The Ultimate Guide to Lesotho Adventures
Lesotho goes by two names; officially the Kingdom of Lesotho and more affectionately Mountain Kingdom or Kingdom in the Sky. The latter is in reference to firstly to being one of the tree remaining monarchies in Africa and secondly the altitude at which it lies.
Lesotho is a democratic, sovereign and independent country as well as a landlocked. It is completely surrounded by South Africa. It lies entirely outside of the tropics at a considerable height above sea level which means it is a region free of both malaria and bilharzia.
It’s the only country in the world where all its land lies at altitudes in excess of 1 500 metres above sea level. It’s a land of extreme heights and thus a land of breathtakingly-beautiful mountains and vistas. The small but dramatic country is renowned for its incredible mountains, valleys and rivers and it’s often referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’. It’s
Lesotho lies nestled between the magnificent Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges. Its spectacular geography has earned Lesotho the reputation for being the “Outdoor Playground” of southern Africa. Lesotho holidays revolve around the outdoors and the Kingdom in the Sky attracts hundreds of adventure enthusiasts who visit Lesotho to ski, cycle, canoe, hike and run.
Three things make Lesotho famous…
Lesotho Highlands Water Project
Lesotho is the site of the largest and most ambitious civil engineering project in Africa, namely the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) which harnesses and commercialises upstream surplus water sources.
The legendary Sani Pass which connects Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho and takes intrepid travellers on a hair-raising ascent to the world’s highest point.
Lesotho ski resort
Afriski Mountain Resort offers 1.8 kilometres of the best ski slopes in Africa. The Lesotho ski resort is the highest ski resort in Africa; extending up to an altitude of 3 222 metres. It’s also one of the coldest regions in southern Africa during winter with temperatures plummeting to minus 5°C.
BRIEF HISTORY OF LESOTHO
Lesotho is the land of the Sotho people. The name Lesotho roughly means ‘the land of the people who speak Sesotho’. The Basotho or Basuto are a Bantu tribal group who have lived in southern Africa since the 5th century.
The region where Lesotho is today was originally inhabited by a hunter-gather tribe called the Khoisan. Later the Bantu tribes arrived in the region and then the Sotho-Tswana people. In 1822, King Moshoeshoe I was the first leader to unite the land under one rule. At the time, the land was called Basutoland.
Then the Europeans arrived. The first to take control were the French and then the British took over in 1795. Basutoland was a British protectorate for over 170 years and finally gained its independence in 1966. It was renamed Lesotho and was led for the first 20 years by the Basuto National Party.
The country has suffered from political unrest over the past two decades and there have been changes in power and leadership. It suffered a generation of political discord and upheavals before adopting a parliamentary democracy in 1998.
Lesotho has always been intricately linked to South Africa and its economic well-being largely mirrors the economic health of South Africa. A large proportion of adult males earn a living in South Africa working as migrant labour for mining groups.
LESOTHO’S CULTURAL HERITAGE
The rich tapestry of Lesotho’s cultural heritage is as vibrant and colourful as its Basotho blankets. This small landlocked country has experienced its share of tragic battles as it was tossed between tribal and colonial powers. The Basotho endured extreme hardship and war until a young visionary named Moshoeshoe united the small nation.
It remains a poor and embattled country but packed full of cultural heritage, character and exceptional natural resources. It’s a peaceful and stable country to visit; the people are warm and welcoming and deeply entrenched in their traditional ways of life which are largely unaffected by modern development.
The cultural heritage of the people of the Mountain Kingdom is woven into the rich tapestry of the country. This includes the original Bantu people, the Khoi San, the French and British colonists, the Nguni-speaking people of the mountains, the French-Protestant and Roman-Catholic missionaries and the unique Griqua people which is a tribe with a collective multi-cultured heritage rooted in the Khoi, European missionary, Boer and San communities.
FAST FACTS ABOUT LESOTHO
Lesotho is roughly the size of Belgium or Israel and is home to 2 million people.
Lesotho is ruled by a constitutional monarchy and is one of the three remaining Kingdoms in Africa. The others are Morocco and Swaziland. King Letsi III has been the reigning King of Lesotho since 1990.
Lesotho is ruled by a constitutional monarchy and is one of the 3 remaining kingdoms in Africa (the others are Morocco and Swaziland). King Letsi III is the reigning king of Lesotho since 1990.
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is the largest and most ambitious civil engineering project ever embarked on in Africa. It harnesses upstream surplus water for commercial resale to South Africa. The multi-billion project was established by a treaty signed between the governments of Lesotho and South Africa in 1986. It was part of a strategy to reduce poverty in Lesotho, stimulate economic growth and improve the livelihoods of people.
The legendary Sani Pass connects Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa with Lesotho. The notoriously dangerous road lies between Underberg in the far west of KZN and Mokhotlong in Lesotho. The extremely steep gradients mean you can only Sani Pass in a rugged 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Sani Pass was historically used by trade merchants who took wool and mohair from Lesotho and traded them for blankets, clothes and maize meal from South Africa. These products were loaded on long-suffering donkeys who made the treacherous journey through the mountain pass before a public road was developed by Mokhotlong Motor Transport.
If you’re interested in a holiday in Lesotho, you’ll be pleased to know it’s only an hour by air and four hours by road from Johannesburg.
Lesotho has the highest “low point” in the world. It’s lowest point is 1 500 metres above sea level.
Thabana-Ntlenyana Mountain located in Lesotho stands at 3 482 metres and is the highest point in southern Africa.
Maletsunyane waterfall is the highest single drop waterfall in southern Africa. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest commercially-operated single-drop abseil is 204 metres down the Maletsunyane waterfall near Semonkong Lodge.
Lesotho boasts having the highest altitude pub in Africa. You can have a beer on holiday in Lesotho some 2 874 metres above sea level. The ‘Highest Pub in Africa’ is located on the border between South Africa and Lesotho and you have to make the dangerous trek up Sani Pass to get there. The beer is icy cold and the view is breathtaking so put it on your bucket list for your Lesotho holiday.
Lesotho also has the highest ski resort in Africa, although you don’t usually associate Africa with having ski resorts. The Lesotho ski resort – Afriski Mountain Resort – is situated 3 050 metres above sea level.
Meseru is the capital city of Lesotho. Meaning “place of the sandstone” in Sesotho, Meseru is situated on the Caledon River which separates Lesotho from South Africa. It’s the largest city in Lesotho with some 300 000 residents living there. It was originally established in 1869 as a small police camp by the British when Basutoland became a British protectorate.
The Katse Dam is the highest dam in Africa with its surface reaching 2 050 metres above sea level when 100% full. At 185 metres wide, the Katse dam wall is the second largest dam wall in Africa. The Katse Dam was created through the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
The traditional dress of Lesotho is the brightly-coloured Basotho blanket. These instantly recognisable blankets are not only worn for protection against icy cold winds in winter but also as a status symbol and for cultural identification. They’re made entirely from wool and usually are worn with a typical Basotho woolen balaclava where you can only see a person’s eyes and the popular mining gumboots.
The well-known Basotho hat or ‘mokorotlo’ worn by the local men is part of the national dress of Lesotho. The conical-shaped hat is a fine piece of craftmanship made out of grass and is an instantly-recognised cultural symbol.
Lesotho tourism revolves around getting back into nature and enjoying outdoor adventure activities. Coupled with a rich cultural experience and the peace and tranquility of an untouched and unspoilt land; Lesotho holidays are the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Most trips to Lesotho are 2 to 3 days long for fun outdoor adventures and most people on holiday in Lesotho come from South Africa; mainly Durban in Kwa-Zululand or Johannesburg in Gauteng.
The 5 main reasons to visit Lesotho are:
Lesotho outdoor adventures
Lesotho is a land of mountains so there are high peaks and deep valleys around every corner. It’s the ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts and keen sportsmen. Whether you hike it, bike it or run it; there are places to visit in Lesotho which will blow your mind.
Lesotho ski resort
Not many people think of Africa when planning a skiing holiday but you’ll find Afriski Mountain Resort in Lesotho is a really fun option. Located at 3 222 meters above sea level in the Kingdom in the Sky, the Lesotho ski resort lies nestled in the heart of the Drakensberg-Maluti mountains.
Accommodation at Afriski Mountain Resort ranges from luxury villas to budget apartments and there’s a great selection of onsite restaurants and pubs. The ski resort in Lesotho is perfect in winter and summer; it attracts mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, fly fisherman, enduro and off-road riders as well as novice and experienced skiers.
Nature reserves in Lesotho
Lesotho is an exceptionally beautiful country which is largely untouched and unspoilt by development. It’s rich in fauna and flora, the scenery is out of this world and the lodges in Lesotho are found in the most incredible settings.
The flagship national parks offer accommodation in Lesotho to suit everyone’s budget; from camping in Lesotho to high-end luxury lodges. A trip to Lesotho’s national park is all about getting back into nature and soaking up absolute peace and tranquility.
Sani Pass Top
It’s a 4 hour drive from Johannesburg to the Highest Pub in Africa. The drive up Sani Pass is pretty hair-raising and can only be done in a 4WD vehicle but once you’re on the top of the legendary Sani Pass, the view is breathtaking and the beer ice cold.
Lesotho tours to Sani Pass Top promise you an adventure of a lifetime. Sitting at 2 874 metres above sea level, Sani Mountain Lodge is one of the best places to start your holiday in Lesotho.
Lesotho cultural tours
The people of Lesotho are warm and friendly and the country is rich in cultural heritage. Lesotho tours are designed to introduce to the Basotho nation in the Kingdom in the Sky which is unique and fascinating. Visits to authentic cultural villages showcase the Basotho’s way of life and their quaint cultural traditions.
THINGS TO DO IN LESOTHO
Everything there is to do in Lesotho revolves around getting back into nature and enjoying a variety of outdoor activities. Lesotho is a beautiful country with an enormous amount to offer outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sports men and women. Pack a decent pair of takkies or hiking boots and you’re set for a fabulous holiday in Lesotho.
Skiing in Lesotho
Lesotho is famous for having the highest ski resort in Africa which is located close to the Caledonspoort Border Post. Afriski Mountain Resort opened in 2002 and offers Lesotho accommodation ranging from a backpackers’ lodge to self-catering apartments and luxury log cabins.
The ski resort in Lesotho boasts modern facilities which includes snow-making facilities and lifts. The Lesotho skiing resort resembles a quaint European ski village with everything you need for a fun skiing holiday in Lesotho for the whole family. It’s a good place to start to learn to ski and get some practice before heading to Europe for a proper ski holiday.
In summer, Afriski Mountain Resort transforms into an outdoor sporting wonderland offering the best location for mountain biking, trail-running, hiking and walking. The New Oxbow Lodge is located near Afriski Mountain Lodge; both lodges in Lesotho offer excellent accommodation in an incredible setting and fun activities for outdoor enthusiasts.
Walking & hiking in Lesotho
A myriad of trails and footprints crisscross the mountainous landscape of Lesotho. It’s heaven on Earth for hikers and walkers; offering everything from gentle walks to extreme hiking expeditions. Accommodation in Lesotho is geared for outdoor enthusiasts and you’ll find a number of Lesotho holiday packages catering for hikers and walkers.
Something exciting which has happened in Lesotho more recently is the development of community-owned trails. These are trails set up and looked after by people in rural villages and they also act as guides to help you find your way through an extensive network of well-maintained footpaths.
The local rural communities benefit from these hiking trails and guiding and people on holiday in Lesotho for hiking and walking are guaranteed safe and beautiful hiking and walking trails.
When hiking in Lesotho, remember you’re hiking through rural villages and farmlands. You’ll meet shepherds and villagers; be friendly and treat them with respect because you’re walking on their land. Also remember you’ll encounter livestock and the dogs that guard them; steer clear of both to keep safe in Lesotho.
Rock-climbing in Lesotho
With all the mountains in Lesotho, there are more peaks per square kilometre to climb than any other country in southern Africa as well as stunning cliff faces, ridges and chimneys to scale. If rock-climbing is your passion, a holiday in Lesotho is the best.
Rock-climbing at high altitudes in the Drakensberg mountain range is on volcanic rock which consists of successive rock faces separated by narrow grass ledges. The rock forms rounded overhands, blocks and gullies which makes it both challenging and dangerous if you are not an experienced rock climber.
Ice-climbing in Lesotho
Ice-climbing in Lesotho is an outdoor sport in Lesotho which is growing in popularity. It takes place in the Maloti Drakensberg area near Giant’s Castle where sever new ice-climbing routes have been developed and opened to the ice-climbing community.
The best time for a holiday in Lesotho if you’re keen on ice climbing is from mid/late-July to August. Follow the snow reports issued by the Lesotho ski resort, Afriski Mountain Lodge.
Abseiling in Lesotho
Lesotho boasts having the longest commercially-operated single-drop abseil in the world which is the Maletsunyane Abseil operated by Semonkong Lodge in Lesotho. The abseil operation holds a Guinness World Record Certificate for the 204 metre abseil drop.
Set on the edge of the spectacular Maletsunyane Falls, this abseil descends 204m non-stop to the bottom of the gorge. The abseil itself is an extremely exposed straight drop where at times you’re suspended in mid-air dangling in the spray of the waterfall and the cliff birds flying around you. It’s one of the most extreme abseiling experiences in southern Africa and definitely one for the bucket list for your trip to Lesotho.
Abseiling off Maletsunyane Falls is not for the faint-hearted. If you’d like something to do in Lesotho that’s a bit more relaxing, you can abseil off less scary cliffs close to Semonkong Lodge.
Trail running in Lesotho
Lesotho has earned itself a formidable reputation for being the best high-altitude destination for trail running. You’ll find some of the best terrain for high-altitude running in the world in the Maluti Mountains and these extreme routes attract trail runners from all corners of the globe.
You run along a network of paths which have been created by livestock and shepherds who have been carrying goods and people across the mountain passes for decades.
The most famous trail run in Lesotho is the Sani Stagger which is a grueling race along the Sani Pass road between the Sani Pass Hotel in KZN and the Lesotho Border Pot at Sani Top.
The Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge offers a limited number of elite trail runners the chance to run from the Mahai campsite at the Royal section of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site to the top of the Tugela Falls and back again via the chain ladder (up) and the gully and Witsieshoek Hotel (down). The 50-km challenge has a 10-hour cutoff which makes it a fairly comfortable run for extreme sports men and women.
Another extremely popular trail run is the Lesotho Ultra Trail which attracts a top class field of local and international competitors. The one of southern Africa’s toughest 50 and 38 kilometres high-altitude courses. It’s classed as an ‘Ultra Skymarathon’ because it exceeds 45 kilometres in length and 2 500 metres in vertical gain at high altitude. It’s a challenge for even the toughest of participants.
What is important about trail running in Lesotho is it’s dependent on the support of the local community. Mountain donkeys and guides are used to transport what the runners need for hydration and nutrition to the running points high up in the mountains. In return, the local villagers benefit from adventure tourism in the region and much-needed job opportunities which open up during the trail running season.
Mountain biking in Lesotho
Lesotho falls within the Southern Drakensberg mountain range which is regarded as one of the best mountain biking destinations in South Africa. There’s an extensive range of mountain bike trails in Lesotho suitable for both competitive and casual riders.
Whether you’re on holiday in Lesotho and want to enjoy a leisurely mountain bike ride in a glorious setting or participating in one of the many enduro mountain bike races; there’s a bike trail for everyone in Lesotho.
Trails range from gentle gradients to the challenge of the Sani Pass with an ascent and descent of some 900 metres between the South African and Lesotho border posts. The Sani Pass mountain bike trail takes you through magnificent mountain scenery in the area of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.
Canoeing and white-water rafting in Lesotho
A holiday in Lesotho is ideal if canoeing and river rafting are your thing. The mighty rivers that form high in the Maloti and Drakensberg mountains flow and cascade through the mountains and open grass plains of Lesotho; and they’re ready to be tamed by canoe, kayak, raft or tube.
The white-water rapids are graded from 1 to 6. The most popular white-water rafting destination in Lesotho is the Senqu River.
Lesotho is begging to be explored if you’re a 4WD enthusiast and looking for the challenge of a steep mountain pass on a holiday in Lesotho. Sani Pass is legendary with the steep zigzag route climbing some 2 874 miles above sea level.
Other notable passes in Lesotho for a hair-raising 4×4 experience is the Moteng Pass and Molimo Nthuse Pass which means “God help me pass” in the local language. Popular places to visit in Lesotho for a holiday if you’re looking for a 4×4 challenge are the areas around Mokhotlong, Oxbow, Katse Dam, Thaba Tseka and Semonkong.
Pony trekking in Lesotho is one of the most popular outdoor activities for Lesotho tourism. The Basotho have used ponies for decades to transport goods and people between remote mountain villages and over the extreme mountain passes into what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal.
A Lesotho holiday is not complete without experiencing a multi-day Lesotho pony trekking trip. Many of the popular hotels in Lesotho offer pony trekking through local communities in the area who benefit from Lesotho tourism.
The small mountain horses take you through breathtaking mountain landscapes and peaceful valleys and along cascading rivers which sweep through the majestic hills. On your pony trek in Lesotho, you’ll experience first hand the warm hospitality of local villagers and even get to stay overnight in a village hut and eat with the villagers. It’s a truly authentic way to discover the rich cultural heritage of Lesotho.
The first ponies in Lesotho were supposedly captured from the roaming Griqua tribes in the early 1800s. In 1829 Chief Moorosi gave a pony as a gift to King Moshoeshoe; he was so taken with his pony that he brought many more into the country. Pony trekking in Lesotho rapidly took off as the main form of transport in the mountainous region.
The Basotho pony is a cross-breed between the full-size European horse and the shorter Javanese pony. These ponies are widely known for their strength and sure-footedness, which make them ideal for trails through rugged mountainous terrain.
Pony trekking in Lesotho is ideal for the whole family and you don’t need to be an experienced rider to feel comfortable in the saddle. The Basotho horses used for pony trekking are extremely tame and well-schooled. They’re used to being ridden by many different types of riders and you have a guide who accompanies you on the ride. A short trip is more suitable for a family on holiday in Lesotho with younger children.
The best thing about pony trekking in Lesotho is it is the one tourist activity that directly benefits local communities. The ponies and guides come from the local villages so the additional income provides a sustainable income for the families living in these remote areas.
Katse Dam tour
A highlight of a trip to Lesotho is a tour of Katse Dam which is the centerpiece of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). This incredible engineering feat takes water through a series of dams and tunnels which pass through massive mountain ranges and come out on the plains of the Free State Province in South Africa. Water is gravity fed to supply Johannesburg and Pretoria with surplus water from Lesotho.
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project is regarded as the greatest engineering project in the Southern Hemisphere and you can learn more about its benefits and impact on the small country on an informative tour of the Katse Dam.
Daily presentations on the overview, benefits and impacts of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and tours to the Katse Dam Wall are scheduled as follows:
Weekdays (Monday to Friday): 09h00 and 14h00
Weekends and Public Holidays: 09h00 and 11h00
Leisure boat cruises
A lovely thing to do in Lesotho is a leisure boat cruise on either the Katse Dam or Mohale Dam. The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation operates a small cruiser which takes visitors on a leisurely cruise around Mohale Dam and to the dam wall via Thaba-Chitja Island.
The Seinoli can accommodate up to 28 passengers and you can pick one of the following boat tours:
45 minutes cruise to below Katse Lodge
90 minute cruise to Mohale Tunnel
4 hours cruise to Malibamatso
You can contact Orion Hotel in Lesotho to book a boat cruise: +266 633 20831 / 289 10202
Rock art in Lesotho
Lesotho is a treasure trove of ancient relics ranging from dinosaur prints and artifacts from the Stone Age to outstanding rock art created by the San people (Bushmen). A tour of the fascinating rock art sites in Lesotho is something you should plan to do in Lesotho.
The unique style of rock art is wonderful to see close-up and it’s so much different to seeing in art and school books. There is something deeply spiritual when you stand close to the rock art and you can imagine the San artist creating something special and telling their story in pictures.
The San people used rock or soil rich in iron oxide to create red, orange and yellow paint. Black pigment came from black clay or soil rich in manganese or sometimes burnt bone or charcoal. White pigment was made using fine clay or bird droppings. Melted fat, egg white or eland blood was used to bind the paint material.
The San rock art in Lesotho depicts the daily life of the San and includes scenes of hunting, fighting, collecting food and some strange rituals. There are some paintings which showcase their spiritual beliefs and an insight into their spirit world.
Rock art sites in Lesotho can only be visited with a guide. They have immense archaeological and cultural value and are protected cultural sites. You need to obtain permission in advance from the relevant authorities.
Finding fossils in Lesotho
On a holiday in Lesotho, you’ll pass rock tucked away in the Maloti Drakensberg mountain range that contains hidden treasures which are evidence of the dramatic formation of the region over millions of years. Perpetually frozen into the rock is evidence of dinosaurs which roamed the valley and the first mammals and the ancient vegetation which they browsed on.
These hidden archaeological gems are hidden in layers upon layers of rock and buried deep in the gorges of the Drakensberg escarpment. The eastern part of present-day southern Africa was once largely covered by giant marshes. Sediments settled there over many millions of years and formed the rocks of the Beaufort Group.
The fossils of two reptiles occur repeatedly in the Beaufort rocks. The one mammal-like reptile survived harsh conditions by burrowing and the remains of this creature have been preserved in the red rocks of the upper Beaufort Group which is found in the Maloti mountains.
The fossillised remains of a small meat-eating dinosaur called the Lesothosaurus are mostly found in Lesotho. Lesotho is also home to the fossillised remains of a shrew-like crated called the Megazostrodon which is considered one of the earliest mammals.
If ancient archaeological finds and fossils fascinate you, then a trip to Lesotho is definitely something you should plan to do this year.
‘Walking with dinosaurs’ in Lesotho
Lesotho got the world’s attention when a “new dinosaur” was discovered in the small country. Researchers discovered the first evidence of a large carnivorous dinosaur that roamed southern Africa more than 200-million years ago.
A team of scientists discovered a large fossillised footprint of the dinosaur in the Roma Valley near the National University of Lesotho in western Lesotho. The three-toed footprint is 50cm wide and 57cm long; from this, the estimated body length of the dinosaur is about 9m with a hip height of 2.7 metres.
The scientists were extremely excited with their find because it’s the largest theropod trackway ever found in Africa for that time period. You too can wonder the grass plains where this magnificent specimen once roamed on your next holiday to Lesotho.
Birding in Lesotho
The magical escarpment of the Maloti Drakensberg is home to over 350 recorded bird species. The variety of habitats in Lesotho includes high-altitude alpines sites, steep grassy slopes and forested rivers. These provide sanctuary to an array of raptors, thrushes, pipits and many other rare and even endangered birds.
A big attraction for birders on holiday in Lesotho is incredible sightings of the endangered Bearded vulture, the Cape Griffon (formerly Cape vulture) and the wattled crane. You’ll also find a number of birds which are endemic to the mountainous region including the orange-breasted rockjumper, the Drakensberg siskin and the mountain pipit.
The Bearded vulture has been persecuted to near extinction in North Africa. You’ll find breeding sites in the Ethiopian Highlands but the second-most important African breeding site for the Bearded vulture is in the Maloti Drakensberg. There are approximately 200 breeding pairs found in the Lesotho region.
The Bearded Vulture is primarily a scavenger but prefers bone marrow over flesh. The vulture will drop bones from great heights onto flat rocks to shatter them, then extract the marrow or swallow and digest the pieces. They are easily recognizable in flight by the long, narrow wings and wedge-shaped tail. The Bearded vulture is exceptionally handsome; with striking plumage including black wings, ferric chest, white-feathered head and black mask and beard decoration.
The Wattled crane is a very large, conspicuous bird with a white neck, grey back and black belly. It has two white wattles beneath its chin from which it gets its name. The wattled crane is severely endangered due to the loss of their wetland habitats and deaths caused by collisions with power lines and eating poisoned grain left out for problem animals. The main problem is they have the slowest reproductive rate of the three crane species in South Africa.
The presence of the Cape Griffon in Lesotho is extremely important. It was once a common bird species in southern Africa but the numbers of Cape Griffon has fallen because the birds are poisoned by farmers because they’re considered to be vermin or they’re killed or badly injured flying into power lines. Lesotho is the perfect habitat for the Cape Griffon because they prefer mountainous regions and wide open grasslands.
Fly-fishing in Lesotho
Fly-fishing in Lesotho for wild trout is a popular activity for Lesotho holidaymakers and there are a number of excellent fishing sites to keep avid fishermen happy. The areas are often remote and difficult to get to but the beauty of fishing in Lesotho is you usually have miles and miles of river all to yourself when you finally get to the right spot.
The trout fishing season in Lesotho opens on 1 September and closes on 31 May. If the water levels are perfect, the best time to fly fish on a Lesotho trip is from the end of September to the end of November; and again from March to May. Avoid the rainy season in Lesotho from December to February because some areas are impossible to get into and out of in the wet season.
Most of fly-fishing in Lesotho is upstream deep nymph fishing and dry fly fishing. Fish in the streams include brown trout, rainbow trout and carp as well as yellow fish, barbel and the Maloti minnow.
You need to get permission to fish in certain areas particularly if you are accessing land belonging to various tribal chiefs. Organise a fishing trip through one of the popular lodges in Lesotho located close to the best fishing spots.
Botanical tour of Lesotho
Lesotho is a botanical wonderland and home to over 3 000 species of flora. The small landlocked country has more than 10% of the plant diversity of southern Africa and surpasses the variety of native flora in Switzerland and Germany and has double that of Britain.
The Maloti Drakensberg is a Garden of Eden for rare and endemic plants; 16% of Lesotho’s flowers occur nowhere else in the world. The alpine plants in the remote higher altitudes are remarkable; they’re often small but exquisite.
On a holiday in Lesotho, you’ll also find forests of Yellowwood trees and other magical tree species such as the mountain hard pear, the Cape chestnut, the Cape holly and the White stinkwood. You’ll also find striking small plants such as the wild orange begonia, the purple Streptocarpus gardenia and the little white granny bonnet orchid.
In the vast open grasslands, you’ll find a variety of Protea species including the Common sugarbush protea which is widespread and the Silver sugarbush protea. Red Suicide gladiolus cling to the rocky basalt cliffs and the Lesotho lily is endemic to the alpine regions.
The best time for a trip to Lesotho to see its incredible flora is in the peak flowering months from November to February. Take only photographs of Lesotho’s incredible plants; they may not be collected or removed from the region without a collector’s permit.
The Lesotho Tapestry Route
The Tapestry Route is a wonderful thing to do in Lesotho, particularly if you’re interested in the rich cultural heritage of the country. It takes you on a visit to weaving workshops where raw mohair clipped from goats is refined by hand, carded and spun. It’s then died and woven into tapestries and rugs that are renowned for their splendid patterns and colourful picturesque village scenes.
The expert crafters also knit or weave garments such as shawls, waistcoats and ties. For many families, weaving is the only opportunity they have to support their family so if you can visit one of the many weaving outlets in Lesotho; your support is always greatly appreciated.
PLACES TO VISIT IN LESOTHO
There’s a lot more to do in Lesotho than ride, hike, run and ski. The small landlocked country has a few hidden gems waiting to be discovered on a Lesotho tour.
Typically a 3-day tour to Lesotho will cover these major tourist attractions:
Maseru is the capital city of Lesotho and is situated on the Caledon River which separates Lesotho from South Africa. It’s the only sizable city in Lesotho with a population of some 300 000 inhabitants. The name Maseru is the Sesotho word meaning “red sandstones”.
The city of Maseru was originally established as a police camp and assigned as the capital of Lesotho when the country became a British protectorate in 1869. It retained its status as the capital when the country gained its independence in 1966.
There are a total of six Lesotho hotels in Maseru of which two have casinos which are hugely popular for locals and tourists; the Lesotho Sun and Maseru Sun. These two holiday destinations in Lesotho were even more popular during the 1960s before South Africa relaxed its gambling laws.
The major tourist attractions of Lesotho are all located a reasonable distance for Maseru. This includes the splendid natural and outdoor adventure destinations in the Maluti mountain region as well as Katse Dam, Afriski Mountain Resort, Thaba Bosiu and Lancer’s Gap which is an extreme high-altitude pass in Lesotho.
Katse Dam put Lesotho on the map many years ago and is one of Lesotho’s most popular tourist attractions. Katse Dam is situated on the Malibamatso River in Lesotho and is the highest dam in the world. The massive man-made dam lies at 2 000 metres above sea level and is described as a “striking piece of modern engineering”.
Katse Dam is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) which will eventually include 5 large dams in the remote rural areas of Lesotho. It lies below the confluence of the Bokong River which forms the western arm of the Katse reservoir.
It’s one of less than 30 double curvature concrete arch dams in the world and one of the world’s 10 largest concrete-arch dams in terms of volume. Construction was completed in 1996 and the reservoir filled with water by 1997. Katse Dam’s regarded as the most efficient storage dam in Africa due to its great depth and relatively small surface area which reduces evaporation. It receives abundant water from summer rains and winter snow melts.
The Katse Dam is named after a legendary man who once lived at the site which is now the heart of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The area is known as the ‘land of the blanket people’ because it was inhabited by deeply traditional rural villages known for their traditional Basotho ways which includes wearing traditional Basotho blankets, riding sturdy ponies and living off the land.
The massive dam harnesses and commercialises upstream surplus water sources. The water first travels through a 45×4 metre tunnel and exits at a hydroelectric station near Muela. The dam’s high elevation means the water is fed by means of a gravity-flow delivery system to dams in South Africa. It is capable of supplying about 30 cubic metres of water to South Africa which generates in excess of US$35 million per year.
There’s lots to do at Katse Dam and most of it revolves around leisure boat cruises and extreme sports events. A boat cruise on the Seinoli is the ideal way to explore Katse Dam; the cruise boat can accommodate up to 28 passengers and you’re welcome to take your own refreshments and drinks.
Mohale Dam is the second-largest dam in the Lesotho Highlands Development Project and was built as a backup reserve to the Katse Dam project. Standing 145 metres above ground level, Mohale Dam is the highest concrete-faced rock-filled dam in Africa. To create Mohale Dam, an entire mountain was level and moved in order to build the rock wall. The two dams are connected by a tunnel which supplies much-needed water to South Africa.
The Muela Hydropower Station is located on the road which takes you from the Caledonspoort Border Post to Afriski Mountain Resort. It’s buried deep in the mountain and drives the three turbines of Lesotho’s main hydropower station before sending the water on to South Africa via a gravity-fed delivery system.
The drive from Mohale Dam to Katse Dam via the district of Thaba-Tseka is one of the finest routes you can take on a trip to Lesotho. Daily tours to Mohale Dam and Katse Dam are hosted daily and it’s a fascinating insight into the extreme engineering behind the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
There’s lots to do at Katse Dam and Mohale Dam and most of it revolves around leisure boat cruises and extreme sports events. The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) offers boat crises around Mohale Dam and past Thaba-Chitja Island to the dam wall.
Sani Top is the world’s highest point and one of the most popular places to visit in Lesotho. It’s the highest point on the iconic Sani Pass and is 2 874 metres above sea level, located close to the Lesotho border post in the district of Mokhotlong. From Sani Top you take a torturous route that leads you down Sani Pass and meanders through the Drakensberg mountain plateau and down into Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa.
The Sani Pass is without doubt the “mother of all South African mountain passes” and not for the faint-hearted. For the moment the pass is a gravel road, although there is some talk of it being tarred in the future. You need a rugged 4WD to attempt driving up or down Sani Pass and it helps if you’re the type of person who loves adrenalin-pumping driving.
Sani Pass was built circa 1950 and connects the town of Underberg in KZN with Mokhotlong in Lesotho. It starts at 1 544 metres and rises 1 332 vertical meters to summit at 2 876 meters above sea level. It’s high-altitude driving at its best and you can expect bad weather and snowfalls as late as October.
While Lesotho holidaymakers make their way up or down the torturous Sani Pass, it’s a common sight to see local Basotho’s carting food and goods on donkeys or a die-hard Basotho pony. Before the Sani Pass road was built, this was the only way the people of Lesotho could reach the lower lying areas in the Drakensberg region of KZN.
In 1955, David Alexander from the then-province of Natal formed a company called the Motkhotlong Mountain Transport Company. The road was built to take adventure seekers to the top of the hill. The company still exists and is one of the leading companies offering day tours to Lesotho.
You’ll find the ‘Highest Pub in Africa’ at Sani Mountain Lodge which is a legendary Lesotho resort. Soak up the history of the place sitting around a roaring fire; spend the night on Sani Pass Top before continuing on your Lesotho road trip.
BOKONG NATURE RESERVE
Bokong Nature Reserve is one of the highest nature reserves in Africa. It lies some 3 000 metres above sea level and its impressive visitors’ centre sits perched on the edge of a 100 metre-drop cliff. The visitors centre is an excellent place to visit in Lesotho to learn more about the ecology, geological landmarks and paleontological history of the Lesotho Highlands.
A major attraction at Bokong Nature Reserve is the Lepaqoa Waterfall which freezes in winter to form a massive column of ice. Another reason to visit Bokong Nature Reserve is it’s a haven for birds. It’s the ideal place to see the Bearded Vulture and a number of bird species endemic to the afro-alpine region.
It’s also a haven for hikers. Bokong Nature Reserve has a hiking camp and an extensive network of trails and walks, including a 45-minute interpretative trail, half and full-day walking trails and long 2 to 3-day hikes which take you along an alpine plateau known as the ‘Roof of Africa’ northwards down into the Ts’ehlanyane National Park. You can also pre-book a pony trekking excursion in the reserve.
Lesotho accommodation at Bokong Nature Reserve includes camping facilities and self-catering chalets.
TS’EHLANYANE NATIONAL PARK
Ts’ehlanyane National Park is the largest national park in Lesotho and one of the most unspoilt and underused natural wilderness areas in southern Africa. Ts’ehlanyane lies deep in the front range of the Maloti Mountains at the foot of the Holomo Pass. It’s roughly a 45-minute drive from the South African border post of Caledonspoort which in turn is a short 15-minute drive from Clarens in the Free State.
The breathtakingly-beautiful mountain region was proclaimed a national park in order to protect 5 600 hectares of pristine high-altitude natural wilderness. Included in Ts’ehlanyane is one of Lesotho’s only patch of indigenous forest which is home to rare undergrowth plants that are endemic to the woodland habitat. “Ouhout” trees that have reached a significant size are one of the protected trees in Ts’ehlanyane National Park.
Another major feature of Ts’ehlanyane are the stands of berg bamboo which grow along rivers and streams. These natural bamboo plantations play host to an endangered butterfly species known as the Bamboo Sylph (Metisella syrinx). You’ll also find a reasonable proportion of very rare mountain fynbos (fine bush) as well as more than 220 recorded flowering plant species.
The eco-system of Ts’ehlanyane is sub-alpine; the nature reserve lies at an altitude ranging from 1 940 to 3 112 metres above sea level.
Lesotho accommodation at Ts’ehlanyane National Park includes the 5-star Maliba Mountain Lodge as well as the 3-star Maliba River Lodge which is a delightful self-catering option. People who visit Lesotho for the scenic wonders of Ts’ehlanyane enjoy a selection of excellent hiking trails which take you along mountain bridal paths. One popular hiking trail is the dramatic 39-kilometre trail which links Ts’ehlanyane National Park with Bokong Nature Reserve.
Bring your camera; the scenery is spectacular and the fauna and flora is spectacular. You can pre-book a Basotho pony trek to explore the national park or you can spend the day at one of the many stunning mountain streams and rock pools.
KATSE BOTANICAL GARDENS
The Katse Botanical Gardens in Lesotho should not be missed on a Lesotho tour. You’ll find a phenomenal collection of traditional and medicinal plants that represent the indigenous flora kingdom of Lesotho. This includes endangered species such as the exotic Spiral aloe and the Berg bamboo as well as many rare and endemic plant species.
The spectacular botanical garden of Lesotho has its origins in the building of Katse Dam as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. It was not initially planned for the area but the need for the Katse Botanical Garden became urgent through the plant rescue mission between 1995-1996.
With the increasing loss of biodiversity in Lesotho through over-exploitation of indigenous flora and projects such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project; the Katse Botanical Garden provides a unique natural and semi-natural setting to expose visitors to the incredible beauty of the indigenous plants of Lesotho.
The Katse Botanical Gardens play an important role in ensuring these plants survive through education programmes and community horticulture projects as well as an emphasis on sustainable eco-tourism which brings in much-needed income for rural communities.
The Masitise (Ellenberger) Cave House Museum is part of an old mission house located in the vicinity of Quthing. It was built into a San rock cave by the Reverend David Frederic Ellenberger in 1866. Today it functions as a small museum showcasing fine displays of local history and culture.
Together with fellow researchers and scientists, Ellenberger took it upon himself to preserve much of Lesotho’s historical and cultural material that would have been lost during the country’s turbulent tribal wars and colonial rule.
After a visit to Masitise Mission, you can wander further up the Qomoqomong Valley where you’ll find a selection of dinosaur footprints. The area is also home to several well-preserved San cave paintings which are located in caves in the hills to the southwest.
The town of Leribe was founded in 1876 and was the centre of a number of squirmishes during the Gun War of the 1880s. It was originally named Hlotse after the river that flows along its southern side.
In town you’ll find an old Anglican Church which dates back to 1877 and is the oldest building in the Leribe district. You’ll also find the Gun Tower which stands sentry in the marketplace in Leribe and dates from the time of the Gun War of 1886.
A popular attraction in town is the Leribe Craft Centre. It’s a good place to buy mohair items on your holiday in Lesotho. There are also interesting handicraft workshops in Leribe where you can buy grass-work items, pottery and angora and mohair products. Mohair carpets can be made to order.
The Maletsunyane Falls is a magnificent waterfall which is famous for being one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere. The cascading water plummets 192 metres down into a beautiful gorge. Like the mighty Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, massive plumes of mist and spray can be seen from miles away.
The waterfall was named Maletsunyane Falls after a French missionary who was the person to officially record its existence in 1881.
The dramatic landmark is popular site for abseiling. As a result, with a drop of over 200 metres; the Maletsunyane Falls also holds the impressive Guinness World Record for the highest commercially-run abseil in the world.
Don’t miss seeing the Maletsunyane Falls; put it on your list of places to visit in Lesotho. The best Lesotho accommodation close to the waterfall is the well-known and hugely popular Semonkong Lodge. The all-weather road to Semonkong is suitable for 2WD vehicles and the views as you climb over the Thaba Putsoa mountain range is magical.
From Semonkong Lodge, you can include abseiling and pony trekking on your list of things to do in Lesotho.
A truly remarkable and hidden gem waiting to be discovered on a trip to Lesotho is the Ketane Falls. This breathtakingly-beautiful landmark is located in one of the most remote areas in Lesotho and only accessible by foot or on a Basotho pony. Very few people have seen the Ketane Falls because of its remote location.
The waterfall has an impressive drop of some 122 metres; it cascades down into a narrow gorge and flows into a valley that’s regarded as one of the most beautiful areas in Lesotho. The horseback ride from Malealea to Ketane Falls can take up to 4 days and is something to do in Lesotho for only the hardiest adventurers.
The Qiloane Falls is another natural wonder in Lesotho that’s rarely seen by visitors because of its remote location. It’s a 2-hour horseback ride or hike from the main road to the waterfall. You can do it as part of a pony trek from the Basotho Pony Trekking Centre in Setibeng.
The Lesotho attraction can be reached by following the Makhaleng River upstream for 5 kilometres. What makes Qiloane Falls impressive is not its long drop by the wide fan of water flowing into the rock pool below. The cascading water splashes over the massive rocks below and is a sight to behold if you’re lucky enough to discover Qiloane Falls on your Lesotho holiday.
Thaba Bosiu is an important historical site and immortalises the survival of the Basotho as a nation in the 19th century. Visitors climb to the summit of a hill where they find three stones which mark the entrance to the ancient compound of King Moshoeshoe the Great.
Further on you’ll find King Moshoeshoe’s grave which is a cairn of stones marking the chief’s burial place on the hilltop. From Thaba Bosiu, the extraordinary rock pinnacle called Mount Qiloane – or the Basotho Hat – is clearly visible.
On a protruding rock near the grave site of King Moshoeshoe is the footprint of one of his sons, Maleka. The King’s son was forbidden to marry a girl of lower rank and grieving the loss of his beloved, Maleka carved the print of his foot as his epitaph before leaping to his death.
Lesotho is the land of mountains and is littered with caves, some of which are fascinating and rich in cultural history. One such site is the Liphofung Cave which has been developed for Lesotho tourism as part of a community-orientated project.
The Liphofung Cave has been used by ancient inhabitants since prehistoric times as can be seen from San rock art on the walls and the rich archaeological deposits of Stone Age implements on the floor. Many years later, the first Basotho monarch, King Moshoeshoe, used Liphofung Cave as a place to stay when visiting parts of his kingdom.
The heritage site includes a display of San rock art and Basotho cultural artifacts. It was created almost entirely with the help of local labour and artisans and profits generated from the popular tourist attraction are ploughed back into the local community.
There is a fascinating rural village at Ha Kome where you’ll find cave dwellings that have been carved out under towering rocks. Families of the descendants who carved out the Kome Caves in the 19th century still live there today. These people live like their forefathers did two centuries ago; untouched and unaffected by modern civilisation.
Incredibly, the Lesotho region was once home to cannibals and past generations of Basotho fled to the Kome Cave area to hide from them. Today, the Kome Caves are now a National Heritage Site and serve to capture the rich cultural history of Lesotho.
It’s a remarkable place to visit in Lesotho; it takes about 20 minutes to reach the Ha Kome Visitors Centre where you can join a guided tour of the caves and learn more about their captivating history.
Butha-Buthe is the starting point for the 68 kilometre hike to Oxbow along the Malibamatso River to Afriski Mountain Lodge. In Sotho, the name means “the place of lying down”.
Only a few kilometres outside the town of Botha-Bothe is the Sekubu Caves where you’ll find well-preserved dinosaur tracks. One of the best places on a Lesotho trip to see dinosaur tracks in the area is at Subeng Stream. It’s a short drive north of Hlotse and within easy walking distance form the main Hlotse-Butha-Buthe road.
There are many B&Bs and guest lodges in Lesotho which offer clean, comfortable and affordable accommodation. However, there are a few iconic places to stay in Lesotho which you should put on your travel bucket list. They’re either historical landmarks or offer something completely unique.
CAMPING SITES IN LESOTHO
Camping in Lesotho is popular and you’re not short of incredible sites to pop up your tent. The campsites in Lesotho are usually attached to the popular Lesotho resorts and are an add-on option for affordable accommodation in Lesotho for hikers and trail runners.
The top camping sites in Lesotho are:
Malealea Lodge & Pony Trekking Centre in the western region
Semonkong Lodge in the western region
Ts’ehlanyane National Park in the central region
Katse Dam campsite near Thaba-Tseka
Sani Mountain Lodge on the eastern border close to Maloti-Drakensberg Park
Sehlabathebe National Park on the eastern border
AFRISKI MOUNTAIN RESORT
Afriski Mountain Resort is one resort in Lesotho which has put the Mountain Kingdom on the map. It’s the highest ski resort in Africa and offers visitors an excellent selection of outdoor activities and extreme sport in both the winter ski season and the summer outdoor adventure season.
You’ll find a selection of accommodation at Afriski Mountain Resort catering for everyone’s budget; from a backpackers lodge to self-catering chalets and luxury log cabins. There’s also a great onsite restaurant and pub well-known for its brilliant après-ski which is the party scene after a day’s skiing in Lesotho.
Maliba Lodge is a 5-star luxury lodge in Lesotho located in Ts’ehlanyane National Park which is a pristine natural wilderness area in the heart of the Mountain Kingdom. It offers a selection of Lesotho accommodation to suit different budgets ranging from a luxury all-inclusive lodge to self-catering chalets.
This award-winning lodge in Lesotho is the ideal place for the whole family. Activities offered by Maliba Lodge range from horse riding in the beautiful reserve to birdwatching, archery, walking trails and visits to cultural villages.
If getting outdoors and sweaty isn’t your thing, you can enjoy a proper pamper session at the spa at Maliba Lodge. Or you can spend hours relaxing on the balcony which offers panoramic views of the magical mountains.
Malealea Lodge is one of the most popular lodges in Lesotho mainly because it’s a one-stop destination for the best outdoor adventure holiday in Lesotho. The popular lodge lies nestled in the Makhomalong Valley and is surrounded by the beautiful Maloti mountain range.
Malealea Lodge was bought by Mick and Di Jones in 1986 and served as a trading post with a few beds available for overnight guests. Today, it’s has grown into a solar-powered 90-bed resort which is most popular for pony trekking and mountain biking and hiking trails.
Supporting the local community has always been a priority for the owners of Malealea Lodge in Lesotho. They helped develop the Malealea Development Trust and also run a mountain biking club for orphaned children in the area.
A fascinating excursion while on holiday in Lesotho staying at Malealea Lodge is a camping outing to a Basotho village. You get to interact with the villagers and learn more about their traditional way of life.
Pony trekking from Malealea Lodge is organised through the local community which is a much-needed source of income for the local people.
Oxbow Lodge is an iconic place to stay in Lesotho because of its rich history. It came into being when two brothers who hailed from Britain – along with a few friends – set up tents in the Oxbow area in the Lesotho mountains during a particularly bad snowstorm. Being keen outdoor sportsmen, they regularly returned to the spot and eventually set up a more permanent campsite on at the scenic spot on the oxbow river.
The two British brothers built the original A-frame structures to accommodate guests as the area became more popular for outdoor adventure seekers. The road to Oxbow was very bad and was really nothing more than a Basotho donkey track.
Oxbow Lodge has changed hands a few times and was completely destroyed in a run-away fire in 1981. Oxbow Lodge was re-built using timber and thatch which were hauled up over the mountain pass using two Nissan 4WD pick-up trucks. When the new tar road was put through in 1991, visitors could finally make the drive from Butha-Buthe to Oxbow Lodge in just under an hour.
It was renamed the New Oxbow Lodge and has grown in popularity over the years as the ideal place to stay if you love the outdoors.
Activities at the New Oxbow Lodge include trout fly-fishing, bird watching for rare sightings of the Bearded vulture, fitness training for high-altitude athletes, 4×4 adventures, quad bike and mountain bike rides and hiking and walking trails.
SANI MOUNTAIN LODGE
Sani Mountain Lodge is located on the very top of Sani Pass some 2 874 metres above sea level. You’ll find ‘Africa’s Highest Pub’ at Sani Mountain Lodge as well as cozy round huts which are suitable for an overnight stay. There’s a backpackers lodge a short walk down the road which offers comfortable rooms for up to 6 people.
The drive up to Sani Mountain Lodge is not for the faint-hearted and a real challenge even for hardened 4WD enthusiasts. There’s a 4WD shuttle service from/to the South African border post for those who don’t want to miss out the opportunity of having a few ice cold beers and a delicious meal at Africa’s highest pub.
SANI STONE LODGE
Sani Stone Lodge is another great place to stay in Lesotho to be close to the major tourist attraction and enjoy all the outdoor activities on offer in Lesotho’s spectacular natural wilderness areas. Sani Stone Lodge is situated at the top of the magnificent Drakensberg Escarpment just within the Maluti mountain range, close to the South Africa border post and within easy read of the legendary Sani Pass.
Popular activities at Sani Stone Lodge include trout fishing, tailor-made tours of Basotho villages, pony trekking along the edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment and hiking in the magical Maluti Mountains and nearby Drakensberg.
The joy of staying at Sani Stone Lodge is interacting with the local Basotho shepherds who have made the torturous journey over the high mountain passes for decades. Their small stone-walled and grass-roofed shepherd’s houses are scattered along the Drakensberg Escarpment and are used by the Basotho shepherds during the summer months when they bring their sheep, goats, cattle, horses and donkeys to the open grasslands for better grazing.
Semonkong Lodge lies on the Maletsunyane River and is a great place to stay in Lesotho for families and adventure seekers. The lodge is a model of community tourism where the local community and lodge run mutually-beneficial initiatives for sustainable tourism in the area.
The major attraction to Semonkong Lodge is the mighty Maletsunyane Falls which is one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in Africa. It creates thundering smoke similar to the mighty Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and is popular for abseiling. In fact, Semonkong means ‘the place of smoke’ in the local Sesotho language.
From Semonkong Lodge, you can join a selection of tours to the popular attractions in Lesotho as well as enjoy incredible hikes and trail runs, fly-fishing for wild trout, overnight pony trekking or donkey pub crawls, abseiling down a Guinness World Record single-drop waterfall and technical 4×4 routes.
LESOTHO TRAVEL INFORMATION
Lesotho is an incredible landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. It’s affectionately known as the Kingdom in the Sky because its located at such a high altitude and the fact that it’s one of three remaining monarchies in Africa.
It’s a very poor country and most inhabitants live traditional lives in remote mountain villages. However, the country is rich in natural resources and renowned for its spectacular scenery and incredible attractions for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
It’s a destination well worth putting on your list of places to visit in South Africa because it’s an easy 4.5 hour drive from Johannesburg and the country is so closely interlinked with South Africa that a Lesotho road trip feels like an extension of a tour of South Africa.
Bear in mind, you’re entering a country which is untamed and untouched by modern civilisation except in the capital city of Maseru and a few of the larger towns. It’s not a country you can wander into and expect to catch an Uber to get to places or call up the local policeman for help if you get into trouble.
The exciting part of a Lesotho holiday package is its remoteness and absolute peace and tranquility. At the same time, this means you’re travelling far off the beaten path and you need to be careful what you see and do in Lesotho so it’s a happy experience and not too hair-raising.
WEATHER IN LESOTHO
Lesotho has a subtropical highland climate with warm summers and regular afternoon thunderstorms and cold, dry winters with temperatures dropping below zero.
Summer in Lesotho: November to February
Winter in Lesotho: June to August
When a frontal weather system moves over Lesotho, the mountains are covered in snow. In fact, places like Sani Pass and Semonkong are so high that snow can often occur all year round.
The summer temperature in Lesotho rarely goes over 28°C and often drops to -10°C in winter. When packing for a holiday in Lesotho, always take warm clothing and a good windproof jacket regardless of whether it’s summer or winter.
BEST TIME TO VISIT LESOTHO
Lesotho is a year round destination mainly because there’s more than enough to do regardless of whether it’s summer or winter in the mountain highlands. Planning a holiday to Lesotho depends on what you want to do: you’ll visit Lesotho in the colder winter months if you want to ski at Lesotho’s ski resort or you’ll visit Lesotho in the warm summer months if you’re a keen mountain biker or hiker.
The summer months (October to March) in Lesotho are generally warm to hot during the day. It’s also the rainy season so conditions are often humid and afternoon thunderstorms occur regularly. These can be vicious with major lightening strikes so watch the weather report to avoid getting caught out in the open grasslands during a heavy thunderstorm.
Summer is beautiful in Lesotho but your holiday can be ruined by long periods of continuous rain and mist and the rain causes rivers to swell which makes them dangerous to cross if you’re pony trekking or mountain biking. The Spring and Autumn months are more ideal for a holiday to Lesotho.
The winter months (May to August) in Lesotho tend to be dry with warm, sunny days. The nights get extremely cold and you’ll get snow at higher altitudes. Going on holiday to Lesotho in winter is harsh if you don’t like freezing conditions at nighttime but you’re guaranteed days of no rain and mist which is better for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and pony trekking.
Regardless of the season, the weather in Lesotho can be unpredictable so be prepared for sudden weather changes and sub-zero temperatures. The Maloti and Drakensberg mountain ranges are known to get snow at any time of the year, including mid-summer.
TRAVELLING IN LESOTHO
The road network in the well-known Maloti Drakensberg Route is generally good if you stay on the popular main roads. Leaded fuel and diesel are available at petrol stations along the route.
Unleaded fuel is only available in Maseru so you need to fill up in the capital city if your car only takes unleaded petrol.
The speed limit in Lesotho is restricted to 50 kilometres/per hour on rural roads and 80 kilometres/per hour on the highways. This is because the roads travel past and through unfenced rural communities where livestock wonder across the road.
Avoid travelling in Lesotho after dark. Plan your trip to Lesotho to be at your lodge or hotel well before it gets dark because there are no street lamps along the rural roads and few signposts. You don’t want to get lost and end up spending the night in your car on a freezing cold night in the Maluti mountains.
BANKS AND CREDIT CARD FACILITIES IN LESOTHO.
The main banks in Lesotho are found in the capital city of Maseru and most of the main towns. There operating hours are:
Monday to Friday: 09h00-15h30
The country uses the Lesotho Loti as its currency as well as the South African Rand. The Loti has the symbol L or M for the plural form Maloti. The hotels and lodges in Lesotho happily accept South African Rand and it’s not necessary to swop Rands for Maloti on a trip to Lesotho.
Major credit cards are accepted at the main hotels and popular lodges in Lesotho. It’s advisable to have another credit card available if you use Diner’s Card as some places do not accept it.
TELEPHONE SERVICE AND CELL PHONE RECEPTION IN LESOTHO
Modern telephone services are available in Maseru and all the main towns of Lesotho. Cellular reception is excellent in what is known as the Lowlands which is the flat region in Lesotho where the majority of people live and work.
However, going further up into the Highlands you’ll start to experience problems with cell phone signals and, in particular, internet connectivity. If you’re travelling to very remote mountainous areas in Lesotho, it’s advisable that you travel equipped with a satellite phone.
Most popular lodges in Lesotho in the Highlands region boost their cell phone signal and internet connectivity with telecommunication boosters and towers.
LESOTHO BORDER POST INFORMATION
Maseru Bridge is the closest border to Ladybrand and Maseru: open 24 hours
Maputsoe Bridge is the closest border to Ficksburg and Maputsoe: open 24 hours
Peka Bridge is the closest border to Clocolan and Peka: open 08h00 to 16h00
Caledonspoort Border Post is the closest border to Fouriesburg and Butha-Buthe: open 06h00 to 22h00
Sani Pass Border Post is the closest border to Himeville and Mokhotlong: 08h00 to 16h00
Van Rooyens Gate is the closest border to Wepener and Mafeteng: 06h00 to 22h00
Makhaleng Bridge is the closest border to Zastron and Mohale’s Hoek: 08h00 to 16h00
Tele Bridge is the closest border to Sterkspruit and Quthing: 06h00 to 22h00
Ongeluk’s Nek is the closest border to Matatiele and Quthing: 08h00 to 16h00
Qacha’s Nek Gate is the closest border to Matatiele and Qacha’s Nek: 06h00 to 20h00
Ramatseliso’s Gate is the closest border to Matatiele and Qacha’s Nek: 08h00 to 16h00
PASSPORT AND VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR LESOTHO
South Africans need a valid passport to enter Lesotho but they do not need a visa if they are staying in Lesotho for a period of up to 14 days.
Most travellers from other countries require a passport but do not need a visa for entering Lesotho for a period of up to 3 weeks.
If you extend your visit, then you need to obtain a visa from the Lesotho High Commission in Maseru or at the border post on entering. The visa is free of charge.
All travellers to Lesotho should have sufficient funds, as well as the necessary documents and tickets required for an onward or return journey.
Extensions for visas are possible. These must be made at the Lesotho Immigration Authorities within the initial 14-day period.
Please note: Lesotho passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements if in any doubt, prior to travel.
HEALTH WARNINGS FOR LESOTHO
There is no risk of contracting malaria or yellow fever in Lesotho. The country is located in a malaria-free region so it’s not necessary to take anti-malaria tablets if you are only visiting Lesotho and major attractions in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Make sure you’re up-to-date on routine vaccines before your Lesotho holiday. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine and your yearly flu shot.
There is a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS infection in Lesotho. As much as a quarter of the population is affected. Avoid unprotected sexual relations with local people; always use a condom.
Seek immediate medical assistance in the case of any violent attack or sexual assault in case there has been a transfer of blood.
For medical treatment for a serious medical condition or for a medical emergency, it is more efficient to go over the border to South Africa and straight to a healthcare clinic or hospital for treatment. The closest private medical centre to Lesotho is in Bloemfontein which is 1.5 hours from Lesotho’s western border. If you are on a Lesotho holiday package in the eastern region, Durban is your closest city in South Africa.
If you’re riding, running or pony trekking in remote rural areas, it’s recommended that you have a rabies vaccination before you travel to Lesotho. This is due to the risk of being bitten by a stray dog or animal in the country which may have rabies.
SAFETY IN LESOTHO
Overall, Lesotho is a safe and secure place to visit. The country has enjoyed a long period of political peace and stability and apart from usual criminal elements, the people of Lesotho are law abiding.
Crime has increased in the city of Maseru and the larger towns of Lesotho in recent years largely Lesotho migrant workers have lost their jobs at the large mining groups in South Africa. Crime in cities and large towns is not a major problem but tourists do need to use common sense when visiting urban areas and must avoid putting themselves at risk as you would in any large town or city in Africa.
Avoid common tourist scams and petty theft. Don’t flash your cash or wear expensive jewelry and watches. Conceal expensive camera equipment and cell phones in public places.
Do not venture out into the city streets after dark and definitely don’t stray off well-lit and busy streets. The stretch between Maseru’s hub of hotels and the business district is notorious for robberies. Ask your hotel receptionist or a business colleague for a reputable taxi service you can use; do not use the local mini bus taxis.
If you’re travelling around Lesotho in your own vehicle or a rented car, keep your doors locked and your windows up. Do not leave valuable items out in the open on car seats because you’re likely to fall victim of a “smash and grab” in the big towns.
Leave valuables at your hotel in Lesotho or locked in the boot. Vehicle theft is common in the big city but not common in the rural areas. Be vigilante when you stop at an intersection. Ignore kids begging for money or sweets; they are sometimes used as a distraction for criminals.
To contact the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS):
Calling from a landline: dial 112
Calling from a cell phone: dial +266-22-317-263 or +266-5-888-1010
LESOTHO TRAVEL TIPS
Never pick up a hitchhiker in Lesotho.
Locals who smuggle Lesotho Gold – marijuana or dagga – to South Africa take their valuable produce over the mountain passes using well-worn trails. If you are on a Lesotho tour of the major attractions, you won’t come across these unscrupulous characters. However, you’re hiking or trail running in remote mountain areas, then you might. Avoid these smugglers at all costs and never engage them in conversation.
If you are enjoying an overnight pony trekking tour and staying in a rural village, avoid walking around on your own late at night because farmers usually rely on guard dogs to safeguard their valuable livestock, crops and flocks.
Homosexuality is regarded as illegal in Lesotho although there is pressure on the government to decriminalize it. Avoid getting into an altercation by avoiding public displays of affection between same-sex couples.
If you do fall victim to crime in Lesotho or are attacked, you should be able to call on the assistance of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS). However, the country is poor and public service funds are limited so don’t expect a rapid response. Go to the closest police station and report the incident. If necessary, you might have to pick up a police officer and take them to the scene of the crime.
All goods and luggage brought into Lesotho are subject to customs control and baggage may be subject to examination.
Visitors from Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and South Africa are not allowed to bring liquor into Lesotho.
Domestic pets brought into Lesotho from South Africa are subject to quarantine requirements.
Most roads in Lesotho are gravel roads; some are in good condition and some are very challenging. It’s recommended that you travel to Lesotho in a reliable 4WD vehicle as opposed to a small sedan. The narrow gravel roads are littered with potholes and ditches created by water erosion so you need to drive in Lesotho in a vehicle with high clearance.
Basotho people are very friendly, warm and hospitable but they are traditional people with old-fashioned ways and beliefs. Be respectful of their cultures and courteous at all times. For many Basotho people, especially children; they are untouched and unaffected by modern civilisation so don’t expect them to react or behave the same as city folk.
Arms and ammunition may not be brought into Lesotho without a permit obtained in advance from the Commissioner of Police.
Liquor importation without an import permit is strictly prohibited and any liquor brought to the border control posts will be confiscated.
Always carry the certified copies of your documents and leave the originals along with your valuables in the safe deposit of your Lesotho hotel.
Do not pay any traffic fines on the spot either at the border post or on your Lesotho road trip. This encourages corruption and creates a poor image for Lesotho. If you do have to pay a fine roadside, request a proof of payment and the details of the officer on duty.
Where possible, book your Lesotho accommodation in advance and pay online. Arrive in Lesotho with a clear idea of where you will stay and the places you will visit to avoid any problems with transport and overbooking. You are travelling in a 3rd world country and you can’t hop in and out of an Uber if there’s a problem with a hotel booking. Plan ahead for a great holiday in Lesotho.
HOW TO GET TO LESOTHO
Getting to Lesotho from Durban and Johannesburg is easy. Many arrive by air but most Lesotho holidaymakers come by road. Lesotho is surrounded by South Africa so the road network is interlinked and there are regular flights to Maseru from the international airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Getting to Lesotho by air
Moshoeshoe I International Airport is located on the outskirts of the capital city of Maseru. SA Airlink offers a direct flight to Lesotho from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. There a three flights per day to Lesotho from Johannesburg.
Maseru is just over an hour’s flight from OR Tambo International Airport. International flights arrive at OR Tambo which is the tourist hub of South Africa. Connecting flights depart from the international terminal.
SA Airlink is an associate airline of SAA. The airline uses the 29-seater BAE Jetstream to fly to Maseru from Johannesburg.
Your Lesotho tour operator will organise road transfers to your Lesotho accommodation or you can hire a rental car from companies based at Moshoeshoe I International Airport.
Getting to Lesotho by road
It’s more common for South Africans travelling to Lesotho from Johannesburg or Pretoria to take their own car. With stops, it’s a comfortable 5-hour drive from Johannesburg to Lesotho’s main border posts.
There are 11 border posts to choose from and your Lesotho tour operator will enter through a border post most convenient to where you will stay in Lesotho.
Lesotho’s road network has greatly improved recently. Main North 1 is the main highway and provides easy access on an excellent tarred road to the major tourist attractions in Lesotho.
All roads from Maseru to Butha-Buthe and on to Mokhotlong are now tarred and the new tarred road to Katse Dam has made the area around the Lesotho Highlands Water Project accessible to the public.
Main South 1 is a good tarred road which takes Lesotho travellers to Moyeni, Mount Moorosi and on to Qhoali. However, rural roads in the south and east of Lesotho can be difficult in poor weather and it’s recommended you tackle them in a reliable 4WD vehicle.
Vehicles are permitted entry to Lesotho on presentation of the following documents:
valid driving license with certified English translation or an international driving license
appropriate insurance certificates
Drivers of cars hired through rental agencies in South Africa must have a certificate from the rental company permitting the temporary exportation of the vehicle.
LANGUAGE SPOKEN IN LESOTHO
Lesotho has 2 official languages; Sesotho is the national language and spoken by most of the Basotho inhabitants of Lesotho and English is the second official language in the country.
The Basotho people of Lesotho greatly appreciate being greeted in their own language. The Sesotho word for “hello” is “khotso” which means “peace”.
The following items and quantities to a total value not exceeding M500.00 per person are allowed under rebate duty:
1 liter each of wine, spirits or any other alcoholic beverage
400 cigarettes or 50 cigars
Domestic pets, livestock, seeds, bulbs, plants and trees may not be imported without payment of customs duty and are subject to quarantine.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LESOTHO
It’s absolutely essential you pack your passport, warm clothing, a waterproof jacket and decent walking shoes or hiking boot for a Lesotho road trip.
Other useful things to carry with you on a Lesotho holiday are a pocket knife. insect repellent, antibiotic cream, sunblock, torch, plastic bags, water bottle, first aid kit and decent hiking boots.
INTERESTED IN A TOUR OF LESOTHO
Moafrika Tours specialises in tours to the major destinations and tourist attractions in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. Find out more about the fascinating places you’ll visit on a tour of Lesotho with Moafrika Tours and what to expect from a Lesotho tour package.