Swaziland Helpful Travel Information
Swaziland, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, is one of the smallest countries in Africa and has a well-earned reputation for friendliness in Southern Africa. It also contains several large game parks and reserves, which are sponsored by the government and are popular tourist destinations.
Swaziland is divided into four administrative districts: Hhohho (northwest), Lubombo (east), Manzini (central-west), and Shiselweni (south).
Artifacts indicating human activity dating back to the early Stone Age 200,000 years ago have been found in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Prehistoric rock art paintings date from ca. 25,000 B.C. The earliest inhabitants of the area were Khoisan hunter-gatherers. They were largely replaced by the Bantu tribes during Bantu migrations who hailed from the Great Lakes regions of Eastern Africa.
The autonomy of the Swaziland Nation was dictated by British rule of southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1881 the British government signed a convention recognizing Swazi independence. At the start of the Anglo Boer war, Britain placed Swaziland under its direct jurisdiction as a Protectorate. The Swaziland independence Constitution was promulgated by Britain in November 1963 in terms of which a legislative Council and an Executive Council were established. The first Legislative Council of Swaziland was constituted on 9 September 1964. Changes to the original constitution proposed by the Legislative Council were accepted by Britain and a new Constitution providing for a House of Assembly and Senate was drawn up. Elections under this Constitution were held in 1967. Since 1973,
Cultural and Language Considerations
English is the official language of business. It is advisable that travellers learn a little of the local language, SiSwati (also known as Swazi) which, in rural areas, is spoken almost exclusively.
Swazis are very loyal to the King and the Royalty; be smart about what is said openly. Swaziland is also predominantly Christian, and modesty in dress is encouraged.
Swazis adhere strongly to their historical traditions, which are widely practised today. Many who are suffering from an illness will consult a sangoma to determine its cause and an inyanga to prescribe a treatment. It is the height of disrespect to be disparaging towards these individuals or to refer to them as witch doctors.
Getting around – transport systems and fuel stations
The only International airport of Swaziland is Matsapha Airport which lies about 1km outside of Manzini. There is also a small car rental station at the airport and a snack shop. A hotspot has recently been installed, allowing users with WiFi and Wireless LAN equipped computers or PDA’s to access the internet from anywhere in the building free of charge.
Most public transport bus services arrive in Mbabane or Manzini. Smaller bus lines, or minibuses generally provide service to Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town in South Africa as well as Maputo in Mozambique.
Most travel in Swaziland is by either car or minibus. Minibuses, called kombis, are prevalent, but can be confusing. Like similar modes of travel around the world such as the jitney, matatu or dolmus, these are small vans that accumulate as many travelers as possible while making their way along a general direction. In Swaziland, these vans are often driven by very young men, and most have assistants who estimate and collect fares, ask your destination, and make change. As of Jan. 2008, fares typically range from 5R for trips around 5 min to 10R for around 30 min to 30R for longer trips. It is very very unlikely to be over-charged. Be prepared for crowded seats, loud radios, and sometimes reckless driving. The larger Sprinter vans are a safer and faster choice if available.
Currencies and ways to pay
The currency of Swaziland, the lilangeni (plural: “emalangeni”), is tied to the South African rand at 1:1. Shops in Swaziland often accept and make change for both currencies indiscriminately. This is not the case in South Africa, however, so if you are planning to visit South Africa also, you may prefer to request rand in exchange for emalangeni at banks in Mbabane or Manzini: proof of identity is required. It is impossible to exchange your emalangeni at Johannesburg Airport, as well as in the UK. All Swazi vendors will take Rand, but no South African vendors will take emalangeni. Note that when travelling on the kombis in Swaziland, the operators will NOT take Rand coins.
Health, Safety and Emergency Information
Swaziland has a much lower crime rate than other countries in the region.
Hippopotamuses are found (rarely) in the country’s rivers, and are one of the more dangerous animals you are likely to come across. They are actually quite fast animals, as well as being extremely strong and with large, powerful jaws. They often stay submerged in shallow water during the day, but come out at night to graze. They can be unpredictable, territorial and very protective of their young. Do not stand between a hippo and the water. Crocodiles are a more common danger when swimming in rivers.
Swaziland also has one of the highest numbers of people struck by lightning per capita in the whole world and it is common to know (or know of) somebody who has been struck by lightning
Be careful when crossing any of Swaziland’s nineteen border gates. It is forbidden to take meat into certain areas, and the soldiers have the right to search both you and your vehicle extensively. It is extremely inadvisable to stray into ‘No-Man’s Land’, a 5km stretch of territory between Mozambique and Swaziland; several locals have been shot by soldiers guarding the edges of the respective territories.
Whilst physical violence is not prevalent (save on weekends when many may imbibe copious quantities of brandy or marula, a highly intoxicating alcoholic beverage), wandering around alone after dark is not advisable, particularly outside Mbabane and Manzini where there is little or no street lighting. Keep your money hidden and, if you are working or travelling in impoverished rural areas, do not eat expensive foods in front of the locals, particularly the children, who, especially if they are AIDS orphans and fed as part of the Sebenta school programme, do not get to experience luxury items.
While Swazi main roads are in good repair, a four wheel drive is essential to see much of the interior, unless you wish to be stranded miles from anywhere, with a patchy telephone signal as mobile telephone masts are few and far between. Other drivers, particularly HGVs, often overtake without warning and without checking for oncoming traffic. ‘Kombis’, local minibuses which function as taxis, drive at a neck-or-nothing rate with more than a full quota of passengers.
Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world; nearly 1 in 3 adults are infected. Take the necessary precautions to avoid being infected. There are risks for bilharzia if you frequent infected streams, as well as seasonal risks for malaria in the North-East parts of Swaziland near Mozambique. Be sure to use mosquito nets and repellent where necessary.
Embassies and high commissions contacts (www.lonelyplanet.com):
Mozambique – Tel 404 3700, Princess Dr., Mbabane
South Africa – Tel 404 4651, The Mall, PO Box 2507, Mbabane
US – Tel 404 6441, http://mbabane.usembassy.gov, 7th Floor, Central Bank bldg, Warner St, Mbabane
Satellite and Mobile Networks
Cellphone coverage is similar to South Africa, even in most nature reserves there is coverage (although it might be weak). Although there is coverage, the phone service itself is bad with many calls not connecting (or connecting to the wrong phone number), SMS’s not arriving and international calling being more expensive than in South Africa. Note that Starter Pack sim cards expire within 30 days if not used, and that they cannot be used in South Africa.
Border and Entry Requirements
Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories do not need a visa for a stay of 30 days or less: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Russia, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Island, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Citizens of Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and holders of British passports can obtain a visa free of charge on arrival.
If you require a visa to enter Swaziland, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Swaziland diplomatic post.
Generally speaking, rain falls mostly during the summer months, often in the form of thunderstorms. Winter is the dry season. Annual rainfall is highest on the Highveld in the West, between 1000 and 2000 mm depending on the year. The further East, the less rain, with the Lowveld recording 500 to 900 mm per annum. Variations in temperature are also related to the altitude of the different regions. The Highveld temperature is temperate and, seldom, uncomfortably hot while the Lowveld may record temperatures around 40 degrees in summer.