Formerly known as Swaziland, Eswatini's absolute monarch announced the country's name change as part of independence anniversary celebrations in April 2018. Despite a reputation for poverty and a high rate of unemployment, laid-back Eswatini is a rewarding destination for travelers. A microcosm of all that is good about Southern Africa, it offers abundant wildlife and a rich culture showcased by colorful annual ceremonies. Its breathtaking mountain scenery sets the stage for a number of adventurous activities, from whitewater rafting to mountain biking.
A tiny country in comparison to its neighbors, Eswatini has a total area of just 6,704 square miles/17,364 square kilometers. This makes it slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey.
Eswatini has two capital cities: Mbabane, the executive capital and largest city, and Lobamba, the legislative capital.
According to July 2018 estimates by the CIA World Factbook, Eswatini has a population of 1,087,200 people. The average life expectancy is just 57 years, due in large part to the fact that the country has the world's highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
The official languages of Eswatini are Swazi (also known as Swati or siSwati) and English.
About 90 percent of the Swazi population identifies as Christian, with the most popular denomination being Zionism. Zionism is a Southern African religious movement that incorporates elements of traditional African beliefs.
The official currency of Eswatini is the Swazi lilangeni (plural emalangeni). It is tied one-for-one with the South African rand, which is also accepted as legal currency throughout the country.
Variations in altitude mean that Eswatini's climate differs depending on where you go. The highveld is the wettest part of the country, with mild temperatures that range from lows of 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) in winter to highs of 77 degrees F (25 degrees C) in summer. The Lowveld is drier and hotter with temperatures that can get as high as 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) in summer. Remember that Eswatini's seasons are the opposite of the northern hemisphere, so December is mid-summer (the wettest time of year) and July is mid-winter (the driest time of year).
When to Go
There are pros and cons to every season in Eswatini. Generally, winter (June to August) is a great time to visit as the weather is drier and sunnier, and the absence of lush vegetation makes wildlife easier to spot in the game reserves. However, bring plenty of warm clothes if you plan on traveling to the highveld at this time. Summer (November to January) can be uncomfortably hot in the Lowveld and wet in the highveld; however, this is the best time for birding and the scenery is at its greenest and most beautiful.
- Hlane Royal National Park: Located in the northeast of the country, Hlane Royal National Park is Eswatini's largest protected area. It's famous for its big herds of game and is one of the few places where you can spot lions and elephants. There are two self-catering camps located inside the park, and you can take part in guided game drives, bush walks or self-drive safaris.
- Mkhaya Game Reserve: To the south of Hlane lies the smaller but no less rewarding Mkhaya Game Reserve. This park is best known for its white and black rhino populations; in fact, it's one of the best places in Africa to see the critically endangered black rhino in the wild. Mkhaya is also a popular destination for birders, with top spots including the Narina trogon and the purple-crested turaco.
- Lobamba: Mbabane may be Eswatini's biggest city but Lobamba is its cultural and spiritual heart. Located in the idyllic Ezulwini Valley, top attractions include the National Museum, the Parliament Building, and King Sobhuza II Memorial Park. Ludzidzini Royal Village, home of the King and Queen Mother, is situated just a few kilometers to the south.
- Reed Dance Festival: Known locally as Umhlanga, the Reed Dance Festival is Eswatini's most colorful traditional ceremony. It takes place over eight days (usually in late August or early September) and sees around 100,000 unmarried women and girls congregate at the royal stadium in Ludzidzini to present reeds as a tribute to the Queen Mother and to dance for the King in traditional dress.
Eswatini only has one civilian airport: King Mswati III International Airport (SHO), located just over an hour's drive east of Lobamba. Only one airline, Swaziland Airlink, flies in and out. Many visitors travel overland to Eswatini from South Africa or Mozambique. One of the most popular options is to fly into Nelspruit in South Africa and cross into Eswatini at the Jeppes Reef or Josefsdal border posts. Citizens of many countries, including the U.S. and most EU and commonwealth countries, do not need a visa to visit Eswatini for 30 days or less.
The CDC recommends that all visitors to Eswatini are up-to-date with their routine vaccinations. Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations are recommended for most travelers, while hepatitis B and rabies may be advisable depending on your planned activities. Malaria is a risk in certain areas of the country. There are no compulsory vaccinations for travel to Eswatini unless you're traveling from a country with yellow fever. In this case, you will need to provide proof of vaccination at immigration.