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Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere; it emerges on world maps as a mere dot on the South Africa-Mozambique border. But Swaziland is living proof that sometimes great things come in small packages. Boasting a host of excellent wildlife reserves, the country affords some of Africa's best opportunites for getting up close with zebras, giraffes and white and black rhinos, as well as crocodiles (though you might want to avoid getting too close - just a suggestion). Swaziland's adherence to nature's demands is remarkable, considering its economical impoverishment; granted, hardwood forests in the west are victims of the logging industry.
Swaziland is a monarchy and Swazi culture identifies the king as a central figure of importance. Major national festivals revolve around honoring him or displaying potential wives for him; we'd recommend you try visiting Swaziland while one of these festivals is going on, because it's an amazing and proud cultural exhibition.
Artifacts indicating human activity dating back to the early Stone Age 200,000 years ago have been found in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Prehistoric rock art paintings date from ca. 25,000 BC and continue up to the 19th century.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Khoisan hunter-gatherers. They were largely replaced by the Bantu tribes during Bantu migrations who hailed from the Great Lakes regions of Eastern Africa.
The country derives its name from a later King, Mswati I. However, Ngwane is an alternative name for Swaziland and Dlamini remains the surname of the royal family, while the name Nkosi means King.
The autonomy of the Swaziland Nation was dictated by British rule of southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1881 the British government signed a convention recognizing Swazi independence. However, controversial land and mineral rights concessions were made under the authority of the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890 in terms of which the administration of Swaziland was also placed under that of the then South African Republic (Transvaal).
At the start of the Anglo Boer war, Britain placed Swaziland under its direct jurisdiction as a Protectorate. Repeated representations, especially relating to land issues, by the King and his Councilors were rebuffed.
Nevertheless, the Swaziland independence Constitution was promulgated by Britain in November 1963 in terms of which a legislative Council and an Executive Council were established. This development was opposed by the Swazi National Council (liqoqo). Despite such opposition, elections took place and the first Legislative Council of Swaziland was constituted on 9 September 1964. Changes to the original constitution proposed by the Legislative Council were accepted by Britain and a new Constitution providing for a House of Assembly and Senate was drawn up. Elections under this Constitution were held in 1967. Since 1973, Swaziland has seen a rather quiet struggle between pro-multiparty activists and the monarchy.
A small, land-locked Kingdom, Swaziland is bordered in the north, west and south by South Africa and by Mozambique in the east. Although Swaziland has a land area of only 17,364 km2, roughly the size of Wales, it contains four separate geographical regions. These run from north to south and are determined by altitude. Swaziland is located at approximately 26°30'S, 31°30'E. Swaziland also offers a wide variety of landscapes, from the mountains along the Mozambican border to savannas in the east and rain forest in the northwest. Several rivers flow through the country, such as the Great Usutu River. Along the eastern border with Mozambique is the Lubombo, a mountain ridge, at an altitude of around 600 metres. The mountains are broken by the canyons of three rivers, the Ngwavuma, the Usutu and the Mbuluzi River. This is cattle ranching country. The western border of the country, with an average altitude of 1200 metres, lies on the edge of an escarpment. Between the mountains rivers rush through deep gorges making this a most scenic region. Mbabane, the capital, is located on the Highveld. The Middleveld, lying at an average 700 metres above sea level is the most densely populated region of Swaziland with a lower rainfall than the mountains. Manzini, the principal commercial and industrial city, is situated in the Middleveld. The Lowveld of Swaziland, at around 250 metres, is less populated than other areas and presents a typical African bush country of thorn trees and grasslands. Development of the region was inhibited, in early days, by the scourge of malaria.
Swaziland is divided into four regions.
The Hlane Royal National Park is one of the highlights in Swaziland if you want to see abundant wildlife and the good thing is, you can explore parts of the park on foot together with a local ranger. It is located around an hours drive from Manzini and you can travel by your own car or charter a vehicle once in the park. Wildlife includes elephant, rhino, hippo, lion, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, zebra and many species of antelope. Birdlife is plentiful as well.
Mkhaya Game Reserve offers the best opportunity in Africa to see black rhinos in the wild and can be easily reached from Manzini. The reserve also contains white rhino, elephant, leopard, hippo, zebra, giraffe and various antelopes, though not in anywhere near the quantities visible in East Africa. The guides, though, are excellent. The cost of a day safari to the reserve is E475 (Sep 2009) - you have to book in advance either by phone or at the Big Game Parks office in The Gables shopping centre in Ezulwini.
This park protects both a very spectactular mountainous landscape as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is located in the northwest of the country and is one of the wildest areas in the country, with mountains (highest peak over 1,800 metres), waterfalls, bushveld and grassland and walking is excellent here. Some parts are accessible by car as well, but you will need a 4wd if you want to the more remote areas.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is Swaziland's oldest conservation area. It contains leopard, hippo, giraffe, crocodile, zebra, and various antelopes, plus other animals and birds. There are various self-guided walks available. A big attraction is the accommodation within the sanctuary itself.
The Reed Dance or Umhlanga takes place in Lobamba every year around the end of August/beginning of September, when dozens of young maidens travel to dance for the king and queen. The dance is lead by the royal princesses. The girls wear short skirts and traditional jewellery, looking very bright and colourful.
Swaziland generally has a warm and tropical climate, with high temperatures and high humidity but because of the elevation temperatures and humidity are somehow tempered. December to March is summer with high temperatures of 26 °C to 32 °C during the day, sometimes even warmer and around 20 °C or just below at night. This is always the wettest time of year. June to September is the cool and dry season with average temperatures of 20 °C to 25 °C daytime and around 8 °C to 12 °C at night, but temperatures close to zero (or even below in the mountains) is not uncommon. Snow is rare though.
Swazi Express Airways has a number of international flights to and from Matsapha Airport (MTS) near Manzini. Destinations include Durban, Maputo, Vilanculos and Johannesburg. Airlink Swaziland flies to Johannesburg as well.
Travelling to and from Swaziland by car is pretty straightforward and most car rental companies allow you to cross into Swaziland from South Africa (though not to and from Mozambique!) for free. Main roads are tarred, but off the beaten track crossings may not be as good.
Buses and minibuses travel between Manzini and Johannesburg and Durban in South Africa, as well as Maputo in Mozambique. It takes around 4 hours to Johannesburg and over 3 to Maputo. Baz Bus operates has buses three times a week between Johannesburg/Pretoria to Durban, via Mbabane and Manzini.
There are less frequent departures from Mbabane to Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces in South Africa though. There might be services to Maputo as well from Mbabane but check the local tourist office first.
As there are no plane, train or boat connections, your ways of getting around are limited and include all land travel by road. Most cities, towns and parks are within a few hours range of eachother.
Many people who travel around by car in Swaziland, rented a car in South Africa. You are able to rent a car on the international airport or some offices in the capital Mbabane. Most roads are generally in a good condition and even the secondary roads (usually gravel roads) are mostly accessible, but some require a 4wd. Traffic drives on the left and to rent a car you will an international driving permit.
Minibuses are the way to get around by public transport in Swaziland. They are however crowded and can be uncomfortable. They usually are a bit pricier than coach buses and travel shorter distances. However, the bigger buses usually are slower and less frequent.
Swaziland tourist visa are not required for most nationals of Western countries including most of the European countries, Australia, New Zealand, the US, UK, Canada, Japan, China, Argentina and Brazil. Visas are valid for up to 60 days. Most other travellers do need a visa.
See also Money Matters
The Swazi currency is the lilangeni (plural emalangeni), which is equivalent in value to the South African rand and the two are interchangeable in Swaziland. Note, however, that once you leave Swaziland then it's very hard to change emalangeni so try to convert them to rand before you go - your accommodation should be happy to do that.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Swaziland. There is one exception though: you need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Swaziland) where that disease is widely prevalent.
Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Swaziland. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country year round. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Swaziland as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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