During this past week, I have had the absolute pleasure of playing hostess to my very first visitor from home(ish), my cousin Louella. As expected, Swaziland is not what Louella expected. As expected, she affirmed my fervent belief that Swaziland is a really nice place to visit and not the end of the Earth. So, to all those who prefer Switzerland over Swaziland, don’t take my word for it, take the word of a recent visitor.
1. Swaziland is Safe
Is your image of Africa one of chaos, conflict, disease and danger? Not Swaziland. Quality drinking water comes straight from the tap. Malaria, dengue and bilharzia are noticeably absent. Crime against tourists is among the lowest on the continent. Any chance of civil conflict is obstructed by the country’s complete and utter apathy. In fact, unless you go out looking for trouble, the worst you can expect is some benign pick-pocketing or the flu.
2. Swaziland is Easy.
Yes, we have toilet paper and flushing toilets. We also have ATMs and EFTPOS machines. Prices are largely set and haggling is superfluous. Roads are of excellent quality and almost everywhere can be reached within an hour. People are super friendly and relaxed, sometimes overly. Louella commented that her week in Swaziland was one of the lowest maintenance, fuss-free holidays she’s ever had.
3. Swaziland is Delicious.
The idea of endless meals of mealie meal doesn’t appeal to you? Me neither. Fortunately, Swaziland offers an array of edible options for the discerning tourist. During the week, Louella and I indulged in everything from locally prepared BBQ beef at the marketplace, a traditional banquet at eDladleni, impala stir fry, nyala stew, fresh fruit and salads at Mkhaya, burger and cheesecake at Sambane, steaks, seafood, and French snails at Summerfields, all topped off with frothy cappuccinos or delicious South African Pinotage. Oh, and at a fraction of the price you’d pay in Switzerland.
4. Swaziland has something for everyone
One afternoon I was dragging Louella on a tiny hike up Execution Rock to get a view over eZulwini’s ranges. The next morning, she was taking traditional dance lessons from a very fit, topless, dark skinned man as part of our entertaining Mantenga Cultural Tour. Whether you’re after adventure or culture or nature, Swaziland has it all.
5. Swaziland is a shopper’s paradise
This may come as a surprise, but Swaziland’s second biggest industry after agriculture is handicrafts. Louella could not get over the quality, variety and value for money offered by the country’s huge Fair Trade handicraft industry. We put the credit card to good use at Swazi Candles complex and Ngwenya Glass complex. Plus a guided tour by yours truly of the inner workings of one of these industries, Gone Rural, helps to put your purchases in an even more positive perspective.
6. Swaziland is Exclusive
Picture this. 10,000 hectares of African game reserve all to yourself. As you reach Stone Camp, a table for the two of you is set up under the sausage tree, where the waiters outnumber you by 2:1 to provide you with a fresh three-course lunch. As the food settles, you relax on your bed or in the bath, watching the wildlife munching away among the African bush, separated from you by just a knee-high stone wall. In the afternoon, you undertake a safari drive with a well-trained and highly knowledgeable guide, where yours is the only vehicle in the entire park, and where you turn a corner to encounter a zeal of zebras, a tower of giraffes, a bloat of hippos, a crash of white rhinos, or an implausibility of rare white wildebeest silhouetted against a burnt orange African sunset.
When you return to camp, a prepared table awaits you by a crackling fire. You sip wine while feasting on a four-course meal, before following the lanterns back to your bed, which has been pre-warmed by lovingly placed hot water bottles. In the early morning, you are awoken with hot tea and a muffin before venturing out once more in your safari vehicle where you spot an extremely rare and curious black rhino. Upon your return to camp, any hint of hunger is abated with fresh fruit salad, yoghurt, muesli, toast, sausage, bacon, eggs, tomato, beans and potato.
Sound good? Such celebrity-style privacy, luxury and treatment would cost an arm and both legs in places like Kruger, the Serengeti, Chobe or the Masai Mara. Yet at Mkhaya, Swaziland’s little secret, you can enjoy all this for around $150 a night.
If, after all of this, you’re still not convinced that Swaziland is worth a visit, I will leave you with one final recommendation from Louella. It has since become our suggested tag line for the country’s next tourism campaign.
7. Swaziland. It’s not South Africa.