In short: yes. However, Swaziland – the country – was recently renamed! In April 2018, it officially became known as the Kingdom of eSwatini, but when I stumbled across it on my travels, it was very much still ‘Swaziland’.
To be quite honest, had I not picked up the Lonely Planet for ‘South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland’, I may have remained ignorantly unaware of its existence, but the intrigue of the small, land-locked country – governed by Africa’s last remaining monarch – was worth a slight detour on our road trip.
Is Swaziland worth visiting?
Yes, without doubt. If the rolling countryside, the hiking trails and the scenic views don’t get you, then the abundance of wildlife certainly will. What started out as a quest for a Swaziland stamp in my passport, turned out to be one of my favourite stop-offs on our 8,847 kilometre trip (yes, I did clock the whole journey!).
There’s an extremely relaxed, serene feel to the country that’ll catch you by surprise; this the kind of place where you can switch off from your everyday hustle and roam free in the outdoors – alongside the animals.
Things to do in Swaziland (now the Kingdom of eSwatini)
eSwatini was an eco-destination long before it was ‘cool’ to develop eco-destinations. So for those looking to tap into travel trends in 2018, this is small country with huge potential to impress. eSwatini is a country that encourages you to get outside – whether on foot, on horseback or on a mountain bike. You can hike; you can raft; you can even go caving. You’ll find lush hills, waterfalls and rugged, unspoiled terrain in the north. In central eSwatini, you’ll discover the beauty of the Ezulwini Valley and Malkerns Valley while packing in all your wildlife watching. In the south, you’ll uncover the real Swaziland by meandering through the the country on your leisurely walks.
Time was of the essence on our road trip, which was a shame in hindsight, but eSwatini was perfect for a flying visit given its size. We stayed central and kept our itinerary confined to the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary – a definite highlight of the road trip.
Camping to Glamping: Life Happens Outdoors
Accommodation in the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) ranges from backpacker hostels and wilderness lodges to glamping huts and upmarket retreats. Now, if you’re planning a flying visit to Swaziland to explore the outdoors, then you should embrace every second and sleep outdoors too. We were camping our way around the southern part of the continent for the most part, so we drove straight to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in the Ezulwini Valley of central Swaziland to maximise our limited time (and money) by staying at Sondzela Backpacker Lodge.
As was the case for much of our African road trip, we rocked up to Sondzela Backpackers Lodge in the late afternoon and managed to wangle a spot to set up our tent for the night, which we did it in a record time of 12 minutes (just one of the many boy-ish challenges you set yourself when travelling with two of your male friends for over a month!)
Yes, we found ourselves camping INSIDE a Wildlife Game Reserve for around $10 per night (AED 30). Now, let’s be honest, where else in the world can you get a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experience like that on a shoestring budget?! Zebras, impalas, hippos and an electric-blue chameleon: that’s just a glimpse of what we saw in our first hour at the lodge. We also had access to all the facilities, which made it much more of a glamping experience – asides from the tight squeeze in our two-man tent at night!
Alternative accommodation for those willing to splash a little more cash:
Mlilwane’s Rest Camp: offers authentic Beehive Huts, family cottages and rondavels (a modernised version of an African hut with more than enough comfort!)
Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge: Think colonial cottages with spectacular views. Definitely one for those who aren’t travelling on a tight budget that has to last them an entire summer!
Interesting facts about the Kingdom of eSwatini
Be honest, how much did you really know about Swaziland before BBC News announced that it had changed its official name?! Exactly. Time for a few interesting facts about Swaziland make it an even more fascinating country:
- Swaziland changed its name to eSwatini (meaning ‘Land of Swazis) in 2018 after the King explained that the name caused a lot of confusion: “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland”
- The country has two capital cities! Mbabne is the administrative capital, while Lobamba is the royal and legislative capital (Mbabne gets the official recognised title though).
- eSwatini is almost entirely surrounded by South Africa; it just share a segment of it’s Eastern border with Mozambique!
- It is one of the smallest countries in Africa – measuring in at around 6,700 square miles
- eSwatini is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies and Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy
- The Swazi King (King Mswati III) rules by decree – this allows him to create laws without legislative approval!
- The King currently has 15 wives! His predecessor is said to have had 125!
- Polygamy in Swaziland is very much legal but definitely on the decline when compared to times gone by.
- King Mswatu II (who ruled between 1840-1868) was considered the greatest fighting King – he fought off Zulu tribes and even some of his own brothers in order to gain the throne.
- eSwatini has one of the highest rates of HIV/Aids in the world
- The country has a low-life expectancy, with the expectancy being 60 years old for a woman and 54 for a man.
eSwatini can be experienced with a quick over-night trip (especially if you’re on your way to – or from – Kruger National Park), or you take a full leisurely week and still not get bored; it all depends on the pace at which you like to explore and move. We opted for the over-night trip and packed in a little bit of everything.