This is your introduction to the Kingdom of Swaziland. Where people greet you on the street: “Welcome! Relax. No hurry in Swaziland!”. We were passing through on our way to South Africa’s coast, but during a Village Tour we actually learned so much about the history, cultural traditions, and the polygamous King that spending more days could easily be justified…
The Kingdom of Swaziland. A small (absolute) monarchy in Southern Africa. Neighboured by South Africa to its north, south and west, Swaziland is a place that many tourists are just passing through, driving from Kruger Park in the north to St. Lucia and Durban in the south. Maybe they spend a day or two.
So did we. But what if we would have known more about Swaziland? Would we have spent more time to really get to know the country? Let me show you why you should travel to Swaziland and not only be passing through! We traveled to Swaziland in cooperation with Dutch travel agency Better Places.
Travel to Swaziland through South Africa
You notice it immediately after crossing the border: Swaziland is a totally different country compared to South Africa. Agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy. Most of Swazi people live in rural areas where poverty and unemployment unfortunately is still on the rise.
The current drought in the area isn’t helping, leaving some without basic food needs. You notice it when you meet people on the street outside of the capital Mbabane: they are very friendly but in the end will ask you for some kind of support. But always they will ask in a kind and non-intrusive manner. As if they don’t want to disturb the positive and peaceful connection they were just starting to create…
The pictures here show the real Swaziland that you see when driving through it. It’s a beautiful and exciting sight. And please don’t hurry! Stop shortly at a market or small village. Enjoy kids playing with old car tires. Smile when you see the Hair Cut & Shoe Repair shops, a rather strange combination that we saw a couple of times.
Or stop at a random house along the road. We saw many of these traditional rondavel houses right next to the main road. Houses where poor people try to make the best of it. These kids told us how they lived and showed us around a bit.
It might feel like slumming, but such visits are important for ourselves and our kids. They are clear evidence of the inequality in our world and forces us to realize how extremely lucky we are in Europe.
Don’t let the above scare you or withhold you from traveling to Swaziland! You should definitely go and experience the charm of the country.
I strongly believe in sustainable travel that supports the local community. Swazi love it when you visit their country: kids are waving on the streets, men and women on local markets welcome you. They appreciate when you buy their vegetables and fruits, rather than going to the big supermarkets. And they would love you to stay a bit longer…
There is no hurry in Swaziland
No doubt about it: at a certain moment during your visit someone will tell you: “Relax. There is no hurry in Swaziland.” It will be explained to you as being the (unofficial) country slogan.
It’s true to some extent: roads are curvy with your regular timber truck or cow on the road. Landscapes are beautiful so you will have to take into account many photo stops. On the other hand, this is also a mentality that could hold them back from further growth and development. But for travelers it makes an interesting destination: it’s the real slow-down-this-is-africa feeling. It creates a relaxed atmosphere.
What are the tourist attractions in Swaziland?
The heart of the tourist industry is situated in the Ezulwini valley, with the village of Lobamba being the heart of it all. The 30km long Ezulwini valley offers lots of tourist accommodation and is a much better option compared to the capital Mbabane. The valley is important for the Swazi people. It’s the place of many legends of Swazi history and the place from where the King and his mother rule the country.
Like in South Africa, Swaziland offers quite a few impressive game reserves. Most of them can be found in the east part of the country. I know for sure that we could have spent an easy 5-7 days exploring the country. But as many tourists, Swaziland was more like a stop-over, a quest for yet another exotic passport stamp. And to be honest, South Africa is such a huge country that most of the time you don’t have the luxury to stay long!
But next time it will be different. Like David from the USA who spent 11 days in Swaziland.
So when you are in Swaziland, what are the things to see and do? How to get acquainted with the country and its people? The answer: go on a Village Tour.
Lobamba Village Tour
So off we went on a cultural tour with All Out Africa: the Lobamba village walk. Lobamba in the Ezulwini valley is famous for being one of the oldest villages in the country. The tour visits the National Museum, The King Sobhuza II Memorial Park and the actual Lobamba village itself.
The Village Tour starts at the Swaziland National Museum where you learn about Swazi culture and traditions. The museum not only shows Swazi cultural artifacts, but also explains about the region (southern Africa) being the origin of human race 200,000 years ago. Yes, here is where it all began for the homo sapiens! Our local guide was proud and told a lot about culture and traditions, but of course we couldn’t wait to visit the actual village itself…
During the 90 minutes that we spent at the museum, we counted five busses full of school kids! Fun. We learned that education was high on the priority list of former Swazi King Sobhuza II, maybe that explains the influx we experienced!
Next up: the memorial for King Sobhuza II, father of the current King Mswati III. Born in 1899 he brought the country independence from Britain in 1969. He reigned the country for 82 years after he was put on the throne at the age of 1 (!).
In contrast to his son, Sobhuza was a humble man who walked barefoot and sat on the ground. He believed in peaceful discussion and was against violence. “I have no enemy” is one of his well-known sayings.
But also in love he had no enemies, only friends. The Swazi King is a polygamous (!) one and picks a new wife each year. Sobhuza II had over 70 wives and more than 200 children. And his son keeps the tradition by the way…
Guided by tourist guide Clement Mfanaza Maziya, I found the memorial to actually be quite an interesting place. It’s the place where King Sobhuza II was laid in state in a small glass construction on the 3rd of September 1982. The thing is that Swazi people believe his spirit is still present in the glass construction. That’s why it cannot be entered or photographed for that matter. Guarded 24/7, not even the current King is allowed to enter.
During our visit they were actually preparing for the yearly festivities on the 3rd of September to remember the King. It’s a very official happening with dedicated spots on the premises for ambassadors, family, security and of course the media (for me!).
The body of the King is not buried in the park but in a cave high in the mountains. According to tradition, his body sits up and is covered with the skin of a black ox.
The memorial Park has a bonus: some pretty awesome classic cars, ones that King Sobhuza received as a gift from other countries.
Coming back to education, do you know how in earlier days Swazi determined the right time for kids to go to school? Like on the picture below. Only when kids could touch their ear with their hand over their head, they were allowed into school. Not sooner! Of course we had our son complete the test…
And after the Memorial Park we finally went to see Lobamba village! Click here to read part 2 of our story where we show you the Lobamba village. See you soon with more great stories about Swaziland (and a lot of cute kids who followed us all the way through the village 🙂
Our travel to Swaziland with Better Places
We were invited by Better Places to visit Swaziland. Better Places is a relatively new Dutch agency, providing tours to over 30 countries worldwide. In each country they work with local travel experts who know the best places to travel to.
Better Places puts emphasis on sustainability (compensating Co2 emission) and community travel. They try to minimize Co2 emission by selecting mostly small, sustainable accommodations and by comparing airline routes.
Our stay in Swaziland was wonderful and we would like to thank Better Places for the opportunity. As always, all opinions in this blogpost are ours and ours only.