Ever wanted to travel to a country where everyone knows your name? Where you’re a regular after just one trip? I wouldn’t go so far as to say everyone in Swaziland knows my name, but after many visits to this tiny country it does sometimes feel that way.
The Kingdom of Swaziland (Umbuso weSwatini), sometimes called Ngwane, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, bordered to the north, south and west by South Africa, and to the east by Mozambique. I lived just a few kilometers from the border in South Africa and I so visit to attend concerts at House on Fire (the country’s one and only concert venue) and to visit friends. Its small size makes it easy to get around and the friendly people of Swaziland are always willing to pick-up a hitchhiker. After a few visits I feel at home arriving in the capital city of Mbabane and eating lunch at Portofino’s (a regular meeting spot for Peace Corps volunteers), catching a ride into the valley or visiting the craft markets.
For anyone traveling in the region, Swaziland is a great place to stop for its laid-back atmosphere and great craft shopping. What the country lacks in movies theaters (not a single one in the whole country), it makes up for in cultural events. Swaziland’s most well-known cultural event is the annual Reed Dance. In the eight day ceremony, girls cut reeds, present them to the queen mother, and perform dances for the King and hundreds of visitors. Occurring every year in late August or early September the aim of the ceremony is to “encourage solidarity by working together”. It is also well known that the King may pick his next wife from one of the many dancing girls.
If you prefer a little music House on Fire is the place to be. In addition to hearing great musicians, including concerts by Freshly Ground, every year you can catch the Bush Fire Festival. The festival brings together an international list of artist for three days of live performance. From poets to films to drummers (and some obligatorily house music) the concert boast big names like John Clegg and Busi Mhlongo and benefits Young Heroes (an organization that supports HIV/AIDS orphans).
There are also a ton of outdoor activities to take part in. Swaziland offers a wide variety of landscapes, from the mountains along the Mozambican border to savannas in the east and rain forest in the northwest. If you don’t get a chance to stop in nearby Kruger Park, there are a few game parks in Swaziland to visit also.
Despite its size or maybe because of it, Swaziland is a country rich in beauty and hospitality. A home away from home if you are visiting from South Africa or further afield.