Lesotho is a small country totally surrounded by South Africa. It's known as the Kingdom in the Sky because the entire country is at a high altitude. Its lowest point is 1,400 m above sea level – no other country in the world has its lowest point above 1000 m (3,280 ft)! Lesotho is a fantastic adventure holiday destination because of its smiling and resourceful people and bracing climate.
- 1 Afriski, Oxbow (Afri-Ski) — ski and mountain resort for skiing in winter (June - September) and mountain adventure sport in summer (October - April). One of the few places in Africa to go skiing.
- Sani Pass — 4x4 road into Lesotho from Underberg, with places to stay and activities at the top
- 2 Sehlabathebe National Park — remote mountain reserve great for hiking with rare wildlife, impressive waterfalls, and ancient rock paintings and stone shelters
- 3 Ts'ehlanyane National Park — sub-alpine national park at the foot of the Holomo Pass. Home to one of the few remaining Che-Che (old wood) forests, with hiking trails and pristine rock pools and rivers
- Katse — pony-trekking and the impressive Katse Dam
- 4 Malealea — pony-trekking
- 5 Morija — museum, dinosaur footprints
- 6 Semonkong — Maletsunyane Falls — one of the highest single drop waterfalls in the world
- 7 Thaba Bosiu — the mountain stronghold where King Moeshoeshoe the Great established the Kingdom of Lesotho
|Currency||Lesotho loti (LSL)|
|Population||2.2 million (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (BS 546)|
|Emergencies||112 (police), 114 (emergency medical services), 115 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Before European settlement of the area, the Sotho-Tswana people lived in what is now Free State in neighbouring South Africa. They were a farming people, and when the Zulus started attacking villages and the Dutch Voortrekkers started encroaching on their land, they fled up into the Lesotho mountains. Here, continuous attacks from the Zulus forced local tribes to join together for protection, and by 1824, King Moeshoeshoe had established himself as king and Thaba Bosiu as his mountain fortress.
Moeshoeshoe later allied himself with the British Cape Colony government in a bid to protect the Basotho from the Boers' rapidly increasing presence in the area. Much fighting followed, forcing Moeshoeshoe to go straight to the imperial government of the British, and in 1868, Basotholand (as it was then called, later to be called Basutoland) became a protectorate of the British Empire. It gained independence within the Commonwealth of Nations on 4 Oct 1966.
The Kingdom of Lesotho was formed through the pursuit of peace, and this peaceful nature still exists in the Basotho. They are a friendly and welcoming people and do not have the aggressive history some of the peoples of neighbouring countries have. People are especially grateful to Brits, and the older generation will come up to a Brit and tell them how much they thank them for saving them from Apartheid!
Lesotho has 300 days of sunshine. The rainy season extends from October to April in which Lesotho gets 70mm of rainfall, mostly during severe thunderstorms. Extensive snow falls are possible in winter but may occur in any month on the high mountains. Night time temperatures go below freezing in winter (May — September), and houses do not feature central heating, so bring a jacket. Because of the high altitude, the air is cold and dry, so bring moisturiser and a chap-stick.
- Independence Day (4th October) celebrates the day that Lesotho achieved independence from the British Empire.
- Moshoeshoe Day (14th March) celebrates the life of the founding father of the country. In Maseru, the procession goes from the Palace all the way to the Sotho Stadium, and involves many people dressed up in Lesotho's vibrant and colourful traditional dress — usually comprising blankets and sticks and if you're lucky, the cat hat. Women involved in the parade will be carrying huge bundles of sticks, as they traditionally would do, whilst the men will either be doing traditional dances, riding horses, or herding bulls along the road! At the stadium, after the procession has arrived, there are military and police parades, which aren't nearly so enjoyable.
Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Lesotho visa-free:
For up to 90 days: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Dominica, Eswatini, Fiji, Gambia, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Your passport needs to be valid for another six months and you need at least two blank pages. The proof of a return or onward ticket or your future travel plans might be asked, but this should not be a problem.
If you require a visa to enter Lesotho, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no foreign mission of Lesotho. For example, the British embassies/consulates in Al Khobar, Almaty, Belgrade, Budapest, Geneva, Guatemala City, Jeddah, Prague, Pristina, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia, Vienna and Zurich accept Lesotho visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Lesotho visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in Lesotho require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Lesotho can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
Moshoeshoe Airport is located 18km from Maseru. South African Airways and Airlink operate daily flights between Maseru and Johannesburg, typically costing around 1,400 South African rand (R). Luggage is lost very regularly and there is no lost luggage reporting system. You should arrange taxi pick-up in advance as often there are no taxis at the airport. Taxis charge around R50-80.
There is no train line within Lesotho, but the South African railway line Bloemfontein Bohlokong (freight only) runs along the northwestern Lesotho border, with a stop in Meqheleng.
You will be coming from South Africa when entering by car. The 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. Please note that some of the border posts can only be accessed by four-wheel driven cars, and only Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg Bridge are open 24 hours; other borders can close as early as 4PM.
The Maseru Bridge can be crowded due to traffic, but the border guards are rather quick. There is a R30 road toll when driving in to Maseru.
The Sani Pass Road (P318) from north of Himesville to the South African Border control point 7 km from the border is fine for normal cars. From there, it's 4WD, high clearance vehicles only from the South African border post. The South African border guards may prevent you continuing if your car is unsuitable. The road then becomes a narrow, winding and incredibly steep, rocky track that feels like you are climbing into a mist shrouded, lost world. Once you have started the final climb you are committed, since there is no room to turn around if you find the challenge too great for you or your vehicle. At the top, going on into Lesotho, the road has been sealed and is in very good condition all the way to Maseru (May 2019).
The main roads in Lesotho are similar to minor roads in Europe — they are sealed, and free of potholes. The A1 road (aka 'Main North') is tarred from Maseru to Mokhotlong, and the A2 (aka 'Main South') is tarred from Maseru to Qacha's Nek. The roads to Roma, Mohale Dam, Semonkong and Katse Dam are also tarred. For the visitor, the only unsealed road you are likely to use is the last 20km to Malealea, which is easy in a saloon (sedan). Note that the road running east-west to Thaba Tseka is now sealed and in good condition.
If setting off in to the mountains, check your car over before the trip (top up the oil, pump the spare tyre, etc.) There are some steep climbs which require 2nd or even 1st gear to get up — so don't attempt to drive to Qacha's Nek with 5 people squeezed into a hired 1.3 litre CitiGolf.
If in doubt, please ask locals if the road you are going to take is okay, especially during wintertime. The truth is that if you keep to the main roads you are likely to drive on a road smoother than Eastern Free State (RSA) roads. However the stretch from Oxbow to Mokhotlong is not tarred (regardless of some maps that claim it is) and very potholed.
When taking a rented car, be sure to get permission from the rental company to take the car into Lesotho. You will need to show written permission from the rental company at border control. Be clear with your rental agency about what's covered and what's not in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Full coverage doesn't necessarily mean full coverage.
As of September 2018, the price of the border letter varies greatly among rental agencies: Bidvest (free), Avis (R550), Thrifty (R1,513), Hertz (R1,614.03).
Finally, petrol can be a problem if you wish to go to the mountains, it is best to fill up in Butha-Buthe if you wish to go to Mokhotlong as there are no fillings stations all the way to the district's camptown which goes by the same name, If you wish to go to Thaba-Tseka you can fill up at Maseru or Hlotse, or any of the towns you will come across such as Lejone, Seshote and 'Mamohau depending on which route you took. You will find both leaded and unleaded petrol (gasoline) including diesel in most filling stations, there are multiple filling stations in most towns. Diesel fuel dispensers are usually remote normally behind the filling stations.
Minibuses run pretty much anywhere from the Maseru Bridge border, but you must get there early in the morning (07:00) as there may be only 1 bus a day.
If travelling in from Bloemfontein you could hitch-hike easily enough (look out for Lesotho number plates). If going from Maseru to Bloemfontein, hanging around the border (especially on a Saturday morning) should get you a lift (offer some money).
By regular taxiEdit
Regular taxis (you phone, they pick you up) and 4+1s — have a yellow stripe down the side and squeeze in 4 passengers. Always check the cost of a taxi before you get in.
By minibus taxiEdit
As with most of Africa the minibus 'taxi' (aka combi or Toyota Hiace) is the transport of the people.
Be sure you are clear on where the minibus is going (there should be a sign in the front windscreen), you'll be asked for money after a minute or two, with money being passed down the minibus. Try to get the front seat by the driver for more leg room. Prices are fixed by the government. There is a risk of overcharging foreigners — ask the other passengers if you are not sure of the price. Be warned, the reason the Minibus taxis are so cheap is because of the way they fit so many people in. Don't be surprised to see kids sitting on laps four or five high, or to be told to have large amounts of luggage on your lap or wedged in around you. The Minibus taxis tend to be poorly maintained and are not insured. However, very few accidents involving taxis occur.
Intercity travel by taxi will cost no more than M50 (maloti) for a single way ticket, and inner city minibus taxi rides will cost you around M2.50 (4+1s will cost you M20 for the whole car, no matter how many are with you, provided its within a city.)
Always check the cost of a taxi before you get in.
Finding a taxiEdit
Upon arrival in one of the main towns, you will notice that all the minibuses are hooting their horns, which is to signal that they have space for more passengers. To flag one down, just wave to a taxi as it approaches, the conductor (who will be leaning out of the window on the kerbside of the van) will usually be shouting the destination of the taxi. If you are not sure it will be going where you want to go, ask before you get on!
In Maseru, there is a place called Setopong on Moeshoeshoe Road, near to the Shoprite by The Circle / Cathedral. This is where all the minibus taxis leave from, and if you want a taxi out of town, you should head here. However, it is a very busy and bustling place, heaving with people. It is easiest to take a 4+1 taxi toward Setopong and ask the driver to drop you off near the taxis that travel to the part of the country you are headed.
It is also possible to hire a car and travel around. The Sun hotels in Maseru both have hire car places, as does the airport. If you hire your car in South Africa (probably cheaper than hiring in Lesotho) be sure to get permission to take the car across into Lesotho (the hire car insurance may not cover Lesotho).
But it's nowhere near as fun as getting up close to the locals and chatting with them!
You don't need a 4x4 to see the main sights in Lesotho — for the average visitor only the road to Semonkong will need a 4x4. The road is tarred to Mokhotlong (via Leribe) and is now tarred all the way to Qacha's Nek going south from Maseru. In the towns some side roads are unsealed but you can bump along in a saloon easily enough — If heading off in to the mountains on unsealed roads (e.g. to the Kao diamond mine) then a 4x4 is a must. The same goes for Thaba Tseka and going up or down the Sani pass.
When driving it's not advisable to stop at junctions or traffic lights at night — there is a very small chance of something nasty happening.
The official languages are Sesotho and English.
Most people in the larger towns or tourist attractions speak English to a reasonable standard and a few words of Afrikaans; however, outside these areas, these languages will not be understood.
- Semonkong Falls — these falls near Semonkong drop 200m in single plunge! In summer, you can swim in the pond below while in winter the pond freezes over and an ice enclosure develops around the falls.
- Katse Dam — an impressive dam towering 185m in a narrow valley
- Dinosaur footprints — well-preserved footprints of these terrible lizards exist around the country; the most accessible are near Moyeni & Morija
- Rock art — found in many places throughout the country, the most impressive found within Liphofung Cave.
- Pony-Trekking especially at either Malealea, Semonkong, or at the Basotho Pony-Trekking Centre — whether your a seasoned pro at horse riding or a complete novice, pony-trekking is an extremely enjoyable way to see the Lesotho countryside. These organized tours give you access to parts of the country which you wouldn't see from your car. The exceptionally sure-footed Basotho Pony can take you through far-off villages and atop daunting mountains.
- Hiking. In the Highlands. Contact the Department of Tourism [dead link], who will find you a guide, and then fly into a completely cut off village and hike your way out, staying in remote villages over night. You can also purchase 1:25,000 topographical maps for about M25 from the office of Lands, Surveys, and Physical Planning in downtown Maseru and do this yourself (recommended only for experienced hikers).
- Skiing — hit the slopes at Afriski, Oxbow during the winter!
Exchange rates for Lesotho loti/maloti
As of 19 February 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Lesotho's currency is the loti (plural maloti), denoted by the symbol "L" (for one loti) "M" (for more than one loti) (ISO code: LSL). It is fixed at a 1:1 ratio with the South African rand (ZAR), as are the Namibian dollar and the Swazi emalilangeni. South African currency is accepted everywhere — there is no need to change money. However you will get maloti in change (unless you ask), which is very difficult to unload in South Africa and pretty well impossible elsewhere.
There are ATMs at banks in most towns, although you will not find them elsewhere. Most banks will change travellers cheques for you, but it can be a very, very lengthy process if they are in any other currency apart from South African rand.
There are several Western style supermarkets in Maseru, which are good for stocking up on supplies in before heading elsewhere in the country.
If you're after locally made goods and crafts, your best bet is to give Maseru a miss, and head to Teyateyaneng (TY) or Hlotse, where the markets are far better and cheaper. You can buy traditional Basotho hats (Mokorotlo), sticks (molamo), rugs and various other curiosities. In particular, the Basotho blanket is a hallmark of Basotho culture. Equally popular in South Africa, they were brought by the English for trading purposes, but overtime became ingrained in Basotho culture and are worn as casual and formal attire. They are sold in shops and markets all over Lesotho but best prices are most likely to be found in Maseru, TY or Mafekeng.
Credit cards will be accepted in Shoprite and the main hotels, but not elsewhere. Your cashcard from home may work in some Maseru cash machines (FNB or Standard Bank) but best to get cash out in South Africa beforehand.
Restaurants outside of Maseru (and most in Maseru) will probably not accept credit card as a means of payment.
There are many Western style restaurants in Maseru. For a more traditional meal, why not befriend some locals and see what they cook you?
Maluti beer is superb.
- Sani Top Chalet. Features the highest pub in Africa. Maluti beer: M15.
Lesotho hosts dozens of hotels, lodges and guesthouses.
For current happenings in Lesotho the weekly Public Eye [dead link] newspaper is a good source of info.
It is risky to walk in Maseru alone at night. During the day, at least the main roads of Maseru are safe to walk alone.
As with pretty much everywhere else in the world, you may find friendly chats with locals turn in to veiled requests for money — stick to your principles and only give to registered charities.
At night time, it is the norm to drive through red lights — this is more just to speed up your journey (the police won't care), but also a precaution against carjackings.
The HIV/AIDS incidence rate in Lesotho is the 3rd highest in the world at around 25% or 1 in 4 people infected. Even more worrying is the prevalence rate of around 50 percent for women under 40 in urban areas.
Consult a doctor as to which vaccinations you will require, but they will most likely include Hep A, Hep B, and Typhoid. If you are staying in rural areas for a long time then a rabies shot would be a good idea. Tropical diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and bilharzia are not present in Lesotho.
It is a very good idea to carry some sterile needles and dressing in your first aid kit — the hospitals throughout Lesotho are not of a very high standard.
If you do have any serious health problems while in Lesotho, get in contact with your country's embassy either in Maseru, or in most cases, in Pretoria in South Africa, as there are very good hospitals across the border in SA for those who can afford to use them.
Lesotho is a high, mountainous plateau, and in the remote Highlands a few people may suffer from altitude sickness when they first arrive. Drink a lot of water and keep covered up, skin burns quickly in the thin mountain air. It gets hot in the sun in the summer.
The water in Lesotho is not clean and should not be drunk untreated. Be warned about street vendors who sell fizzy drinks as these are usually in unclean reused glass bottles.
Pack moisturizer! Lesotho's air is dry and some people will suffer from dry skin.
Try and learn a few Sesotho words before travelling to Lesotho. The locals appreciate a foreigner who has made the effort to learn their language. Always refer to an elder person, or a person of higher social standing as N'tate (male) or M'e (female).
Lumela (pronounced due-mela) is hello. So you would say Lumela N'tate or Lumela M'e. Kea leboha (sounds like kia-lebh-oha) - is thank you U phela joang (O-pila-joang) - how are you Respond with either hantle (well) or Ke phila hantle (I am well) Sala hantle (as it is written) is "stay well" if they are staying and you are going. Equivalent to goodbye. Tsamaea hantle is "go well" if they are going and you are staying
Always respond to people: It is very offensive to ignore someone who greets you. As a foreigner, locals will be keen to say hello and ask you what you're up to in their country.
Never get angry at anyone; in the Basotho culture, people never show frustration towards others, and if you do, then you can easily offend someone. You will almost certainly get frustrated when dealing with Lesotho officialdom, always keep your cool no matter how much buffoonery you are subjected to. To show respect when giving and receiving items, use both hands. Also show a respect for food — don't throw it around, or eat whilst walking.
In Maseru, there are several internet cafes, although fairly cheap (usually LSL0.20-0.50 per min) they are pretty slow at best.
The cellphone network is OK in the towns, but fair out in the countryside. The only British cell phone network that has a roaming agreement is Vodafone. There are two mobile operators in Lesotho, Vodacom and Econet Telecom Lesoth. Vodacom has the widest coverage outside the towns, but is the (more) oversubscribed, and hence the less reliable. You can buy a Vodacom or Ezicel Buddie pay as you go sim card for under M50 in Maseru — worthwhile if you are staying for a while. Cellphones are available for hire in Maseru. Lesotho uses GSM900. The networks are pretty good now; both have 4G options.
If you have a South African Vodacom Sim Card, you can use it in Lesotho only on the Vodacom network. Be sure to enable roaming.