Quick Guide to eSwatini (formerly Swaziland): Visa-free travel for South Africans

2018-06-20 16:32
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Four swazi women sitting on a mountain overlooking

Discover eSwatini - visa-free travel fro South Africans. (Photo: eSwatini Tourism)

Tucked in-between South Africa and Mozambique, the Swaziland Kingdom, or Kingdom of eSwatini as it has been renamed, might be small but it has a lot to offer.

The country has a strong cultural identity of its own, largely formed by a loyalty to the monarchy, which is set on preserving age-old Swazi traditions and customs. 

You can steep yourself into Swazi culture at one of their famous festivals or traverse hiking trails in the Emlembe Mountains.

In the Malolotja Nature Reserve you can fly high on a canopy tour and dive into the cool pools of its waterfalls.

The best part is that it's just a border hop away from the provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

SEE: Swaziland for SA travellers: 8 things to do

Here we take a look at one of the top ten searched African destinations for South Africans and what you need to know should you want to visit:

Visa requirements: No visa required for South Africans with a valid passport for stays of up to 30 days. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months and have at least 2 blank pages.

Continent: Southern Africa

Capital: Mbabane and Lobamba

Medical requirement: Malaria preventative measures need to be taken in the eastern parts of the country bordering Mozambique and northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Currency / Exchange Rate: Swazi Lilangeni (SZL is linked to the rand exchange rate. Note you can use rand in Eswatini but not the other way around, so use up your SZL before crossing the border back to South Africa.)

National Carriers: Swaziland Airlink

Main airports: King Mswati III International Airport

Time Zone: Same as SA

Plugs: Same as SA

Public transport: Minibus taxis are available and do cross the border from South Africa, but better to drive around with your own or rental car.

Best time to visit: May to September if you want to see animals, but October to April is better if you want sun and green landscapes.

Climate: High veld in the western parts and low veld in the eastern parts.

Food specialities: Very similar cuisine to South Africa, with a focus on pap, game meat, braai’d mielies and locals like to brew marula beer during harvest time.

Language: Swazi (Official), English (Official), Zulu, Tsonga, Afrikaans

SEE: 5 First impressions of Swaziland from a SA traveller

Useful phrases

Hello

Sawubona

Goodbye

Sala kahle

My name is ….

Ligama lami ngu …

Thank you.

Ngiyabonga

Yes

Yebo

No

Cha

Do you speak English?

Uyasati yini singisi?

Water

Emanti

Where is [hotel/toilet/beach etc.]?

Ungakuphi … ?

WATCH: Travel with a purpose: The fight for clean water in the forgotten corners of SA

Travel tips

  • Before deciding on your dates check the country’s festival calendar as Eswatini has three big festivals that are a must-see – The Umhlanga Reed Dance festival, the Incwala Festival that celebrates harvest season and the modern music festival Bush-Fire.
  • The only cellphone provider is MTN-Swazi, but if you’re close to South Africa’s borders and you have SA SIM card, you can go into you’re phone’s settings and see if your provider is in range and force it to select that instead of being on roaming.
  • If you’re renting a car to drive through Eswatini from SA (which should preferably be a 4x4 or car with high bearings), also make sure you have the paperwork from the rental agency that allows you to cross borders – they can be very finicky at the border and have all your passports and paperwork together for a smooth process.
  • Throughout the country there’s various curio stalls with a variety of typical African artworks, including shweshwe wraps with either the King or the Eswatini flag on them and makes for great mementos from the trip.
  • Eswatini is a monarchy and they take any form of public disrespect to King Mswati III and his family very seriously and could land you in trouble with the law. Also show the utmost respect for their traditional customs and beliefs.

SEE: Find Your Escape: Border-crossing breaks

Top attractions in Swaziland

  • Hlane Royal National Park

This park is the largest in Eswatini, rich in diverse game and typical African bush experiences. Although it's missing the buffalo from the Big Five, it has ample enough activities to make it a must visit. You can take on their guided mountain bike trails, or spend a night or two on one of their inclusive Ehlatsini Bush Trails.

SEE: The wilder side of travel photography: 8 pro-tips to up your game

  • Jozini Big 6 Game Reserve

Situated around Lake Jozini, this private game reserve is a must-stop for those looking for a luxurious bush camp experience, with many lodges to choose from. Besides the Big 5, the sixth addition is the massive tiger fish that lives in the waters. With the beautiful Lubombo Mountains as a backdrop, this place is truly magical.

  • Emlembe Mountain

This is the highest mountain in Eswatini, and forms a border between the country and South Africa where it forms part of the Drakensberg range. At the foot of the mountains is a historic mining village at Bulembu, where history and nature meet. There are three to five hour guided hiking tours up the mountain that start at Bulembu Country Lodge.

WATCH: New gorge lift thrills thousands in Graskop + SA’s new attractions to check out

  • Malolotja Nature Reserve

Malolotja Nature Reserve is a mountain wilderness game reserve, well-known for its waterfalls, forests and wild flowers that pop up during springtime. For those looking for a thrill, the Malolotja Canopy tours is a big adrenaline rush where you explore the treetops and sheer-drop cliffs of the waterfalls, and great for all ages.

  • Mantenga Cultural Village

This village is a living museum teaching visitors about Swazi culture and how it would have looked in the 1850s. Greeted by villagers wearing traditional outfits, you'll find out how they built their huts, their cuisines and their daily lives before modernity took hold, as well as watch a dance performance that will get you grooving.

SEE: I went glamping and now I don’t want to camp any other way ever again

Border-crossing breaks to plan: