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Lesotho Travel Information

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Background and History of Lesotho

"Mountain Kingdom" and "Kingdom in the Sky" are some of the well known slogans best describing Lesotho due to it being one of the very few countries in the world that lies above an altitude of 1000 m. The country displays majestic beauty and serene simplicity. Lesotho offers a very different tourism experience, with the potential of the tourism sector lying in its natural beauty, rich flora and fauna, and absorbing prehistoric and cultural heritage. The appeal of this extraordinary country is rarely found in more commercialized destinations.

Lesotho owes its existence to the determined efforts of Moshoeshoe I, who established his mountain stronghold in 1824 at Thaba Bosiu, near present day Maseru. Here he kept his tribe safe from raiding bandits and rallied other chieftains and refugees to his cause. He allowed missionaries to settle in the area from 1833. In return they defended him against both Boer and British attempts to subjugate his people. Tensions led to several wars but the Basotho were never completely defeated. When Moshoeshoe called on the British for help in restraining the Boers, they annexed his remaining territory and it became a British Protectorate. As such, it was not part of the Republic of South Africa and so was not directly subjected to apartheid. After several political upheavals and changes, Basutholand finally became an independent country in 1966. Politics have remained a fairly tricky business and recent history includes coups and attempted coups. It is a safe country to travel in at present.


People and Cultures

Lesotho is mostly inhabited by Basotho with their language being Sesotho. About 20 percent of the population is Nguni and there are a number of smaller groups such as the San, Griquas, Indians and Europeans.

Basotho people have solid traditions, beliefs and customs. The annual Morija arts festival portrays at the best level of their rich culture and celebrations that Lesotho is truly proud of, where you will be welcomed with smiling faces! Here you will experence a wealth of savory food, natural attractions, and reserves.

The capital is Maseru, which is the seat of government and the King’s residence. Although Lesotho is formally a constitutional kingdom there are still many remnants of the old feudal system left. Next to his formal powers, the King has a lot of informal traditional powers. The local administration rests with the chiefs which are nominated by the King. These chiefs hold considerable authority within their village.

Lesotho is also a nation of lengthy greetings, of laughter, of singing and ritual. Traditional healers beat their drums and stage parades. Local people walk everywhere, filling the roads and foot-paths with color and conversation. There is a profusion of children and chickens, informal “taxis,” vans with mega-bass loud speakers that temporarily deafen their riders, and vendors!  who set up business on any grassy patches by laying out a blanket and their goods.

Lesotho is a landscape of vast stretches of dramatic mountains shadowed by clouds,  fields of white and purple cosmos, bursts of wild red flowers like wild ginger, waterfalls and birds. Lesotho is thatched roofs on round mud houses, sheep and goats watched over by boys who wear blankets over their shoulders, young girls doing circle-dances, women hanging laundry over bushes, and men playing “marubaruba,” a game laid out on a checkerboard and played with stones or bottle caps.


Geography and Climate

The Lesotho lowlands lie around the eastern border of the country. The major towns are in the lowlands and the capital Maseru is a few kilometres from the border. Most people come here to hike or pony trek, but other attractions include the weaving crafts of Teyateyaneng, San rock art, fossil dinosaur footprints and Thaba Bosiu, the mountain fortress of Lesotho’s founder, King Moshoeshoe.
The true splendour of the country lies in the ruggedly beautiful highlands. Here you can wander the countryside, encounter spectacular mountain scenery and a people that still live traditional, simple lives in stone walled villages, see a herd of agile angoras on the slopes, or watch an eagle soar above the mountain peaks.
Many Sotho still travel by pony. From pony trekking lodges all over the country, you can do the same; along with hiking it’s the best way to see Lesotho. You can walk almost anywhere. You need a good map, a compass and gear that will protect you from extremes in the weather. You also need to carry your own supplies and camping equipment.

Lesotho’s mountainous regions are some of the highest in Southern Africa, and this makes for a unique climate.

Winter Months are May through to September with it not being uncommon for there to be snow on the mountain peaks and frozen waterfalls! October until March is the period with the heaviest rain falls and January to February being the hottest with temperatures in the early morning and evenings being cool all year round.

Economy and Foreign Currencies

The Maloti (1M=100 liesente) is the national unit of currency. It is equivalent to the South African Rand and should be accepted everywhere. Mountains, valleys, and rivers provide memorable scenery for tourists and it is also where Lesotho gets its crystal clear water as well as green pastures for livestock. Minerals such as diamond are found in the mountains. Most tourists travel many kilometers from their countries just to come and patch in the rocks of Lesotho. They also enjoy playing around the clean water of Lesotho` s mountains being one of the biggest source of income to the country.

Health/ Vaccination Info

Malaria - Malaria prophylactics recommended by your personal physician are necessary. As well as insect repellent and covering yourself up with long trousers and light cotton long-sleeved shirts in the evenings.  Vaccinations - Hepatitis A, Polio, and Typhoid. Yellow fever vaccination is mandatory if you are travelling from any other Yellow fever infected area in Africa.  Be sure to have your vaccination record of yellow fever with you when you arrive.

Visa Information and requirements

Lesotho is an independent state and thus passports are needed to enter. On entering, citizens of most Commonwealth countries, most European countries, and the US will be granted a free entry permit, which usually allows you to stay for 30 days. The passport needs to be valid for at least six more months upon entering and you need to have proof of a return or onward ticket as well as sufficient funds. Children ID`s need to contain a picture to be accepted.

Any other passport holders should phone Immigration in Maseru on Tel: 317339 or fax 310409. The only one in Southern Africa is in Pretoria at 343 Pretorius St. (in the Momentum Centre), Tel (012) 3226090 Fax 3220376. 

Transport/Airports in Lesotho

There are no trains in Lesotho, so road transport is the most common. If self driving ln your route or seek advice ice from the locals or police station with regard to untarred or gravel road conditions. There are flights into Maseru from Johannesburg operated by Airlink, alternatively there is charter options. Car hire is also available mainly from the capital city of Meseru.

Accommodation standards

 A variety of choice is available in accommodation, ranging from lodges, Bed and breakfast establishments, idyllic retreats and small hotels. There is also an option for those seeking self catering facilities for family and long term stays as well as new village stay accommodation, experiencing the real life of Basotho in their homes. 

Attractions and Wildlife Destinations

Lesotho’s capital is the city of Maseru.  Overall there are good walking trails in Maseru, along with many craft markets, but without doubt the biggest attraction in Lesotho is hiking. However, make sure before you set out that you use either a guide or get the relevant information and maps before setting out. For birdwatching enthusiast, Lesotho is renowned for its large raptor population, including the Cape Vulture, the rare Bearded Vulture, the Steppe Buzzard and the Black Eagle.

Basotho Pony trekking is a highly recommended attraction, with the main centres the Basotho Trekking Centre on God Help Me Pass, and Malealea Lodge near the Gates of Paradise. Other options include Frasers Lodge in Semonkong, the Trading Post Lodge in Roma and Ha Poli Valley near Thaba-Tseka. The Sani Pass lies on the border with South Africa and is the only viable road into Lesotho from the Kwazulu-Natal side.

The highlight is the adventurous trek to Thabana-Ntlenyana, Southern Africa’s highest peak suitable road for 4x4, but weather permitting, you could get up in a 4x2 vehicle. There are a few budget accommodation options here and Himeville and Underberg are the closest towns on the South African side. 

North-West Lesotho is the Gateway to the Maluti -  One  of the most popular areas of Lesotho, easily accesible from South Africa and a short drive from Maseru. It makes a great base from which to explore the Maluti Mountains.The best border posts for direct access are Maseru Bridge, Peka Bridge, Maputsoe (Ficksburg Bridge) or Caledonspoort near Butha-Buthe.

South-West Lesotho is the Historical region - The area south of Maseru is full of local history and has many major sites that played an important part in creating the heritage of Lesotho. Pony trekking is also an attraction in the area.

 The Central Highlands is scenic with spectacular lakes and landscape -This area has opened up to tourists due to the contribution it has made with the development of the massive Highland Water Project , creating both new water and electricity supplies for Lesotho and  nearby regions of Southern Africa.  As a result new roads into the mountains have established better access, and the new dams are creating spectacular lakes that provide stunning new vistas and are home to increasing numbers of birds.  Also a great area for pony trekking, hiking and trout fishing. The main Mountain Road from Maseru takes you east via Molimo Nthuse to Mantsonyane and Thaba-Tseka, while from Hlotse the main Highlands Water Project road takes you past Pitseng and Ha Lejone to the Katse Dam Wall and Bokong.

 Eastern Lesotho better known as the Roof of Africa - The Drakensberg Mountains soar into the clouds with Thabana-Ntlenyana, at 3482m being the highest peak of Southern Africa. Dramatic mountainscapes offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Lesotho, while the tiny villages, all but cut off from vehicular traffic, display traditional lifestyles unchanged for generations. Most people arrive in Eastern Lesotho from South Africa via the spectacular Sani Pass, however  there is an easier route from Caledonspoort. High up on the Drakensberg escarpment, on the border between South Africa and Lesotho, the famouse Sani Top Chalet is purched, offering comfortable accommodation beneath a sky of twinkling stars and breathtaking landscapes by day. It is also home to the highest pub in Africa!  Situated 2874m above sea level, this Sani pass is only accessible by 4x4. During the winter months, skiing and snowboarding are offered provided it snows. The summer months allow for adventuring activities such as pony trekking, fishing  and hiking. This remote part of Africa is a world heritage site. The environment is harsh at such high altitudes so don’t forget your very warm clothing in winter!  

Short List of preparations and Important information:

To help you pack and prepare for your Journey here is a Short List to assist you and bringing your attention to the important facts to remember:

  • The telephone system works well in Maseru, but don’t count on it outside of the city centre. Postal services are fast and reliable.
  • The official languages of Lesotho are English and Sesotho
  •  Local time: GMT +2
  •  Banks are open Monday to Friday (8.30am to 3pm) and Saturdays (8.30am to 11am).
    The Maloti (1M=100 liesente) is the national unit of currency. It is equivalent to the South African Rand and should be accepted everywhere.
  • Credit cards are not widely accepted.
  • 220/30 volts AC, 50Hz; 15-amp round pin plugs are in use.
  • It is not necessary to drink bottled water in Lesotho

Travel Safely and enjoy exploring the Magic Mountains of Lesotho!


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