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Lesotho

Photo © Utrecht

Travel Guide Africa Lesotho

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Introduction

Magnificent drive in the Lesotho mountains

Magnificent drive in the Lesotho mountains

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Landlocked by South Africa, Lesotho is much more than an idle passing-through place. It is itself a magnificent destination, best enjoyed by hiking, or, alternatively, pony-back riding. Surrounded by stunning mountain ranges, which have been an essential strategic element in warding off invaders, the country (which is comparable in size to Belgium) achieves the somewhat confusing distinction of having the highest lowest point of any country in the world, riding high at over a kilometre above sea level. It's an impressive geography that has had notable impacts on the country's development. While modernity has caught up with Lesotho, traditional life has been maintained effortlessly. Maseru, the capital, has a relaxed setting, though it is rapidly developing into a tight urban centre, much like the nation itself - a picture of laid-back life in the midst of fast modernization.

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Brief History

The area now known as Lesotho goes back as many as 40,000 years. The present Lesotho (then called Basutoland) emerged as a single polity under paramount chief Moshoeshoe I in 1822. Under Mashoeshoe I, Basutoland joined other tribes in their struggle against the Mfecane associated with the reign of Shaka Zulu from 1818 to 1828.

Subsequent evolution of the state was shaped by contact with the British and Dutch colonists from Cape Colony. Missionaries invited by Moshoeshoe I developed orthography and printed works in the Sotho language between 1837 and 1855. The country set up diplomatic channels and acquired guns for use against the encroaching Europeans and the Korana people. Territorial conflicts with both British and Boer settlers arose periodically, including Moshoeshoe's notable victory over the Boers in the Free State-Basotho War, but the final war in 1867 with an appeal to Queen Victoria, who agreed to make Basutoland a British protectorate. In 1869, the British signed a treaty at Aliwal with the Boers that defined the boundaries of Basutoland and later Lesotho, which by ceding the western territories effectively reduced Moshoeshoe's kingdom to half its previous size.

The extent to which the British exerted direct control over Basutoland waxed and waned until Basutoland's independence in 1966, when it became the Kingdom of Lesotho. However, when the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) lost the first post-independence general elections to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Leabua Jonathan refused to cede and declared himself Tona Kholo (Sesotho translation of prime minister). The BCP began an insurrection that culminated in a January 1986 military coup forced the BNP out of office. Power was transferred to King Moshoeshoe II, until then a ceremonial monarch, but forced into exile when he lost favour with the military the following year. His son was installed as King Letsie III. Conditions remained tumultuous, including an August 1994 coup by Letsie III, until 1998 when the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) came to power in elections which were deemed fair by international observers. Despite protests from opposition parties, the country has remained relatively stable since.

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Geography

Lesotho is bordered on all sides by South Africa and is one of the smallest countries on mainland Africa. It has the highest lowest point of all countries in the world, at around 1,400 metres above sea level. Especially the central and southeastern parts of the country are very mountainous but you will have good views almost anywhere in the country. It borders the famous Drakensbergen in South Africa.

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Regions/Districts

Lesotho is comprised of 10 districts.

  • Berea
  • Butha-Buthe
  • Leribe
  • Mafeteng
  • Maseru
  • Mohale's Hoek
  • Mokhotlong
  • Qacha's Nek
  • Quthing
  • Thaba-Tseka

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Cities

  • Maseru, the capital
  • Quthing
  • Teyateyaneng
  • Hlotse (or Leribe)
  • Mafeteng
  • Mokhotlong

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Sights and Activities

Ponytrekking in the mountains

Malealea horseman

Malealea horseman

© All Rights Reserved HansNL

There are several excellent places in Lesotho to go for some ponytrekking, of which the country is famous for. The best known places are around Malealea in the west of the country and Katse near the Katse Dam.

Sani Pass

Home to the both the highest mountain road as well as the highest pub in Southern Africa. It is the road that connects South Africa's (KwaZulu Natal) Drakensbergen with Lesotho but a 4wd is advisable especially when it has been raining or snowing! In winter there is even the opportunity to ski 300 metres down the slopes of the Sani pass.

Maletsunyane Falls

These 200-metre high waterfalls are located near Semonkong, a small town in central Lesotho, about a two hour drive from the capital Maseru. The area is great for walking, ponytrekking and is even accessible with a 4wd.

Other sights and activities

  • Morija: history, with the museum and dinosaur footprints;
  • Katse Dam - huge man made reservoir;
  • Thaba Bosiu;
  • Craftshopping at major centers like Maseru and Hlotse;
  • Skiing at the Mahlasela valley, over 3,200 metres high!

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Events and Festivals

  • Independence Day (4th October) - celebration of achieved independance from the British Empire.
  • Moshoeshoe Day (14th March) - celebration of the life of the founding father of the country.

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Weather

Lesotho's climate is harsh and mainly because of its elevation quite different from many other surrounding countries. In summer it is mostly warm to hot with occasional showers. Temperatures are between 30 °C and 35 °C during summer days and around 15 °C at night. Winters are relatively dry with temperatures around 10 °C to 15 °C during the day and below 0 °C at night from June to August. Sometimes, some snow is possible but not often.

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Getting there

Plane

Moshoeshoe I International Airport (MSU) near the capital Maseru receives international flights. Sout African Airlink flies there to and from Johannesburg.

By Train

There are no trains to and from Lesotho.

By Car

Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa and major border posts are Caledonspoort, Ficksburg Bridge, Makhaleng Bridge, Maseru Bridge, Ngoangoma Gate, Peka Bridge, Qacha's Nek, Ramatseliso's Gate, Sani Pass, Sephaphos Gate, Tele Bridge and Van Rooyen's Gate. Note that some of the border posts can only be crossed by 4wd cars, including Sani Pass. Only Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg Bridge are open 24/7 while some smaller ones may close as early as 4pm, though usually later during summer.

By Bus

Buses travel between the capital Maseru and the South African city of Bloemfontein, taking about 2 hours to cover the route, minibuses require a switch and usually takes longer. Vaal Maseru has buses between Maseru and Johannesburg.

By Boat

No sea or river access to and from Lesotho exist.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There is no Lesotho Airways anymore, but some private charter airlines might help you to get to remote places. Mission Aviation carries passengers as well, based on the airport near Maseru.

By Car

You can rent cars at the airport or in Maseru, but most people entering Lesotho will have their rental car from South Africa, which is much cheaper. Be sure to have permission though from your car rental agency, which in case of Lesotho normally is free of charge. Although it is a popular way of getting around, be sure to go prepared. Check your car (oil, spare tyre, tyre pressure etc.). Also note that petrol can be hard to find and fill up in Maseru. The main tarred roads out of Maseru are the A1 towards the east and from Oxbow travelling south to Mokhotlong and the A2 from Maseru going south along the western part and eventually going east towards Qacha's Nek. The mountainous conditions can be hard and you need to drive carefulling as the roads can be narrow and winding. Some roads might be impassable after heavy rains or snowfall and icy conditions in winter. The roads to Roma, Mohale Dam and Katse Dam are also tarred. For the visitor, the only unsealed roads you are likely to use are the road to Semonkong (4x4 only most of the year although some drive in 2x4 hire cars) and the last 20km to Malealea, which is easy in a saloon. Note that the road running east-west to Thaba Tseka is unsealed and in terrible condition. Traffic drives on the left and you will need an international driving permit, although your national driver's licence is valid when written in English. It is advised not to drive at night, nor in mountainous areas in winter.

By Bus

There are a number of long distance buses travelling around the country, but these can take much longer and involve stops in small towns as well. It is better to use the more extensive minibus network which are faster, a bit more expensive and cover shorter distances.

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Red Tape

Most citizens, including North Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, British, Southern Africans and most Europeas can get a free permit upon entry, usually valid for 30 days. Your passport should be valid for another 6 months after leaving.
Note that things regarding visas might change over time and that certain nationalities do need a visa. It is best to check the nearest embassy or consulate.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The loti (L, prural Maloti, M) is the currency of Lesotho and is subdivided into 100 lisente. It is pegged to the South African rand on a 1:1 basis and both are accepted as legal tender within Lesotho.

Coins are in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 lisente, L1, M2, M5
Banknotes come in denominations of M10, M20, M50, M100, M200

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Language

The national language is Sesotho (or South/Southern Sotho), spoken by the Basotho people.
English is widely spoken on the other hand and generally most people will understand you.
Xhosa and Zulu are languages spoken by minorities as well.

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Sleep

New places are opening up all the time and there are fairly good places to stay around the country, both budget as well as upmarket.
Some examples throughout the country include:

There are many options more, most of them in Maseru and the ponytrek base of Malealea.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Lesotho. There is one exception though: you need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Lesotho) where that disease is widely prevalent.

Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Lesotho. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Lesotho as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.

Note that there is no malaria in Lesotho.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Lesotho on the whole is a very safe country to African standards and safer in general than South Africa. The normal precautions should be taken, including not walking at night in Maseru, rather take a taxi.
The main concern probably would be the driving conditions in winter and after heavy rainfall. Also note that Lesotho receives an above average rate of deaths by thunder! So stay inside if you can during these periods, especially when you are high in the mountains.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Lesotho flag

Map of Lesotho

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Capital
Maseru
Population
1,862,000
Government
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Religions
Christianity, Indigenous beliefs
Languages
South Sotho, Englishaf
Calling Code
+266
Nationality
Mosotho (singular), Basotho (plural)

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Accommodation in Lesotho

This is version 33. Last edited at 8:55 on Jun 3, 13 by Peter. 9 articles link to this page.

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