Lesotho is a democratic, sovereign, and independent country which has an unusual distinction of being landlocked by another country: The Republic of South Africa.
The Kingdom of Lesotho is one of the three remaining monarchies in Africa.
A land of mountains, Lesotho is the only country in the world with all its land at altitudes more than 1400m above sea-level; it is a land of heights and extremes. The mountain, Thabana-Ntlenyana is, at 3,482m, the highest in Southern Africa, while the highest single drop fall in Southern Africa, Maletsunyane, is 192m. This gives Maletsunyane the highest abseiling cliff in the whole world, at 204m.
The Kingdom is a home to the largest and most ambitious civil engineering project in the whole of Africa, Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which has harnessed and commercialized her up-stream surplus water sources – often referred to by Basotho as their “White Gold”.
The roads in the urban areas of Lesotho are tarred and generally good. The mountain roads range from tar to narrower and steep dirt roads that make for entertaining driving in magnificent scenery. The road to Afriski from Caledonspoort is tarred all the way.
- Watch out for potholes, wherever you are
- Lesotho has a high population of livestock – take extreme care.
- Four-wheel drive is not essential and only required for the adventurous traveler heading off the main routes.
- Driving, especially in wet weather, can be challenging and there are few facilities outside the main towns.
- When driving in the mountains in winter it is advisable to carry tire chains because the snow drifts can become impassable.
- If traveling to Afriski, always check the www.afriski.net website for an update of the road conditions and recent snowfalls.
- During thunderstorm months between November and March, flash floods occur in the mountains and river levels can increase dramatically and within minutes.
- A 50 km/h speed limit applies in urban areas
- 80 km/h is a maximum speed that can be maintained on all other roads. Keep this in mind when estimating traveling times between points.
Lesotho is a member of the common customs area, and all items for your personal use may be imported from any of these countries without formality. There is no restriction on the amount of consumer goods that may be imported, although eggs, maize and maize products, and livestock and its by-products require a permit and a detailed inventory of the weight and cost of the goods.
Alcohol may not be imported into Lesotho and border officials will very likely confiscate any found in your vehicle.
Stone throwing occurs from time to time, and the vehicles at the tail end of a convoy are particularly vulnerable. This mostly occurs outside, but not far from larger towns and settlements. Be careful to avoid local dogs that are often trained to guard cattle posts. They can be aggressive and bite intruders without warning.
Visas are not required for citizens of South Africa or the other Commonwealth countries.
Valid South African, Botswanan, or Swazi drivers’ licenses are acceptable, otherwise, international driving licenses are required for all drivers in Lesotho. Each driver must carry an identity document and passport. Always carry copies of vehicle registration papers as getting through roadblocks combating vehicle theft, which is rife in Lesotho, could present a problem.
The wearing of safety belts and the carrying of warning triangles is compulsory. Fines can be given to law-breakers which must be paid in cash, on the spot.
For parents travelling with minors, please be aware of the South African legislation requiring unabridged birth certificates and supporting documentation for any cross-border travel with your children
No special health or vaccination certificates are required unless one has come from a country where yellow fever is endemic. There are hospitals or clinics in all the main towns but standards are not high, so for complicated illnesses or injury it is advisable to head for a city in South Africa.
Bilharzia is present in all waters which flow close to human settlements. Only on the highest of high mountains is it safe to drink untreated.
Sani Pass is still one of the world’s most spectacular mountain drives. Sani Pass does not lie in Lesotho, but in no man’s land between the South African border post at the bottom, and the Lesotho border post at its summit. In wet weather, four-wheel drive vehicles are needed, but in the dry, any vehicle with reasonable clearance will make it up the pass.
In winter, four-wheel drive is essential, but drivers should stay off the pass if it has areas of frozen snow still lying on it. In snow conditions, tire chains are essential.
The Lesotho currency comprises of one Loti (plural: Maloti) which is divided into 100 lisente (singular: sente). The currency is linked to the South African Rand which is also accepted anywhere in Lesotho. MasterCard, American Express, Visa, and Diners Club cards are accepted in the main centers and in most lodges and hotels.
Fuel purchases require cash. Banks open at 09h00 and close at 13h00 on weekdays, and at 11h00 on Saturdays.
Lesotho has the highest lowest point (1400) of any country on Earth. The country is dominated by the Maluti mountain range which runs mainly southwest to northeast, culminating in an eastern summit plateau exceeding 3000 meters. Thabana-Ntlenyana, at 3 482m and visible from the top of the Sani Pass, it the highest point in Southern Africa. The western portion of the country is known as the ‘Lowlands’. This is a misnomer as these so called ‘Lowlands’ are plains lying between 1500-1600m above sea level. The Lowlands contain seven of the 10 district headquarter towns, much of the population, and the best agricultural land.
As Lesotho lies outside of the tropics, the climate is temperate with well-defined seasons. The lowland mean temperatures range from 8°C in winter to 24°C in summer. It is considerably colder in the mountains where conditions change very quickly, especially in winter. Every year people are trapped in the mountains because of sudden severe snowfalls and temperatures that can plummet below -15°C. Precipitation averages 500 mm per year in the extreme west, and 1300 mm in the northern mountains. 85% of precipitation falls between October and April and often comes in the form of heavy thundershowers.
Travel safely, and enjoy your holiday at the top of Southern Africa!