A far bigger country than its size would suggest, Swaziland is an important pivot on the regional travel map, and an equally important player on the local economic and political scene. One of the last absolute monarchies in the world, there are certainly question marks hanging over Swazi politics, but where the country excels is in the preservation of its unique traditions and culture.
There are certain countries in the world, Ireland being perhaps the best known, that preserve their folk culture through the determined education and inclusion of youth in traditions and institutions that remain as a consequence very much at the forefront of modern life. So it is with Swaziland. The monarchy itself is a deeply traditional institution that permeates every aspect of Swazi life, and although it is something of an anachronism, and has suffered considerable local and international criticism for excess and autocracy, it remains popular within Swaziland and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Like Lesotho, Swaziland remained an enclave separate from the colonial administrations of the region, and was never wholly drawn into the family of European colonies that surrounded it. As South Africa was federated at the turn of the century Swaziland was declared a British Protectorate. As a consequence the country was never fully absorbed into South Africa, and has since 1968 remain a unique and autonomous state.
Travel To & Within Swaziland
Why Travel To Swaziland
In terms of landmass Swaziland is a very small country, and is compacted with a high population, and somewhat burdened by high levels of poverty and deadly rates of HIV infection. It is therefore not a venue for the free-range wildlife enthusiast, and is more of a brief touring destination with a strong flavor of African culture to enliven the general mix.
The country does however have five national parks that adequately reflect the ecological diversity of the country. Swaziland is divided fairly equally between highlands and lowveld, with a considerable area of medium altitude hill country wherein most of the population reside and where the two main cities of Manzini and Mbabane are to be found. In this region is the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, the most easily accessible of the countryÂs parks, but also probably the most canned. The Hlane Royal Game Park in the northeast, also very easily accessible, is perhaps the most authentic. Worth mentioning also is the Mkhaya Game Reserve, a high-end private sanctuary that offers the increasingly rare sight of Black Rhino.
Of the many cultural festivals that pepper the annual social calendar the most famous is perhaps the annual Reed Dance, also known as Unhlanga. This is in essence and African style debutantes ball wherein some 20 000 of the most eligible women in the Kingdom step out in traditional dress (almost nothing at all) for the edification of the King, who is permitted to choose from among them his new wife. The Unhlanga is arguably SwazilandÂs premier tourist attraction, and is one of the most vibrant living showcases of traditional African culture publicly visible anywhere in the region. The Incwala, or First Fruits festival, is a harvest/fertility celebration held at the end of the annual rains.
When To Visit Swaziland
The Unhlanga is usually held in August or September, while the Incwala is usually held in January. Barring these two principal events the best time to visit the region is during the dry winter months between May and October. Temperatures can get very cold at night, but you will also avoid the heat and humidity, and of course the ubiquitous rain.
Swaziland is a fairly easygoing country so the crime stats are low, but thanks to its proximity to South Africa and Mozambique a certain amount of street crime is to be expected. Car hijackings are common on the approaches to both neighbors, so travel after dark is to be avoided.
An estimated 33 percent of the population is HIV positive or living with AIDS. This is probably a conservative estimate, so extreme caution in matters of sexual adventure is advisable at all times.