Tucked away amongst the clouds and surrounded by the sprawling magnificence of the Drakensberg lies the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. One of two independent countries falling within South Africa's borders, the nation exists as the only country in the world falling entirely above 1,000 meters, with it's highest peak reaching 11,320 feet. Having wanted to explore this unique part of the globe for several years, Jurgen and I jumped at the opportunity when friends suggested we plan a road trip through Lesotho in the Fall of last year.
It's difficult to find words that adequately convey how breathtaking Lesotho is in terms of its raw beauty. Throughout our entire trip, around every twist and turn there seemed to be a new, indescribable view that somehow rivaled the last. We spent hours on the side of the road marveling at the pristine setting in front us, trying to contemplate how in the world a place like this could actually exist.
The only real item on our itinerary was to enter Lesotho via the famed Sani Pass and enjoy a warm glass of gluhwein at the highest pub in Africa. Beginning in South Africa and ending at the Lesotho border, the Sani Pass is renowned for its scenic views and somewhat notorious 4x4 route. Many people make the drive in one day, enjoying a drink at the top and then heading back down without ever entering Lesotho. This is very possible, although it's essential that you have a properly equipped vehicle and someone who's comfortable navigating fairly tricky dirt roads (certainly not me!). With the right equipment, the trek is certainly worth it. The Sani Pass easily ranks as the most beautiful drive I've ever been on. The atmosphere at the pub is also contagious as seasoned travelers casually swap itineraries and exchange stories.
For the rest of our trip, we simply drove, admiring the views and stopping for picnics where and when we saw fit. One thing that completely caught me off guard in Lesotho was its remoteness. Having travelled Africa extensively, I've always been able to find basic amenities such as internet cafes, petrol stations, and cold soft drinks with relative ease. Not so in Lesotho. Not once did I come across a wifi connection and we went through our entire trip without tracking down an operating petrol station or a cold soft drink. We did find warm cokes in glass bottles at one point, but that was just about where the luxuries came to an end.
While this certainly adds to the adventure and authenticity of the experience, it also means that you need to be prepared when you enter the country. Make sure you have a full tank of petrol and bring any essential food and toiletry products with you. Food and drinks are available, but you'll be mostly limited to chips, soggy cocktail sausages, eggs, porridge, bread, and juice. Luckily, our friends came prepared with pots, pans, cutlery, etc., and we brought a cooler full of meat and vegetables, so we mostly prepared our own meals. We did enjoy a basic dinner at Oxbow Lodge on our second night, but it was overpriced for what we received.
All things considered, on our next trip I think we'll try to camp. It would be easy to pitch a tent just about anywhere that strikes your fancy and you would find yourself surrounded by some of the most picturesque views in the world. That being said, it's also important to point out that we travelled through an undeveloped section of the country where tourism is scarce. Other areas in Lesotho attract thousands of tourists each year for craft markets, pony trekking, cave paintings, and waterfall viewing. My guess is that these areas are much more developed. I'd recommend Roxanne's posts for information on Lesotho's better-known attractions. Pony Trekking is definitely sitting towards the top of my 'someday' bucket list.
All in all, I absolutely loved Lesotho. It was like no place I've ever been before - natural, untouched, and unregulated. The people were extremely friendly and the little villages epitomized rural African charm. And while I now feel like we've truly experienced the incomprehensible beauty of rural Lesotho, I'm yearning to explore more of what the country is famous for. In future, places like Katse Dam, Semonkong, Malealea, and Bokong Nature Reserve will definitely make the list.
A few more useful tips...
- An entry visa is not required for the United States, South Africa and most other countries. -
- The Lesotho currency is the Loti, but the South African Rand is also universally accepted. -
- Bring plenty of cash with you as ATM's are scarce. -
- Fill up on petrol before entry as well - gas stations are few and far between. -
- Make sure you're equipped with a proper vehicle. 4x4's are recommended. -
- Double (or even triple) the time it would typically take to drive a given distance when planning your trip. Roads are generally in bad condition. It's slow and easy going. -
- Make sure you purchase a good map in advance. -
- Pack food, drinks, and cooking utensils, particularly if you'll be heading off the beaten path. -
- Bring warm clothes, even in summer. It's chilly in the mountains, especially in the evenings. -
- Be prepared for one of the greatest adventures of your life! -
Have you ever been somewhere completely different from anywhere else you've ever been?
Was your experience positive or negative?
If you're planning a trip to Lesotho and have any questions, feel free to email me here!