival, you will see Swazis in full traditional dress. The men will be dressed as traditional fearsome warriors and the king himself is also bare-chested in traditional dress. This festival has lasted for hundreds of years and is one of the centerpieces of Swazi tradition.
This is a traditional festival and is generally not open to wholesale tourism, although Swazi's tourism department does advertise it. But if you are invited, don't wear shoes in the dance area, don't were any hats that are not traditional and women and girls should wear skirts and not shorts or trousers.
Reed Festival Or Umhlanga
This is another traditional festival in Eswatini. Every year tens of thousands of unmarried or childless women and girls march to the royal residence. They carry reeds and perform various dances, rites and sing songs over a period of 8 days.
- Fun Fact: King Mswati III Has 15 Wives
At the end of the festival, the King traditionally takes another wife, with the help of his mother. The King's mother selects 365 women for him to choose one from (the King's mother is important in Swazi governance). Currently, King Mswati III has 15 wives and 35 children.
Traditional Village And Cultural Performances
One of the best attractions for Eswaniti is the Mantenga Cultural Village (pictured above). Here you can see a traditional village and kraals and traditional dances and performances. The cost of admission is very low and very much worth it. This is where you will see special dances and performances for tourists.
- Opening Hours: 8.00 am - 17:00 pm
- Day Open: Seven Days A Week
In short, Eswatini is a very different country. It is traditional and welcoming, and a great side trip in a South African adventure. Some of the traditions may be strange to Westerners but that's part of the richness of the Swazi culture.