We found it easy to drive around Swaziland. The roads aren't as good as those in South Africa, they were still good enough. The main roads are paved two-lane roads with good signage. There were a few stretches of rough pavement, but these were the exception. As in South Africa, Swaziland drives on the left.
The main thing to be aware of is that Swaziland is a very rural country. Gas stations are available, but the distances between them can be significant. Get gas while you can. Don't wait until the last minute or you could get stranded in the countryside. The same goes for food and drinks. There are grocery stores in the towns, but you can easily go 50 km between stores.
If you are taking a rental car from South Africa into Swaziland, make sure that your rental car company permits the border crossing and notes it on your paperwork. Also make sure that their insurance covers you in Swaziland. We used Hertz and had no problems.
It's easy to move around in Swasiland. The bus stations has a lot of small private buses. Almost all of the minibuses are Toyota Hiace, packed with locals (and a few tourists). Like the rest of Africa.
We entered Swaziland via South Africa's R570, through Shongwe and Jeppe's Reef in South Africa (previously, from Tzaneen and Nelspruit) to Hhohho and Ngonini in Swaziland. We cruised south through Piggs Peak, Encaba and Forbes Reef, taking a right (west) to Motshane, getting back into South Africa on N17 through Oshoek, Hartbeeskop, and so on, to Ermelo. It was a short but scenic drive through a beautifully mountainous area, with tree farms lining the roads. Beautiful. The clouds were low, we drove above them.
There're handful of minibuses (chapas) readily available at almost all the borders. And some of the borders also offer VIP buses, air-con 60-seater, a much more convenient way to travel. Like I crossed from Mozambique, the bus leaves every 1 or 2 hour -- travel time: 1.5 hours to Manzini at 100E (equal to ZAR) per person.
I don't recommend riding Chapas, it's overloaded and seems pretty dangerous. If you're coming in a group of 3-4, sharing a taxi cab will be the best way to do.
Swaziland's only airport, and it's very small. Just off Manzini, the gate only open between 7am-7 pm or so. The national airline, Swazi Express, as co-operation flights with South African Airlines. Though most travellers coming to Swaziland on roads, there's a daily flight between Jo'burg and Manzini which is quite expensive.
Swazi Visa is readily available at the airport and most of the land borders. It's fast, easy and hassle-free.
The best way to see around the country is by self-drive. 'Imperials Car Rental', there's an outlet at Matsapha Int'l Airport. Or see more details/alternatives at the Swazi Trails, the one and only official tour agency in the Kingdom.
But if you're not feeling like driving yourself, I've got someone to recommend.
He's a cab driver based in Mbabane who can take you everywhere within the country. Why this guy? Because most of the cabbies tend to take advantages on tourists, overcharging. Mr. Lucky is a modest, honest guy you can trust. Call him if you need a ride: 6330506
We entered Swaziland through the Josefdal/Bulembu border crossing south of Barberton. We had to drive 44 km on a terrible dirt road to the border and then 25km more to the next paved road in Swaziland. Unless you have a FWD I would not attempt this route in the rainy season. Needless to say this border crossing is very slow and quiet so they take their time searching every car.
The rental car was fine for travelling through the country. The roads were nowhere nearly as good as those in SA, but they did the trick. The border crossings with SA were the usual confused affairs that I remember from my travels in Africa from 20 years before. You are never quite sure what pieces of paper are required in what order and which line you need to be in to get through without too much delay. However, by watching what others are doing you should be able to figure it out! No real problems. The drive up the mountains from the Barberton area of SA is via a regular 2-lane highway, so you spend a lot of time chugging along behind lorries as they struggle up the slopes! On our outward bound trip toward the Indian Ocean coast the next day, the travelling was easier going - we left Mbabane at about 9 AM and, including a stop at the Swazi Candle Factory, were into SA by about 2 PM. We were moving along as best we could because we did not have any accommodation booked for the next few days and it is not a good idea to be searching for it after dark when in SA! In the end, we did find a really great spot near Durban (see my KwaZulu Natal page!).
The best way to meet the locals is to take the local buses. It´s a fun way to travel. As in th erest of africa you shouldn´t be in a hurry since the buses go when they are full. It´s not expensive to take the buses so I really think it´s the best thing. But remember that they don´t have lots of space on this buses so you might have to sit with your backpack in you knee....
To actually get around Swaziland, we actually had a renta car. We rented a car in Cape Town and were returning it in Johannesburg, and to enter into Swaziland and Lesotho, we had to get special permits when we rented the car. If you rent in South Africa and plan on going to either of these 2 countries, make sure you get the special permits when you rent the car!
In Mlilwane Game Reserve, you're allowed to drive your own car in to the reserve, but at Mkhaya Game Reserve you'll have to park your car outside the main entrance where they will come an pick you up. All of your wildlife viewing in Mkhaya Game Reserve will be done in vehicles like the one you see in the photo, so you'll want to bring something to protect yourself from the sun as well.
When travelling by car and crossing the South African / Swaziland border you have to pay a roadtax. Don´t be alarmed, the tax was only 5 Elangeni, which can be payed in South African Rand as 1 Elangeni is 1 Rand. ( 5 Elangeni / Rand= €0,50 ).
For this amount you will get a piece of paper with a offical stamp !
Tax may be raised now this is the amount of tax we payed in 2002.
Any of the MAjor Bus groups get you there
Hire a car from South africa, Johannesburg Pretoria area or from Durban==these are the two International Air entry points.
It is possible to get from Maputo to Swaziland but more difficult hiring in Maputo Maocambique
The best way to go to Swaziland is probably normally by car, I think most people have the possibility to go there when they are visiting South Africa and e.g. the large Kruger National Park. From there it is not far and there is normally no restrictions in going there with your rental car.
A nice surprise I notice in the Malolotja Nature Reserve where you can even rent a mountain bicycle and take a ride to the mountains around, and leave just the final legs for a real hiking.
Swaziland is small and poor country but most of the roads are nice and rather good. They even have some nice motorways when you can speed up and get the distance rather quick.