10 Things to Know Before Visiting eSwatini

The roads in more remote areas of eSwatini can be bumpy and uneven
The roads in more remote areas of eSwatini can be bumpy and uneven | © LauraVl / Shutterstock

Visiting any unfamiliar country can be daunting. So check out these handy tips before heading to the African kingdom of eSwatini.

Formerly known as Swaziland, eSwatitni’s small size means attractions are within easy reach and its friendly locals will go out of their way to help you. For those who haven’t travelled through other southern African countries, its culture and traditions might seem unfamiliar. Here are some helpful things to know about the African kingdom.

It’s always been called eSwatini

While the country’s recent name change from Swaziland to eSwatini was a surprise to many people around the world, it was less so to the Swati people. They have always referred to the country as eSwatini as well as the name ‘Swaziland’, which was given to it by the British. In fact, the name ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’ was already written on passports alongside the name ‘Swaziland’.

The king’s private life is private

The intricacies of Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy is fascinating to many tourists and you’re likely to have lots of questions. However, while the Swati people are incredibly friendly, you might find them unwilling to answer seemingly innocuous questions about the royal family, such as how many children does the king have? That’s because it is not permitted to share information about the private life of the king, which includes details such as the number of wives and children he has. To prevent causing offence, don’t push too hard if your questions seem to be making the locals feel uncomfortable.

King Mswati III at the Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival, 2018

Malaria rates are low

While neighbouring Mozambique is a high risk malarial zone, most parts of eSwatini have very low occurences of the disease. In fact, the country is likely to become the first in southern Africa to completely eliminate malaria, according to the Times of South Africa. Anti-malarial pills are only needed if travelling to the eastern side of eSwatini, including the lowveld, Lubombo Mountains and Lubombo Conservancy. There is, however, an incredibly high rate of HIV and aids. Make sure you always check the latest travel advice for the most up-to-date information before you travel.

eSwatini has low rates of malaria

You can spend South African rand

The currency used in eSwatini is the lilangeni (plural: emalangeni), which is tied at the same exchange rate as the South African rand. You’re also able to spend South African rand (excluding coins) throughout the country, as rand notes are accepted everywhere. Remember to change your emalangeni back before you leave as it’s difficult to exchange this currency outside eSwatini. Credit cards are accepted in many shops, restaurants and hotels, and most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money using an international debit card.

South African rand notes are widely accepted in eSwatini, but not coins

You can’t fly direct from most international destinations

It’s currently only possible to fly to eSwatini’s King Mswati III International Airport from Johannesburg, which takes around 45 minutes, although new flight routes are expected to open up in time. A compulsory airport tax of 50 rand (roughly £2.80) is charged when departing eSwatini by air. However, it’s easy to enter the country using the land borders from both South Africa and Mozambique, where cars are charged at 50 rand per vehicle.

Johannesburg is the only city that flies to eSwatini

You might not need a visa

Residents of most Commonwealth countries won’t need to apply for a tourist visa in advance and are able to stay for 30 days. Those staying longer can apply at the Ministry of Home Affairs. To be sure of the latest guidelines, check the Kingdom of eSwatini’s visa guide before arrival.

It’s one of the best places in Africa to see rhinos

You might be surprised to learn this tiny country is actually a great destination for game viewing: particularly black and white rhinos, which can both be seen at Mkhaya Game Reserve. Thanks to its stringent conservation laws, eSwatini has one of the lowest poaching rates in Africa.

eSwatini is a great place to see black or white rhinos

It’s easy to get around

Being such a small country means eSwatini is easy to get around and many attractions are close to one another. This means it’s a great addition to a South African holiday, as you can see much of the country in a few days. If you’re not visiting as part of an organised tour, there are many car hire companies or, for a more authentic experience, you can travel by local bus or Kombi (public taxi). Traffic accidents are common, so take care when driving, particularly on rural roads which can be full of potholes.

The roads in more remote areas of eSwatini can be bumpy and uneven

It’s a polygamous country

eSwatini is a polygamous country and, while it is becoming less common to have multiple wives because dowries are so expensive, the custom is still practiced. King Mswati III himself is believed to have 13 wives, while his father, the previous king, is thought to have had more than 100.

Learn the lingo

While many people in eSwatini speak English, it’s a good idea to learn a couple of phrases in the local language, siSwati. siSwati is a Bantu language, which can be difficult to learn because it includes several clicks which are not heard in European languages.

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