Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Malolotja Nature Reserve
This beautiful highveld/middleveld reserve is a true wilderness area, rugged and mostly unspoiled. It's also an excellent walking destination, with a 200km (124mi) network of hiking trails. Budding ornithologists can see over 280 species of birds, including several rare species. Wildflowers and rare plants are added attractions.
Hlane Royal National Park
Hlane Royal National Park is near the former royal hunting grounds. Hlane (the name means 'wilderness') is Swaziland's largest protected area, home to elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, white rhinos and many antelope species. The park offers wonderfully low-key wildlife-watching.
There are guided walking trails, which afford the opportunity to see elephants and rhinos, as well as two-hour wildlife day drives, a cultural village tour with dance performances and mountain-bike rentals.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
This lovely sanctuary, near Lobamba, is a private reserve created by Ted Reilly on his family farm in the 1950s. It's dominated by the precipitous Nyonyane (Little Bird) peak, and there are several attractive walks around it. Zebras, giraffes, many antelope species, crocodiles, hippos and a variety of birds can be seen; in summer, you may spot a black eagle.
Activities on offer in the reserve include walking, two-hour vehicle safaris, cycling and day and overnight horse-riding trips.
When to go?
The best time to visit is between May and June or in October, especially if you want to avoid those days when you could fry eggs on a tin hat. You'll get cooler temperatures (downright cold at night) in the eastern lowlands and warmer, drier weather in the highlands. If you want to see the two most important Swazi cultural ceremonies, go in August or September for the Umhlanga (Reed) Dance, or in late December or early January for the Incwala (the 'first fruits') ceremony. But bear in mind that Swaziland is rain-soaked between December and April.
Travel Visa Overview
Most people don't require a visa, apart from some nationalities of the European Union who can get them free at the airport. Vaccination certificates are required if you have recently been in a yellow fever area.
South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure) and damage to internal organs is irreversible. Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave.Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com.
With a mild summer and winter, the climate in Swaziland is mostly pleasant all year. Rain is more frequent from October to May, but with plenty of sunshine, low humidity and temperatures around 25°C (77°F), these months are hardly a trial to endure. Winters can get quite cold at night but are relatively dry. Closer to Mozambique in the lowlands, conditions become more tropical.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
In eastern Swaziland archaeologists have discovered human remains dating back 110,000 years, but the Swazi people arrived only relatively recently. During the great Bantu migration into southern Africa, one clan of the Nguni, moving down the east coast, settled around modern Maputo in Mozambique. Eventually the Dlamini family founded a dynasty there, but by the middle of the 18th century, pressure from the other clans forced a Dlamini king, Ngwane III, to lead his people south to what is now southern Swaziland, around the Pongola River. The Swazi now consider Ngwane III to be their first king.
Under pressure from the Zulu, the next king, Sobhuza I, withdrew to the Ezulwini Valley, which remains the centre of Swazi royalty and rituals today. King Mswazi, who ascended the throne next, was a gifted warrior and diplomat, and by the time he cashed his chips in 1868 the Swazi nation was secure.
The Zulus frequently clashed with the British and the Boers, which relieved pressure on the Swazis but created other problems. Swaziland attracted a ragtag bunch of great white hunters, inconsequential traders, fervent missionaries and land hungry farmers looking to feed their cattle. The kingdom's land was being gobbled up in leases granted to the Europeans, but in 1877 the British decided to run the place along their own lines and they annexed it lock, stock and barrel. The Swaziland Convention of 1881 guaranteed the nation's independence on paper, while considerably contracting its borders, and 'independence' proved to be just a word. In practice the Brits and Boers pursued their own interests with chaotic results, and after the Boer War the victors took over the reins of power. Swaziland joined the long list of countries administered by London.
During the 20th century, land ownership grew into an issue threatening the viability of Swazi culture, given that Swazi kings are considered to hold the kingdom in trust for their subjects. With a large proportion of the kingdom in foreign hands, King Labotsibeni encouraged Swazis to buy back the farm, and many emigrated to South Africa to raise money by working in the mines. Land was gradually returned to the kingdom, both by direct purchase and by the British government, and at independence in 1968 around two-thirds of the kingdom was back in Swazi control. Britain's 66-year rule was overturned peacefully, and many streets in Mbabane retain their colonial-era names, perhaps indicative of the good will the colonial administration left behind.
Swaziland inherited a constitution largely the work of the British, and in 1973 King Sobhuza II suspended it on the grounds that it did not reflect Swazi culture. Four years later parliament reconvened under a new constitution that vested all power in the king. Sobhuza was followed in 1986 by King Mswati, who continues to maintain and represent tradition. He runs the country with the Council of Ministers, a small core of advisers.
Opposition parties remain illegal, and in 1995 the National Assembly and the homes of the deputy prime minister and the vice-chancellor of the University of Swaziland were burned in student riots. Following a general strike later that year the king's powers were partially reduced, and in 1997 the heads of Mozambique and South Africa held talks with the king on further democratisation in Swaziland.
Since then King Mswati and the pro-democracy forces have engaged in a tit-for-tat game of one-upmanship; the increasingly fearless unions have organised strikes and bans on imported and exported products, which has resulted in government restrictions of trade union activities; pro-democracy groups have refused to recognise the Public Order Act, which forbids party politics in the kingdom and requires police permission to hold a meeting; in return, the king's office has refused to comment on a UN-sponsored report on the country's constitution.
To combat the AIDS epidemic, in 2001 the king prohibited men from having sex with teenage girls for five years. Just two months later he fined himself a cow for breaking the ban by taking a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife. The ban was then prematurely lifted in 2005 just weeks before Mswati III chose another 17-year-old girl as his 13th wife. It is likely the mixed messages may have something to do with Swaziland's population now having the highest AIDS infection rate in the world, a staggering 40%. The king's spending is almost as controversial. While his nation has struggled through droughts and subsequent humanitarian crises, Mswati III purchased
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