The average person in the West and Eastern parts of the world is yet to hear about Lesotho. Her size, population and perhaps the notoriety of her neighbours have made her less visible. I cannot at the time of writing this remember any time that Lesotho was on international news. This is one of the main means by which most of us find out about places in the first places. If you, like many others have been missing out on Lesotho, fear not, I come bearing gifts! Before we go further, to view things to do in Lesotho, let us consider some context.
Lesotho in Historical Context
If you know anything about Southern African history, or anything at all about South Africa, it will likely be the “Zulu” tribe and Mandela of course. What you may not be aware of is that the Zulus, like most tribes across the world raided other tribes for food, women and land. This culture affected the Ndebeles who immigrated to Zimbabwe to get away from Shaka.
In the 1820s, Mashoeshoe, brought together a few groups and formed Batusoland. It loosely translates to “The land of the Sotho people”. This was formed to repel raids from the Zulus. Considering just how far the Ndebeles had to run to find safety from the Zulus, I’d say the Sotho did pretty where to remain where they are and be safe.
For decades to come the Sotho also had to defend their sovereignty from the Boers. They also managed to do this. Even when they would become a British colony in the late 19th century, the Sotho chiefs retained a greater degree of control.
During the second world war, 20000 Sotho’s were involved.
The Kingdom of Lesotho was founded upon independence from British rule in 1966. Mashoeshoe II was the ruler at the time, with Chief Jonathan as the prime minister. There have been various internal, political conflicts since then. If you would like to read more about that, do some research on it.
Lesotho Travellers Facts
Population: 2.2 million
Currency: Lesotho Loti.
GDP: 998.13 USD per capita as of 2016.
What is the best time to visit Lesotho?
Like most other countries in the region, Lesotho has a relative warm climate all year round. Temperatures can drop to as low as 1°C, and rise to as high as 28°C. The best time to come to Lesotho and experience warm weather is between January and April, or between September to December.
Lesotho Cost of Living
A Westerner would be able to live on a diet similar to what they are used to for about US$191/month. It is worth noting that most people in this region do not live on as high an amount. The cost of living will vary from city to city, with Maseru being more expensive than other smaller cities in Lesotho.
Now that we have made sure that you are not going to be starving on your trip here, let us move on to planning the rest of your trip. As with the rest of our guides, we will help you plan how to get around Lesotho as well as what to bring with you.
Like any other country, there are requirements that you should be aware of before heading out to Lesotho.
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- Most countries do not require a visa for entry into Lesotho. The nominal period of entry granted upon arrival is 30days. You may renew this period up to 5 times, which can allow you to extend your stay to up to a period of 6 months(180 days). After the 180 day period has passed, you will have the option to further extend your stay by applying for a visa online.
- Your passport must be valid for a further 3 month, at the time of arrival. It should also have at least two blank pages left for stamping. You are advised not to overstay without permission, as this may lead to detention and even being barred from reentering this lovely nation.
- If travelling with a child aged under 18, please make sure you have parental responsibility and documentation to prove that you do. A birth certificate in addition to the passport usually does the job.
Lesotho Travel Checklist
- Passport (valid for at least 3 months)
- Health Insurance
- Travel Insurance
- Unlocked mobile phone
- Power bank
- Travel Vaccination (Yellow fever is commonly recommended, consult doctor. You may be required to show your vaccination certificate for it.)
- Driver’s licence
- Insect repellent
- Hair care products
- Hygiene products (toothbrush, toothpaste, tampons, shower gel etc)
- Printed booking confirmations (hotel, airport shuttle and tours)
- Medication (if you are on any)
- Camera (there will be photo opportunities not to be missed)
- Handy cash in local currency (1000 Lesotho Loti, equivalent to about US$75 would do)
- Hand Sanitiser and wet wipes
- Walking boots
- Emergency Contact (A friend of a friend or your government’s embassy)
- Raincoat and/or umbrella
Lesotho Travel Checklist Download a printable version.
Getting around Lesotho
Like other countries within the region, the transport system is largely privatised. The good thing about that is that the fares tend to be cheaper due to stiff competition on most routes. On the other hand, this also means that there is minimal regulation from relevant authorities. In practice it usually works out well. Some of my most fond travelling memories were made while hitchhiking in these parts. It offer the opportunity to meet and mingle with the locals. This also presents some potential dangers, so I will not recommend it.
Car Rentals Lesotho
African roads can be a treacherous mistress, the car you choose will determine how well you do at facing them. Lesotho is known for her hills, valleys and curves. Keep this in mind when choosing your vehicle. A few other things to consider will include:
- Customer reviews (what other think about any service is seldom far from the truth).
- Cost (beyond the hiring fee, do they charge any extras?
- Vehicle Range (A 4 whee drive is ideal).
- Can you drop the car off in other cities?
- How much fuel is included.
- Road side assistance?
Think about all of these. The obvious giant in this market is, EuropCar. They offer car collection from Mashoeshoe Airport in Maseru. You may also drop the car off at the same location. In respect of our mission to support local businesses, we also recommend that you check out Basotho Car Rental and Mamole Car Rentals. Their contact details are available here:
The quote above from EuropCar, based on a UK resident for a week’s rental. Like most places across the world, there is a minimum age for the car renter. Apparently, we become better humans when we are over the age of 23. The cost as highlighted in the images is GBP 171.56. That is about USD 263. For a week’s rental, that is not bad. It is worth calling to see what perks or other cars they have in their fleet.
Now that we have a vehicle and our checklist items ready, it’s time we got out there and explore.
Best things to see in Maseru
As far as traveller destinations, Maseru is quite similar to other capital cities across the globe. The effects of globalisation and colonial history are in full display. I don’t imagine that most travellers come to Lesotho for her shopping malls. At least, I know we don’t. We come here for Lesotho’s natural terrain, her mountains and so on. We come here to meet and mingle with nature in her unadulterated form.
If there is one place to wean you into this experience, Basotho Hat is that place. The name means the “Sotho’s Hat”, I hope you were able to figure that for yourself. You need not look around for long before you see one of these lovely hats. They are a work of art that the Sotho are proud of. It’s certainly a great souvenir to pick up as well.
Basotho hat is occasionally criticised for pricing, which in our opinion is an unfair piece of criticism. Artefacts need to be preserved, people need to be paid to man these places and make our attendance worth a while. There is a distinct difference between visiting a place that is well maintained and curated. The environment is a low pressure one, where your shopping experience will be void of the usual pressures that come with having all sorts of products shoved in your face. I’ve bought a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have, had it not been for the pressure.
Just so we are clear, there is a lot more than Sotho hats at Basotho hat. Take time to shop around.
Location: Kingsway, Maseru
Contact Number: +266 2232 2523
Opening Times: Mon – Friday: 0800hrs – 1700hrs
Saturday: 0800hrs – 1630hrs
Sunday : CLOSED
Afriski Mountain Skiing Resort: Things to do in Lesotho
I cannot even begin to tell you how thrilling this place is. You don’t understand, you cannot understand, THIS IS AFRICA. This is not the sort of place that would come to mind for a skiing vacation. It’s usually North America or Europe that comes to mind. This place is special. There are various skiing competitions that take place when it is on. It can be the hive of activities. How cool is the fact that you could travel a few hours into a Zimbabwean summer, or on in any of the other neighbouring countries, and get back to the snow?! How insane is that?
When is the best time to skii in Lesotho?
Snow season is between mid-June and end of August. There is accommodation on offer from the Afriski mountain resort. The latest rates will vary depending on demand. For up to date 2018 rates, please refer to the document below.
Not everyone is keen on snow, good news, there are other things to be done there. Before the winter comes there are biking events, running as well as hiking. Here is a list of upcoming events: https://www.afriski.net/events-calendar/
Most travellers will agree that waterfalls are quite the spectacle. There is something serene and pure about these. That’s the reason one would travel down to Zimbabwe to see the Victoria Falls, or travel to Zambia to swim in the water leading up to the falls. What makes this different from other falls that you may have been to is the terrain that surrounds it. I have been to two similar ones in the Nyanga region of Zimbabwe. The falls are 192 metres high. They are located near Semonkong town, which is also known as the Site of Smoke.
There is a bit of time to be spent walking in the surrounding areas. I’ve been told the water tastes great as well. Take some time to shower underneath the waterfalls. It is such a rejuvenating experience.
Sehlabathebe National Park
Nestled in the Maloti mountains is this beauty. Sehlabathebe National park is one of the reasons you would come to Lesotho. Who doesn’t love a good time in the wild? It is recognised as part of the Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage site.
The name Sehlabathebe can be translated to “shield of the plateau.” A chunk of the freshwater that finds its way to Namibia and South Africa comes from here. Getting to the national park is half the fun. This is where that 4 when drive you hired comes handy. Lesotho is well endowed with hills and valleys, which need a decent car to get by.
There is accommodation within reach to the national park. There are various self catering chalets around. Take time to look around and find the ideal one for the activities and people you want to engage in and with, respectively.
Unlike some parks in the region, where it is all about the wildlife, Sehlabathebe National Park provides much more than that. It has well placed waterfalls, cliffs, pools, flora and fauna, rock art as well as rock painting. It also has the usual mammal and reptile species that are common in Southern Africa.
Rumour has it that one of the streams in a hot spring pool, sadly, we were not able to locate this beauty. The fact that the area where the park is is largely uninhabited ensures that the usual where and tear that comes form human presence and recklessness is absent here. The rock painting are quite well preserved. They tell a story of the generations that have come through Lesotho.
Every travelling history buff will fall in love with this place. Prior to getting there, I had been able to read up on it, which opened my eyes to Mashoeshoe I’s significant stomping ground. History has it, this is one the of places that was never conquered! In the land of conquerers and the conquered, this is quite the feat. Even the great Shaka Zulu was conquered, but not Thaba Bosiu. There are a range of things that bring people here. The history buffs will come to see the locals, as well as see the graves of kings, one of these being the resting place of Moshoeshoe II.
The mountain, Thaba Bosiu, used to be a lookout point for Moshoeshoe. The village lookout would watch over the entire area from there, and alert them of oncoming raids. It was also a hideout during the time of Mfacane/Difecane wars, which involved the Zulus. It was an effective strategy, seeing as they were never conquered. The word “difecane” is a descriptive Sotho term for forced migration. After the war, Moshoeshoe made Thaba his new state capital.
From its summit, you can cast your eyes across the fine landscape.
You can take a guided mountain tour. The great thing about these is the fact that there is great historical context to it all. The tours are priced according to local and foreign visitors, with the locals’ fare being cheaper. However, this is not an expensive tour by any means.
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Some of the other things that you can do in Thaba Bosiu include:
- Trekking on horseback.
- Visiting the historical sites and the cultural village.
- The royal graves.
- The crafts centre (souvenir opportunities).
Thabana Ntlenyana is Lesotho’s highest peak. There is always a misconception that this is a mountain within South Africa. This is a common ignorance among those who may not know of the sovereignty of Basotho. Anyway, I will ignore that. It peaks at 11424 feet. There are two main routes to take you up the mountain. The trek can take between 2 to 4 days. This isn’t one of those treks that should be taken lightly, the altitude rises and falls significantly. Some experienced company may be necessary for this one. Get those walking shoes out for this one. It may also get very cold, so bear that in mind and make necessary preparations.
Here’s a great video that capture an ascent:
If you take the Sani pass route, which is usually the route taken if coming in from South Africa. Coming up from Mkomazi pass is an alternative pass. This commonly takes longer than the Sani pass route. Both routes have fantastic views to be seen. Photo opportunities are vast, if you are into that sort of thing. If you need a tour guide, we would be thrilled to recommend one. They have great vehicles to help along the way.
Masitise Cave House
In the Quthing region of Lesotho is this unique cave house. It is located just over 5.2 kilometres west of Quthing. It was established in 1866 as a mission house. This was a very significant period in history of Africa. It was around this period that there was a scramble for control of the region and its resources.
Christianity was one of the vehicles that was used to achieve this. I am by no means indicting these particular missionaries. To tell a story, we ought to give an account of all sides. This mission was built into a rock, and was the base for one reverend David-Frédéric Ellenberger, who was from Switzerland. He had been one of the first missionaries to arrive into Lesotho. Some of his children were born and raised in this cave house. He later built another mission, which stands next to it today.
Today it houses a museum with a local pastor acting as the caretaker of the place. The keys access it are made available on request. Thus far, it has been kept in good knick. The local area also has some of the San rock paintings, within walking distance. While you are here, these must also be seen.
Current Opening Hours
Mafadi Peaks are probably the only peaks that can be shared between South Africa and Lesotho. They lay on the border between the two nations. They peak at 11320ft above sea level. This makes it the highest peak in South Africa, but the second highest in Lesotho. It peaks at about 3450 metres.
Hikers ascend from the South African as well as the Lesotho side of the border. Weather conditions are usually a factor worthy considering before taking this challenge on. Regardless of where you end up staying, you want to take your passport with you on this one.
As with other parts of the world, winters tend to have much shorter days and longer nights. If you decide to go at it without a guide, I’d advise that you go prepared to spend the night there, as a descent in poorly lit conditions is not advisable. Take a torch with you as well.
Njesuthi is just over a mile away from Maluti peaks. It is famed for its glorious walking trails. If you are a keen hiker, climber or mountaineer, this is a place that you will love. It peaks at 3,408 metres (11,181 ft). Allow yourself a minimum of 3 full days (day & night) to ascend it. It is not overly complex, as an ascent. This is a great resource for hiking trails.
Ts’ehlanyane National Park
Ts’ehlanyane is the largest national game park in Lesotho. The nearby Katse Dam provides for the water needs of the animals. That is usually a prerequisite for a game reserve. The way they say, “follow the money” in relation to humans. With animals it’s “follow the water”. The Hlotse tunnel is the delivery route for the water from the dam.
On inception, Ts’ehlanyane was classified as a National Park. Today it is considered to be a part of the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Other places to visit include
Bokong Nature Reserve
Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village
King Moshoeshoe II Royal Graves at Thaba Bosiu
Qacha’s Nek Snake Park