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Introduction

Nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland is the smallest country in the Southern Hemisphere and Africa's only absolute monarchy. With its rich cultural traditions, Swaziland can be an easy day trip from Johannesburg.

Swaziland has had a tumultuous political history since its independence from Britain in 1968. The first King, Sobhuza II, banned political parties in 1973 and declared a state of emergency which remains in place. The current king ascended the throne in 1986.

Swaziland has a population of 1.1 million. Keep an eye out for locally-made crafts, such as woven grassware products, made as much for Swazis as they are for tourists. Try and visit during one of the country's two largest festivals: Ncwala or Umhlanga. Ncwala is a New Year celebration usually held in December. Umhlanga, which gets its name from the large reeds brought by the young women who come to dance before the king, is often held in late August or early September. This controversial festival usually ends with the king choosing a new wife. The present King, Mswati III, currently has 11. This festival also praises the virginity of the girls who participate, but is seen as a futile attempt to curb the present rate of HIV infection in the country, which at 40 percent is the world's highest.

The capital, Mbabane, is really only a large town, with about 50,000 people. It doesn?t offer much in the way of tourist attractions but it has a relaxing vibe and several nice hotels and restaurants. The real action is in the nearby Ezulwini Valley, where the Royal Village is located and where travelers can view the Ncwala and Umhlanga ceremonies. From here you can head towards the country's national parks for game viewing, white-water rafting and cultural shows.


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