Eswatini Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Eswatini, a captivating gem in Southern Africa, is a land of tradition, culture, and natural beauty. Nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, this small, yet vibrant nation is a haven for tourists seeking an authentic African experience. Eswatini boasts a rich tapestry of tradition, breathtaking landscapes, and warm hospitality that beckons visitors to explore its unique charms.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Eswatini as a tourist depends on your preferences and the type of experiences you seek. Eswatini has a temperate climate, so here are the different seasons and the best times to visit for various activities:

  1. Dry Season (May to September):
    • Wildlife Viewing: This is the prime season for wildlife viewing in Eswatini. The weather is cool and dry, making it ideal for game drives and safaris. Parks like Hlane Royal National Park and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary offer excellent wildlife encounters.
  2. Shoulder Seasons (April and October):
    • Mild Weather: These months offer pleasant weather with mild temperatures and are excellent for outdoor activities, such as hiking and cultural tours.
    • Cultural Festivals: Eswatini hosts several traditional festivals throughout the year, and you might catch some during the shoulder seasons.
  3. Rainy Season (November to March):
    • Cultural Experiences: The rainy season can be a great time to immerse yourself in Eswatini’s culture, as it often coincides with cultural ceremonies and celebrations.
    • Lush Landscapes: The countryside becomes lush and green during this time, offering beautiful scenery and a unique backdrop for photography.
  4. Hiking and Outdoor Activities: If you enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor adventures, consider visiting during the dry season (May to September) when the weather is most favorable.
  5. Birdwatching: Eswatini is a birdwatcher’s paradise, and bird species are abundant during the rainy season (November to March) when migratory birds are present.
  6. Mantenga Cultural Village: This attraction offers cultural experiences year-round, allowing you to learn about Swazi traditions and heritage.
  7. Local Markets: Explore local markets to purchase handmade crafts, souvenirs, and traditional Swazi goods. Markets are open year-round.

When planning your trip to Eswatini, consider the specific activities you wish to undertake and the experiences you want to have. The country’s diverse culture, scenic landscapes, and wildlife encounters are available year-round, so choose the season that aligns with your interests and preferences.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Eswatini as a tourist is relatively straightforward, and there are several transportation options available:

  1. Rental Cars: Renting a car is a popular option for tourists as it offers flexibility and convenience. Major rental car agencies operate at the airports and in urban areas. Ensure you have a valid international driver’s license and are comfortable with driving on the left side of the road.
  2. Taxis: Taxis are readily available in urban areas like Mbabane, Manzini, and Ezulwini. They are metered in cities but may not be in rural areas, so be sure to negotiate fares in advance.
  3. Minibus Taxis: Minibus taxis are a common form of public transportation in Eswatini. They are a cost-effective way to travel short distances within cities and towns.
  4. Buses: Long-distance buses connect major towns and cities in Eswatini. Operators like Eswatini Bus Service and others provide intercity travel services.
  5. Tour Operators: If you plan to go on guided tours, consider using a reputable tour operator. They can arrange transportation as part of the package for activities like safaris and cultural tours.
  6. Trains: Eswatini has a limited railway network connecting Manzini, Mbabane, and Matsapha. The trains offer a unique and leisurely way to explore the countryside.
  7. Hitchhiking: While not always recommended for safety reasons, some travelers choose to hitchhike in Eswatini. If you opt for this method, exercise caution and ensure you’re comfortable with the people who offer rides.
  8. Walking and Cycling: In urban areas and smaller towns, walking and cycling are viable options for getting around. Many tourist areas have pedestrian-friendly paths and cycling routes.
  9. Shared Shuttle Services: Some hotels and lodges offer shuttle services to nearby attractions. Check with your accommodations for transportation options.
  10. Domestic Flights: Eswatini has a small airport, King Mswati III International Airport, which primarily serves domestic flights. If you need to travel long distances quickly, consider using this airport for domestic connections.

When moving around Eswatini, it’s essential to plan your transportation based on the destinations you intend to visit. Rural areas and national parks may require specific transportation arrangements, so be sure to make these plans in advance. Additionally, keep in mind that road conditions can vary, so having a reliable map or GPS is beneficial when self-driving.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Eswatini are Siswati and English. Siswati is the national language and is widely spoken, while English is used in government, education, and business. Here are some basic Siswati words and phrases that may be helpful for tourists:

  1. Sawubona – Hello (used as a greeting)
  2. Yebo – Yes
  3. Cha – No
  4. Ngiyaphila – I am well (common response to “Sawubona”)
  5. Ngiyabonga – Thank you
  6. Ngiyacela – Please
  7. Kunjani? – How are you? (common greeting)
  8. Ngicela indawo yokulala – I need a place to sleep (useful when looking for accommodation)
  9. Inkosi ibusise – God bless you (a polite expression of gratitude)

While many people in Eswatini understand and speak English, using a few Siswati phrases can be appreciated by locals and enhance your interactions with them. Learning a few basics can go a long way in showing respect for the local culture and fostering goodwill during your visit.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Eswatini offers a variety of accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets. Whether you’re looking for luxury lodges, traditional guesthouses, or campsites, you’ll find suitable places to stay across the country. Here are some popular areas and types of accommodations for tourists in Eswatini:

  1. Mbabane: The capital city of Eswatini, Mbabane, offers a range of hotels, guesthouses, and lodges. It’s a convenient base for exploring the surrounding attractions.
  2. Ezulwini Valley: This area is known for its concentration of lodges, resorts, and hotels, making it a popular choice for tourists. It’s close to attractions like the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and cultural experiences.
  3. Manzini: Eswatini’s largest commercial center, Manzini, offers various accommodation options, including hotels and guesthouses. It’s an excellent location for travelers on business or looking to explore the region.
  4. Game Reserves: Many game reserves and national parks offer accommodations within the park boundaries. These can range from luxury lodges to more budget-friendly options. Popular parks for accommodations include Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve.
  5. Cultural Villages: For a unique cultural experience, consider staying in a traditional Swazi village or homestead, where you can immerse yourself in local customs and traditions.
  6. Malkerns: This small town is known for its craft markets and cultural experiences. You’ll find guesthouses and lodges here, making it a good base for exploring the surrounding attractions.
  7. Southern Eswatini: In the southern region of the country, you can find accommodations near natural attractions like Malolotja Nature Reserve, offering lodges and cabins for nature enthusiasts.
  8. Border Towns: If you plan to explore nearby countries, there are accommodations in border towns like Lavumisa and Ngwenya, which offer easy access to the borders.
  9. Campgrounds: Eswatini has campgrounds for those who prefer a more budget-friendly and adventurous accommodation option. Consider campsites in national parks or private camps.
  10. Luxury Lodges: For a high-end experience, Eswatini offers luxury lodges and resorts in picturesque settings. These accommodations often provide exceptional amenities and game-viewing opportunities.

When booking accommodations in Eswatini, it’s a good idea to make reservations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. Consider the type of experiences you want, your budget, and the specific attractions you plan to visit when choosing your lodging. Eswatini is known for its warm hospitality and the variety of accommodations available to cater to the needs of travelers.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Eswatini, like many African countries, offers a range of traditional dishes that are a must-try for tourists looking to explore the local cuisine. Here are some traditional foods to try in Eswatini:

  1. Sishwala and Siswati Stew: Sishwala is a thick porridge made from maize meal, similar to sadza or pap in other African countries. It’s often served with a variety of stews, such as beef, chicken, or vegetable stew.
  2. Emasi: This is a traditional soured milk or yogurt, which is a common side dish in Eswatini. It’s often served with porridge or as a refreshing beverage.
  3. Ting’ — Fermented Porridge: Ting’ is a fermented porridge made from finger millet, maize, or sorghum. It has a slightly sour taste and is rich in nutrients. It’s a staple food and an essential part of the Swazi diet.
  4. Lobhamba: Lobhamba is a popular dish in Eswatini made from boiled, dried meat, often beef. It’s similar to beef jerky and is enjoyed as a snack or appetizer.
  5. Sidvudvu: Sidvudvu is a type of squash or pumpkin, often stewed or cooked with other ingredients to create a flavorful side dish.
  6. Umcombotsi: This is a traditional beer made from maize or sorghum. It’s a common beverage at Swazi gatherings and celebrations.
  7. Braai: South African-style barbecue, known as “braai,” is also popular in Eswatini. Try grilled meats like boerewors (sausage) and steaks.
  8. Bunnychow: While not traditional Swazi food, bunnychow is a South African fast food dish available in Eswatini. It consists of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry.
  9. Local Fruits: Enjoy a variety of fresh fruits like mangoes, avocados, guavas, and bananas, which are commonly available in Eswatini.
  10. Dried Fish: In some regions, dried fish, often tilapia or sardines, are a local delicacy. They are used in stews and can be enjoyed as a snack.
  11. Local Snacks: Try local snacks like roasted peanuts, roasted maize, and dried fruit, which are commonly sold in markets and along the streets.
  12. Chibuku Shake Shake: This is a popular traditional beer in Eswatini, and it’s worth trying for those interested in local beverages.

When dining in Eswatini, consider visiting local restaurants, markets, and street vendors to experience authentic Swazi flavors. Many restaurants and lodges offer traditional dishes, allowing you to savor the local cuisine while enjoying the warm hospitality of the country.

What to See? 🔍

Eswatini, a small but culturally rich country, offers a variety of must-see places and attractions for tourists. Here are some of the top destinations to explore in Eswatini:

  1. Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary: This beautiful sanctuary is home to a wide range of wildlife, including antelope, zebras, and bird species. It’s perfect for nature walks, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
  2. Mantenga Cultural Village: Experience Swazi culture and traditions at this living museum. Witness traditional dances, visit a Swazi homestead, and explore the local way of life.
  3. Hlane Royal National Park: This park offers fantastic opportunities for game viewing, particularly for spotting white rhinos and lions. It’s one of the best places for a safari experience.
  4. Malolotja Nature Reserve: Enjoy hiking, birdwatching, and exploring the diverse ecosystems of this reserve, which features the impressive Malolotja Falls.
  5. Lobamba: Visit the traditional and legislative capital of Eswatini, home to the royal kraal and the Parliament building. The King Sobhuza II Memorial Park is also located here.
  6. Ngwenya Glass Factory: Explore this renowned glass factory and watch skilled craftsmen create beautiful glassware using recycled glass.
  7. Sheba’s Breasts Mountains: These distinctive twin peaks in the western part of the country offer great hiking opportunities and stunning views.
  8. Swaziland Water Services Corporation Dam: Also known as the Maguga Dam, this reservoir is surrounded by scenic beauty and offers opportunities for boat trips and picnics.
  9. Execution Rock: A large granite rock formation with a fascinating history and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
  10. Ezulwini Valley: This area is known for its concentration of lodges, resorts, and attractions. It’s a central location for exploring the region.
  11. Nkonyeni Golf Estate: Golf enthusiasts can enjoy a round of golf at this beautiful estate, set against the backdrop of the Lubombo Mountains.
  12. Gone Rural Swaziland: Visit this organization supporting local women artisans, where you can purchase handwoven products and learn about Swazi craft traditions.
  13. Komati River Gorge: Explore this dramatic river gorge and the suspension bridge that spans it, offering scenic views and a sense of adventure.
  14. Nsangwini Rock Art: Discover ancient San rock art at Nsangwini, a testament to the historical significance of the region.
  15. Phophonyane Falls: These picturesque waterfalls are a peaceful place to unwind and enjoy nature. A short hiking trail leads to the falls.

Eswatini offers a wide range of attractions, from wildlife encounters to cultural experiences and beautiful natural landscapes. Exploring these destinations will provide a deeper understanding of the country’s rich history and traditions.

What to Do? 📸

While visiting Eswatini, there are several must-do things to make the most of your experience in this culturally rich and scenically beautiful country:

  1. Witness Traditional Dances: Attend a traditional Swazi dance performance to experience the vibrant local culture and rhythms of Eswatini.
  2. Visit a Homestead: Explore a Swazi homestead at a cultural village like Mantenga Cultural Village to gain insight into the local way of life.
  3. Shop for Local Crafts: Eswatini is known for its handicrafts, including beautiful baskets, beadwork, and woodcarvings. Visit local markets and craft shops to buy unique souvenirs.
  4. Hike and Explore Nature: Take advantage of Eswatini’s stunning natural beauty by hiking in the Malolotja Nature Reserve, exploring the Sheba’s Breasts Mountains, or enjoying scenic drives through the countryside.
  5. Go on a Safari: Eswatini offers fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities in parks like Hlane Royal National Park and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Join a guided safari to see diverse animal species.
  6. Enjoy Outdoor Activities: Partake in activities like mountain biking, horseback riding, or birdwatching in Eswatini’s picturesque landscapes.
  7. Try Traditional Food: Savor traditional Swazi dishes like sishwala, beef stew, and fermented porridge. Don’t forget to enjoy local snacks like roasted maize and dried fish.
  8. Visit Game Reserves: Explore the Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve for wildlife encounters, including the Big Five.
  9. Explore Glass Factories: Learn about glassblowing and witness the creation of beautiful glassware at places like the Ngwenya Glass Factory.
  10. Discover History: Visit cultural heritage sites like Lobamba and Execution Rock to gain a deeper understanding of Eswatini’s history and traditions.
  11. Go on a Cultural Tour: Join a cultural tour that includes visits to local homesteads, traditional ceremonies, and interactions with Swazi people.
  12. Attend Local Festivals: If your visit coincides with one of the country’s many traditional festivals, such as the Reed Dance or Umhlanga, don’t miss the opportunity to witness these colorful celebrations.
  13. Relax at Waterfalls: Enjoy the tranquil beauty of Eswatini’s waterfalls, such as Phophonyane Falls, and cool off in their crystal-clear pools.
  14. Golf at Nkonyeni: Play a round of golf at the picturesque Nkonyeni Golf Estate while taking in stunning views of the Lubombo Mountains.
  15. Experience Local Brews: Sample local beverages like umcombotsi (traditional beer) and chibuku shake shake, or enjoy a refreshing glass of emasi (soured milk).
  16. Take a Dip in the Hot Springs: Visit the Nkonyeni Hot Springs for a relaxing soak in natural thermal waters.
  17. Connect with Local Artisans: Interact with local artisans, weavers, and craftspeople to learn about traditional Swazi craftsmanship.

Exploring Eswatini’s unique blend of nature, culture, and traditions is a rewarding experience. By participating in these activities, you can immerse yourself in the local way of life and create lasting memories of your visit to this enchanting kingdom.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Eswatini as a tourist, it’s important to respect the local culture and take precautions to ensure your safety. Here are some tips for understanding the culture and staying safe in Eswatini:

Culture:

  1. Respect for Local Traditions: Eswatini has a rich and deeply rooted cultural heritage. Show respect for local traditions, customs, and ceremonies, even if you don’t fully understand them.
  2. Greeting Etiquette: Greetings are important in Eswatini. Learn basic greetings in Siswati, the local language, and greet people with “Sawubona” (hello) and “Ngiyabonga” (thank you).
  3. Dress Modestly: In rural areas and villages, it’s advisable to dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees, as a sign of respect for local customs.
  4. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people or their property, especially in rural areas. Some people may prefer not to be photographed.
  5. Cultural Sensitivity: Be sensitive to the cultural values of the Swazi people. Public displays of affection and indecent clothing may be considered disrespectful.
  6. Traditional Ceremonies: If you have the opportunity to attend traditional ceremonies or events, approach them with an open mind and a willingness to observe and learn.

Safety:

  1. Health Precautions: Ensure you have travel insurance and consult a healthcare professional for necessary vaccinations and health precautions. Malaria is present in some regions, so carry insect repellent and take appropriate measures.
  2. Water and Food Safety: Be cautious about drinking tap water and consuming street food. Stick to bottled water and well-cooked meals to avoid waterborne illnesses.
  3. Traffic Safety: Be cautious when using public transportation or walking in cities. Traffic rules and pedestrian safety can vary.
  4. Wildlife Encounters: When on safari or visiting national parks, follow the instructions of your guide and maintain a safe distance from wild animals. They are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
  5. Security: Eswatini is generally safe for tourists, but petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing can occur, especially in crowded areas. Keep an eye on your belongings, use hotel safes when available, and avoid displaying valuable items.
  6. Medical Facilities: Familiarize yourself with the location of medical facilities and pharmacies in the area you’re visiting. Carry essential medical supplies, including insect repellent and over-the-counter medications.
  7. Currency Exchange: Be cautious when exchanging currency, especially in local markets. Use official currency exchange facilities or reputable banks to avoid scams.
  8. Travel Documents: Keep your travel documents, including your passport, safe and secure. Make photocopies or digital copies of important documents.
  9. Local Etiquette: While Eswatini is generally tolerant, it’s a good practice to be aware of and respect local customs and traditions. Be respectful of people’s personal space and traditions.

By understanding and respecting the culture and taking necessary safety precautions, you can have a rewarding and memorable trip to Eswatini while enjoying the warm hospitality of the Swazi people and the country’s stunning landscapes.

Conclusion

For tourists, Eswatini promises an enriching journey through cultural festivals, game reserves, and the lush Swazi landscapes. Immerse yourself in the traditions of this kingdom, witness the colorful celebrations, and be captivated by the awe-inspiring scenery. As you depart this remarkable nation, you’ll carry with you a deeper appreciation for Eswatini’s heritage and the warmth of its people. Visit Eswatini, where a world of cultural discovery and natural wonder awaits.