From all my travels to date, Swaziland is the country I knew the least about on arrival. I turned up excited and ready to explore with an entirely blank slate.
It's not often that I get to do that, and it may be why Swaziland had such a profound effect on me. Our week in Swaziland was one of the rawest and most spiritual travel journeys I've been on in a long time and it taught me a lot not just about the country, but about myself.
But I won't bore you with my personal revelations - today I want to tell you about Swaziland. One of my new favourite countries and one that I'm actively encouraging everyone to travel to because I really think it has so much offer, and I want you to experience the magic of it too.
If, like me, you know little more of Swaziland than its name and location (if that), here are a few little insights into this charming Southern African country and what it's like as a travel destination.
7 Swaziland facts you need to know
Here are 7 things - well 6, plus one I already knew - that I learned about travelling to Swaziland and that you should know too.
1 - That it exists!
When I told people my next travel destination would be Swaziland, I received a lot of blank expressions (or confused face emojis). Swaziland has kept a very low profile over the years and it's still largely absent on the travel radar - even for people who have visit South Africa and the other surrounding countries.
In fact, some people even think Swaziland is part of South Africa. And that's not even taking into account the people who confuse it with Switzerland...
2 - That it doesn't exist...
As I mentioned, I knew next to nothing about Swaziland before I arrived. (Well, other than a few facts I picked up from my Bradt Guide on the plane!)
The one thing I never could have known, however, was that this tiny Southern African nation would no longer be known as Swaziland when I left.
One of the reasons we were in Swaziland was for the 50/50 celebrations, held in honour of the king's 50th birthday and the country's 50th year of independence (which just happened to be the same year: 2018!). And if it wasn't crazy enough that I was invited to attend the King of Swaziland's 50th birthday party, he went and changed the name of the country while we were there. From now on, the Kingdom of Swaziland, just like its neighbours, wants to be known by its ancient name: The Kingdom of eSwatini.
3 - Swaziland is super easy to get to
If you look at Swaziland on a map, you'll find it nestled mostly within South Africa, with only a small part of the country bordering Mozambique. And with the only international flights destined for Johannesburg, you might think it's going to be a little too much hassle to get to.
From Johannesburg, however, Swaziland is only a three-hour drive. And with overnight South African Airways flights from London to Johannesburg departing every day, you could leave in the evening and be there before lunch. Plus, you won't have jet-lag to deal with.
Read next: Tips for surviving a long-haul flight
4 - There are a lot of things to do in Swaziland
For such a small country, Swaziland has a LOT to offer. From ziplining through the treetops and sleeping in one of the national parks, to making your own elephant candle and taking part in a traditional dance, the number of unique things to do in Swaziland means a trip there is sure to be unlike any other you've been on before.
5 - It doesn't get enough credit
According to government statistics, the average traveller only spends 1.3 nights in Swaziland. That's a super short amount of time to stay in a country, but most visitors use Swaziland as a stop-off point or add-on to a trip to Kruger Park.
You could do that - but I think that would be a mistake. Swaziland may be smaller than Wales, but it fits so much into its 17,364 squared kilometres that you could easily fill a week or more, and still leave parts of the country untouched.
6 - You can find a trip to suit your travel style
I didn't really know what to expect when visiting Swaziland (or Southern Africa in general) but I didn't expect the travel possibilities to be so extensive. Swaziland somehow manages to squeeze enough adventure, luxury, tradition and nature into its borders to keep every type of traveller happy.
There might only be limited choice when it comes to the accommodation in Swaziland, but even there you'll find multiple options everyone. From hotels and resorts to lodges and campsites, there's something for every style and budget.
7 - It's a great destination for first-time safari-goers
If you're planning your first safari - or even your second, third, or fourteenth - there's a good chance you haven't considered Swaziland. Even though it may not be the obvious choice, Swaziland has three big game parks where you can see (and sleep among!) the Big 5, get up close to animals on a horseback safari or even spot a rare black rhino. In fact, it's the place where you're most likely to see one.
What makes Swaziland extra special for a first safari, however, is its winning combination of being easy to get and the lack of language barrier as English is an official language. Unlike other African safari destinations, where the heat and insects can be overwhelming, you also won't have to worry so much about what to wear on safari in Swaziland.
If it's not obvious already, I fell a little bit in love with Swaziland. Even though I was beyond excited to visit, I didn't expect it to capture me in the way it did. Swaziland - or eSwatini - is a country full of spirit, with spirited people and nature to match, and I hope you'll get to visit so it can take you by surprise too.
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