Recently re-named in 2018, eSwatini used to be known as Swaziland by most travelers. As one of the smallest countries on the continent, eSwatini is one of the world’s destinations that is on the road less traveled.
Yet, what eSwatini lacks in size, it makes up for in adventure. With ancient rock formations, lush mountains, deep valleys and thundering waterfalls, eSwatini is a traveler’s dream playground.
Sanibonani – Welcome to eSwatini
The country embodies the spirit of adventure and travelers can test their adrenaline by participating in whitewater rafting, abseiling, climbing, and caving. If you don’t want to get your heart pounded, you can explore eSwatini by hiking, boating, biking, and horseback riding. With experiences that cater to travelers of all ages, eSwatini is the place to go if you want to experience Africa at a slower pace.
Present throughout the entire country is a laidback vibe, which has made eSwatini famous for its intimate safaris that get you up close to Africa’s wildlife. Some of the most popular parks offer unique excursions including safaris on horseback and mountain bikes. With less visitors than some of the other national parks and reserves in Africa, eSwatini is the best to safari if you want to avoid hordes of tourists.
Unlike most countries that have one capital city, eSwatini is one of the handful of countries in the world that has two. Mbabane is the older capital city, which was established in 1887 and has a long history with British colonization. The city is known as the administrative capital.
Lobamba is eSwatini’s second capital city, which is in charge of the country’s legislative and royal duties. For visitors who are curious about the country’s two capitals, it’s easy to visit both in one day because they are located just a short distance apart.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities and Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Originally, eSwatini was established by Nguni groups who came to the area as part of the Bantu migrations. The country’s written history began by the 18th century, which is when eSwatini became a protectorate of South Africa. However, under the rule of King Mswati, the country strengthened its military and became a powerful force in Southern Africa.
In 1899, the Anglo-Boer War began with Britain fighting for control over eSwatini because of the discovery of gold and diamonds. Ultimately, South Africa and the Orange Free State were defeated, and Britain took control of eSwatini. The British controlled eSwatini until 1968, which is when the country regained its independence.
Since then, eSwatini is most famous for being one of the world’s last absolute monarchies. Tradition in the kingdom sees a king and his mother in power. Elections are held every 5 years to select the country’s Parliament. The current King and head of the Swazi Royal Family is Mswati III.
A big historical event that happened in eSwatini was the name change in 2018. In celebration of the King’s 50th birthday, the monarch decided that Swaziland would officially change its name to eSwatini. While you may see it spelled as Eswatini, the official spelling has a unique appearance with the capital “S” appearing after the “e”.
Nevertheless, the name change hasn’t affected the country’s big heart. The Swazi people are friendly and offer warm welcomes to all of eSwatini’s visitors. Tradition is important to the Swazi people and they preserve their culture through demonstrations of their ceremonies, song, and dance. Festivals are a big hit with the locals and tourists, with the Reed Festival being the main attraction each year.
The Swazi people also speak their own unique language, which is known as Swati, Swazi, or siSwati. The language is rooted from Bantu languages and it is spoken by 95% of the country. English is the second official language in the country, but it is mostly used by the government.
However, the increase in tourism and the country’s reliance on foreign visitors for income means that the English language is becoming more widespread. In tourist areas, you should be able to find an English-speaking guide.
While eSwatini does have a tourist visa, US citizens do not need to apply for a visa if they are staying for less than 30 days. Any visits that are over the 30-day limit will require a pre-authorized tourist visa. There are no visas upon arrival in eSwatini, so if you must apply, it is important to submit your application before you travel to the country.
Travelers can apply for the visa online and it will cost $80 Swazi Lilangeni or $5 US dollars for a single entry, 3-month visa. Along with the visa application form, you will need to submit a cover letter from your host as a tourist. Most hosts, which includes hotels, will provide you with a letter upon your request.
All US tourists entering eSwatini or applying for the e-visa will need to provide a US passport with a remaining validity of at least 6 months. Your passport will need 2 blank pages, and this is non-negotiable. Tourists have been denied entry into eSwatini because their passport did not have the required blank pages.
If you are entering eSwatini from a Yellow Fever listed country, you will need to provide proof of a recent vaccination. There are no other vaccination requirements, but the CDC in the United States strongly suggests that all travelers are up to date on their immunizations. Finally, there are no currency restrictions when entering or exiting eSwatini.
The smaller size of the country and tourist crowds makes eSwatini one of the rare places in Africa that is backpacker friendly. However, the popularity of the country’s safaris also means that mid-range and luxury vacations are also an option in eSwatini. Travelers should create a spending budget outline, which should include the prices of airfare, accommodation, food, drink and transportation to help them better estimate the costs of their trip.
However, not all parts of a vacation to eSwatini are affordable. While budget backpackers can lower their costs when they are in the country, all travelers will have to pay a high price for an airline ticket to eSwatini. The average cost of a flight from the US to eSwatini ranges from $2,000 US dollars at the low end, up to $2,600 US dollars on the high end. Budget airline prices would see prices dramatically drop and travelers may be able to find special deals that cut the price in half.
Unlike other African countries, plane tickets to eSwatini are not heavily affected by the tourist season. One reason for this is because of the country’s relatively small tourist industry, which means that most of the tourist crowds head to other African destinations like South Africa or Kenya. Fewer crowds means that prices remain consistently throughout the year, but there is a small spike around the Christmas holidays. Most tourists will visit eSwatini in December or January.
With airline prices being the largest portion of your budget, travelers can look forward to saving money by booking affordable accommodation. There are quite a few accommodation options for travelers in eSwatini, which include the classic hostel, hotel, or luxury establishment.
Hostels are extremely affordable in eSwatini and most places will charge $9-$11 US dollars per night. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can even book a campsite at one of the conservation areas for about $8 US dollars per night.
For visitors who would feel more comfortable in a standard hotel, you should expect to pay $42-$84 US dollars per night for a double room. The most expensive accommodation options will be luxury or boutique hotels, which could cost up to $200 US dollars per night. However, the average cost is about $130 US dollars per night.
Most accommodation options in eSwatini will not include the price of food with your nightly rates. Unlike safaris in some of Africa’s more popular countries, it is rare to find an all-inclusive package at hotels in eSwatini. However, you can check the hotel’s website or contact information if you have inquiries about the possibility of booking an all-inclusive package.
Since all-inclusive packages are rare, it is important to input the cost of food and drink in your spending budget. The cuisine in eSwatini is heavily based on sorghum and maize with the most common livestock being goats and cows. While the food may seem simple, there are quite a few delicious dishes that travelers must try when they’re in eSwatini.
Famous in South Africa, but with a twist in eSwatini is umncweba and umkhunsu, which is similar to biltong. Umncweba is an uncooked meat that is marinated in vinegar and various spices before being dried. Umkhunsu is a cooked meat, which is then dried. Both are similar to jerky, but they pack much more flavor. Another tasty snack that you will see all throughout eSwatini is corn on the cob, which is grilled or boiled.
Braais or barbeques are also popular throughout eSwatini, which is often served on a platter with porridge and vegetables. Porridge is a favorite dish in eSwatini, which is made from maize flour and served as a stew. Porridges may include sour milk, called emansi, or meat to enhance the flavor. Finally, pumpkin leaves are a popular ingredient, which is often turned into stew with ground nuts called umbidvo wetintsanga.
No matter where you are in eSwatini, you will always be able to find a good meal. Food is inexpensive throughout the country and even the best restaurants are affordable. Budget meals can be purchased for about $5 US dollars, while a local sit-down establishment will charge up to $8 US dollars for a meal. In the touristy areas, you should expect to pay up to $15 US dollars for a meal. With such affordable prices, travelers can taste all of the country’s unique flavors.
Alcohol is also affordable in eSwatini and most imported beverages cost less than $2 US dollars. In tourist areas, the cost of alcohol may be inflated, but you shouldn’t have to pay more than $4 US dollars for a drink.
If you put all the parts of your spending budget together, you can estimate the daily cost of your trip to eSwatini. Budget backpackers can survive traveling around the country on a minimum of $60 US dollars per day. A more moderate budget with a little more room for private accommodations and nicer amenities. A mid-range budget would cost about $110 US dollars per day.
Luxury vacations in eSwatini won’t break that bank, but you should be prepared to pay more, especially if you want to partake in more excursions. A luxury budget would cost $150-$180 US dollars per day. This would allow you to book multiple excursions, as well as hire a private driver to get around.
Travelers who are staying within eSwatini will find that there are plenty of affordable safari options. Park fees are significantly less than other African countries and you should be able to book a guided tour of a park or reserve for a little less than $100 US dollars per day. A mid-range safari in eSwatini would cost about $200 US dollars per day, but some places charge up to $3,000 US dollars for a multi-day safari.
The country’s close proximity to South Africa also means that there are more expensive safari bundles available. If you are traveling to eSwatini from South Africa as a part of a guided safari, you should expect to pay $700 US dollars for a 7-day trip.
Longer safaris and more inclusive packages will cost more, and some companies charge up to $1,800 US dollars per person to visit South Africa’s most popular wildlife spots. This would include highlights in eSwatini and South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park.
How to Get Around
Traveling around eSwatini can be difficult because of the limited road infrastructure. While there are buses that the locals use, most people will get around on foot. The local buses or minivans are an option, but the government in eSwatini is aware that there are inevitable dangers. For tourists, eSwatini suggests that you avoid public transportation and instead choose to drive yourself, hire a private driver, or book a tour.
Car Rentals, Private Drivers or Tours
The roads are a bit rough in eSwatini and visitors should look for a car rental that has four-wheel drive. The average cost of a car rental in eSwatini is $40 US dollars per day. Visitors can avoid driving themselves by hiring a private driver.
A half-day excursion would cost about $20 US dollars, but some drivers can be hired for multiple days in a row. The cost of a private driver can quickly add up, but most people end up spending about $50 US dollars per day.
Tours are another popular option for travelers in eSwatini because they include their own transportation in the daily fee. However, there are plenty of tour options and most of the time prices will range from $100-$1,500 US dollars per day. Longer and more inclusive tours will be more expensive.
Top Cities and Points of Interest
When it comes to planning a trip to eSwatini, cities are probably not at the top of your list. While there are a few great cities worth exploring, most people are there to explore the highlights and points of interest related to the landscape and wildlife. Here are a few of the best areas to explore in eSwatini.
Mbabane is one of eSwatini’s capitals, which is well-known for its colorful markets and handmade goods. In this city, the Swazi Market is a must-see and must-do activity for travelers who want to connect with the local culture. An array of handbaskets, fabrics, and jewelry await you in Mbabane and if you want, you can even purchase a piece to take home with you.
Home to the Royal Kraal, Parliament Building and National Museum, Lobamba is the country’s second capital that is most focused on sharing the Swazi culture. Visitors can tour the Parliament Building or view the exterior of the Embo State Palace to catch a glimpse of Swazi Royalty. With a calmer atmosphere than Mbabane, tourists can head out from the city and immerse themselves in the local culture by visiting traditional villages.
Mantenga Reserve is the best place to go to get an intimate and interactive view of Swazi culture. The Mantenga Cultural Village is open to the public and recreates the historical lifestyles of the Swazi people. Visitors can witness ceremonies and traditional dances within the village or escape to the wilderness to view Mantenga Falls.
Hlane Royal National Park
Home to some of Africa’s Big Five animals, Hlane Royal National Park is the place to be if you want to view lions, elephants, and rhinos. Guided tours are available and are required if you want to enter the lion’s enclosure. In other parts of the park, self-guided tours are permitted with 4WD vehicles.
Mbuluzi Game Reserve
Unlike Hlane Royal National Park, Mbuluzi Game Reserve does not have any of Africa’s Big Five animals. This makes it a unique destination where tourists can take a self-guided safari and hike around the open trails. However, danger is still present and some animals that you need to be cautious of include hyenas, wildebeest, and honey badgers. All hikes are on guided trails, so be careful not to stray from the path. Hikes should only be attempted during the daytime.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
With accommodation and a wide range of activities, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the first conservation areas that eSwatini established. The park is home to zebras, crocodiles, hippos, and antelopes but it lacks any of the Big Five animals. Visitors can camp or stay in the cabins and lodge for a multi-day excursion in the park. Guided tours are also available, which include cars, mountain bikes, and horses for transportation.
Mlawula Nature Reserve
With over 60 animal species, Mlawula Nature Reserve is another hotspot for tourists who want to observe the local wildlife. The lack of elephants and lions makes the park exceptionally safe for travelers who want to get out and explore eSwatini on foot. Short loop trails and extended full-day treks are the best way to get out into the park’s habitat.
Get Out and Go
Small in stature, eSwatini is paradise for travelers who aren’t afraid to go off the beaten path. With less tourists, the country provides you with an intimate view into some of Africa’s culture and wildlife. Preservation has become essential to eSwatini’s character and the locals strive to protect their ancestral traditions and wildlife species. As a bonus, eSwatini’s close proximity to South Africa and affordable price makes it a destination that can’t be skipped.