Swaziland travel guide
With traditional customs still central to everyday life, the Kingdom of Swaziland offers an unparalleled insight into Africa’s tribal societies in a setting that is safe and welcoming to visitors. Combine this with a varied landscape and the most iconic species on the continent, and you have a nation ripe for exploration.
Swaziland holds the accolade as the only absolute monarchy in Africa (and one of only a handful left in the world). The king, Mswati III, plays a central role in political and cultural life, with the country’s most important annual events closely linked with his household.
Though smaller events involving traditional dress and celebrations can be found across the country at almost any time of year, it is the set piece ceremonies that draw the largest number of participants. In fact, the Umhlanga (Reed Dance) festival is one of Africa’s biggest cultural events. Thousands of unmarried Swazi women travel to the round, mud-brick buildings of the royal compound at Ludzidzini, where they pay tribute to the Queen Mother with reeds, song and dance.
Around the turn of the year, the Incwala or Kingship Dance is a rare survivor of what was once common across southern Africa. The highlight of the week-long festival is the spectacular sight of Swazi men in full battle regalia the likes of which you will not have seen outside a Hollywood blockbuster.
Swaziland also hosts a great diversity of landscape, ranging from river valleys, cool mountainous Highveld in the west, and hotter and dryer Lowveld in the east. A typical African landscape of acacia-dotted grasslands, the Lowveld is where Swaziland’s most iconic wildlife can be viewed. Mkhaya Game Reserve, one of 17 protected areas, is considered one of the very best places in Africa to witness rhino in their natural habitat.
Friendly, safe and spirited, Swaziland’s distinct and ever-present cultural traditions, together with its landscapes and wildlife, make this small land-locked country a unique and enticing destination.
17,364 sq km (6,704 sq miles).
1,304,063 (UN estimate 2016).
82.7 per sq km.
King Mswati III since 1986.
Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini since 2008.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. South African-style plugs with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin are in use.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Crime levels are low, but street crimes and burglaries do occur, sometimes involving violence. Vehicles have been taken at gunpoint. Avoid walking in the downtown areas of Mbabane and Manzini after dark and do not travel around in remote rural areas unless in a group. There is often an increase in criminal activity during the festive season.
Keep valuables in a safe place and avoid carrying large amounts of money or wearing conspicuous jewellery.
Avoid travelling into or out of Swaziland by road at night. There have been numerous incidences of car hijackings on major routes from South Africa and Mozambique.
The political situation is generally stable, but there are occasional political demonstrations. Some political parties have been banned and designated as terrorist organisations. Avoid gatherings as these can be dispersed forcefully by the police.
You can drive using a UK driving licences or an International Driving Permit.
The standard of driving is lower than in the UK. Drivers often cross the central reservation to avoid obstructions. Speeding is a problem (the maximum speed limit is 120 km on motorways and 80 km on other unrestricted roads). Minor roads are not well maintained and road markings are poor.
Take care on rural roads; there have been a number of serious accidents and deaths as a result of animals straying onto roads. Avoid driving on rural roads at night. As well as the possibility of hitting animals, there is the additional risk of abandoned unlit trailers and poorly lit heavy vehicles.
Be wary of anyone who offers you help if you breakdown or need to change a tyre as it presents the opportunity for theft, muggings and hijackings. You should park in well-lit areas. Do not pick up strangers. Do not stop to assist apparently distressed motorists, as this is a technique sometimes used by hijackers. Instead, report the incident to the police.
If you travel in a vehicle other than one registered in Swaziland, you will have to complete a customs declaration form at Swazi border posts on entry and departure. A road fund levy of E50 is payable at the border. You must carry with you in the vehicle at all times proof of your customs declaration and payment of the road fund levy. Vehicles may be searched at borders.
Do not use public transport (buses and taxis). Vehicles are generally poorly maintained and overloaded.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
We can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
In 2007 an audit of Swaziland’s Civil Aviation Authority by the International Civil Aviation Organisation found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Swaziland was below the global average.
The EU operating ban on airlines from Swaziland was lifted in April 2014.