|Government||parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
|Currency||loti (LSL); South African rand (ZAR)|
|Area||total: 30,355 sq km |
water: 0 sq km
land: 30,355 sq km
|Population||2,207,954 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Sesotho (southern Sotho), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa|
|Religion||Christian 80%, indigenous beliefs 20%|
Lesotho is a country in Southern Africa. Known as the Kingdom in the Sky because of its lofty altitude - it has the highest lowest point of any country in the world! Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa and is making a reputation for itself as a fantastic adventure holiday destination. The Basotho people are very friendly and welcoming, and the country is relatively safe and politically stable compared to it's neighbours.
- Mohales Hoek
- Qacha's Nek
- Maseru — the capital
- Quthing — fantastic rock art nearby
- Teyateyaneng (often refered to as just 'TY') — the craft centre of Lesotho
- Hlotse (Leribe) — regional market hub, with great craft shopping!
The Department of Tourism (http://www.lesotho.gov.ls/lstourism.htm) has more information for visiting Lesotho.
Originally 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 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.
In 1843, Moeshoeshoe allied himself with the British Cape Colony government in a bid to protect the Basotho from the Boer's 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) became a protectorate of the British Empire. Among the many benefits of this, when the Union of South Africa was created in 1910, Lesotho was not included - thus giving it an apartheid free 20th century.
It was granted independance from the British Empire in the 1950s and annually on October 4th, Lesotho celebrates its independance day.
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 nature 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!
Citizens of most Commonwealth countries, Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, European states and the US will be granted a free entry permit, valid for 30 days. Your passport needs to be valid for another six month 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.
Moshoeshoe Airport is located 18km from Maseru. South African Airways (http://www.flysaa.com) operates flights to Johannesburg, which typically cost around 2200 ZAR.
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.
Roads in Lesotho are not as good as in South Africa and you should make sure that your car is prepared for the road it is to go. Please ask locals, if the road you are going to take is okay, especially during winter times. 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!
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.
Minibuses run between Maseru, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, as well as the Drakensberg area.
Coaches stop off on the South African side of Maseru Bridge Border Post, where you can pick up a taxi into downtown Maseru.
In Lesotho, the way to get round is either by Sprinter (inter city minibuses), Minibus taxis (inner city shared taxis, fits loads of people in, but very cheap), by 4+1 (regular taxis, but very very expensive) or by foot.
Sprinters and Minibus taxis operate with a driver and a conductor who arranges people to get on, and also collects money.
Be warned, the way the Sprinters and 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 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 happen in Maseru.
At night it is inadvisable to travel out, unless with a very reliable driver - check with whoever you are staying with for one, reliable drivers do exist in Lesotho! Do not travel alone in Lesotho.
Intercity travel by taxi will cost no more than 50 LSL for a single way ticket, and inner city minibus taxi rides will cost you around 2.50 LSL (4+1s will cost you 20 LSL 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, especially with 4+1s, as they take payment at the end, and often will try and dupe you into paying more than the going rate.
It is often worth negotiating to hire a whole taxi if you are a large group, as it can be a lot cheaper.
Finding a taxi
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 Stoppo on Moeshoeshoe Road, near to the Shoprite by The Circle. 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, so it is often easier to pick up a taxi a bit before you reach the actual Stoppo, a good place is the layby just by the pedestrian bridge. This is a far safer place for a tourist to pick up a taxi as pickpocketings are quite common in Stoppo.
It is also possible to hire a car and travel around, do so in South Africa as the cars are maintained to a higher standard. Be sure to get permission to take the car across into Lesotho.
But it's nowhere near as fun as getting up close to the locals and chatting to them!
Get a 4x4 if you really want to go and see Lesotho! However, going anywhere off the main roads (even in Maseru) will require a 4x4 - its not just the mountains that have bumpy, potholed roads!
When driving it's not advisable to stop at junctions at night - gangs fairly reqularly rob people at gun point whilst their car's stopped at a junction.
Some of the places you might want to visit will be in the Highlands and to get right into the heart of the Highlands, you will either need to hike or fly. Mission Aviation operate flights as part of their work in Lesotho, and also offer charter flights. It is fairly expensive but you really get to appreciate how mountainous the country is!
Mission Aviation are contactable on tel: 2232 5699, and are based at Moeshoeshoe I airport in Maseru, just off Airport Road.
The official languages are Sesotho and English.
Most in Maseru and in the other big towns speak English to a reasonable standard, and locals in Maseru will understand a few Afrikaans words.
In the Highlands, especially away from tourist attractions, neither English or Afrikaans will be understood.
Useful Sesotho phrases:
- Dumella Ndatay - Hello Sir
- Dumella May - Hello Madam
- Ooo pella jwong? - How are you?
- Ke pella hantlay - I am well
- Ooo tswa ki (ryhmes with high)? - Where are you from?
- Ooo aah ki? - Where are you going to?
- Kee ah-lay-bo-ha - Thankyou
- Salla Hantlay - Goodbye
These are written phonetically.
Written Sesotho (pronounced se-SOO-too) uses English letters. Note that certain combinations of letters are pronounced differently than they look. Two common examples are Li and Lu. In the first case, Li is pronounced "dee". In the second case, Lu is pronounced "doo".
It is polite to refer to someone older than you or of a higher social standing as Ndaday if male or as May if female. This translates literally as Father and Mother!
- Maletsunyane Falls — nestled in the Lesotho highlands is Southern Africa's highest single drop waterfall. The Maletsunyane river in itself is nothing spectacular, which makes the discovery of the falls even more amazing! The scramble down the sides of the gorge is hard, but fairly safe and the noise and spray at the bottom by the pool is awe inspiring! Because no sun shines on the bottom, there is often snow down there, even in summer! If you're very adventurous you could also do the world's highest commercial abseil off a cliff 200m high!
- Morija — famous dino footprints of the not so famous Lesothosaurus. (No joke!)
- Khatse Dam — Huge man made reservoir created to store water for pumping to the Johannesberg area in neighbouring South Africa. It is exceptionally beautiful, and as such is not just for the engineering minded!
- Thaba Bosiu — the mountain stronghold where King Moeshoeshoe the Great established the Kingdom of Lesotho and fought off wave after wave of Zulu attacks. Still there are all the burial places of all the Kings and Queens of Lesotho (although it is widely believed that the bones of King Moeshoeshoe have long since been removed and used in traditional religious ceremonies.)
- Pony Trecking at either Malaelae or at the Basotho Pony Trecking Centre — whether your a seasoned pro at horse riding, or a complete novice, pony trekking is fun! Its a great way to see the bits of Lesotho which you simply couldn't get to unless you hiked there. Don't worry though, these ponies are exceptionally sure footed, so no matter how high the drop they won't fall!
- Hiking in the Highlands. Contact the Department of Tourism (http://www.lesotho.gov.ls/lstourism.htm), 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.
- Craft shopping at either Teyateyaneng or at Hlotse, where you can buy traditional Basotho hats, sticks, rugs and various other curios.
- OK (Kingsway, Maseru) good stocking up place before you head to the mountains
- OK (Moeshoeshoe Rd, Maseru)
- M'editerranea Pizza (just off Pioneer Rd, Maseru near OK supermarket) - decent pizza, but not very African!
- Mimmo's Pizza (United Nations Rd, Maseru) - very garlicy pizza!
- Nando's (Moeshoeshoe Rd, Maseru) - good chicken
- KFC (Kingsway, Maseru) - chicken
- Lancer's Inn (Kingsway, Maseru) - good food, and how often do you get to eat with the King of a country? King Letsie III regularly dines here!
- Lesotho Sun (Nightingale Rd, Maseru - a chinese restaurant, and a grill restaurant. Great all you can eat buffet on Sundays at lunchtime with loads of food, doors open at 12.30 but it packs out really quickly! Get there quickly!
- Several hotels in Maseru.
- Semonkong Lodge situated on the Maletsunyane river and just one hour's walk from Maletsunyane Falls, offers accomodation, good food, horse treks, abseiling at the Falls.
- Malealea Lodge and Pony Trekking Centre  (http://www.malealea.co.ls/index.html) offers good accommodation, foot or horse treks and 4x4 excursions.
- In rural areas, Catholic and Protestant missions will often rent rooms to travelers.
Lesotho is far safer than neighbouring South Africa, although there has been a recent rise in muggings against foreigners. Some of these have involved firearms and knives. However, in nearly all of these incidents, the victims have been unharmed.
Do not carry valuables around with you and avoid carrying a bag if at all possible - this draws attention to you, as locals do not carry bags.
One possible reason for this rise in armed robbery could be due to the recent closures of several textiles factories in and around Maseru. Some of the muggers were factory workers targetting people around the end of the month when locals are paid in cash. Avoid making any unnessecary journeys during this week.
Carjackings are fairly commonplace at junctions at nightime, so do not stop at night stop unless it is unsafe to proceed.
Lesotho has a history as a very safe, peaceful and welcoming country, and as such locals and the government are outraged at these attacks, and the police are usually very efficient and helpful when these crimes occur.
The HIV/Aids incidence rate in Lesotho is one of the highest in the world. Do not have unprotected sex.
Consult a doctor as to which vaccinations you will require, but they will most likely include Hep A, Hep B, Rabies, Typhoid.
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 whilst 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 which the expatriates use.
Lesotho is at a very high altitude, and the air is very thin especially in the Highlands, be warned that you may suffer from altitude sickness when you first arrive. Drink a lot of water and keep covered up, as it gets very 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 moisturiser! Lesotho's air is very dry and everyone will suffer from dry skin!
Try and learn a few Sesotho words before travelling to Lesotho! The locals really 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 "Ntate" (male) or "M'e" (female)
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 really offend someone. To show respect when giving and receiving items, use both hands.
In Maseru, there are several internet cafes, although fairly cheap (usually 0.20-0.50 ZAR per min) they are pretty slow at best.
999 Internet on Kingsway opposite the Post Office are the best value, although if they're full, Leo Internet near the Basotho Hat also have computers for use on the internet. There is reputedly an internet cafe in the Lesotho Sun, but it's expensive.
The cellphone network is pretty poor, and the only British cell phones that work must be on Vodafone. Unsure about other nationalities. Cellphones are available for hire in Maseru.
There is a large Post Office on Kingsway in Maseru, though post is unreliable and can take up to a month to reach its destination, usually about a fortnight. Sending a letter will cost you about 2.40LSL.