LESOTHO – The Trip

Lesotho April 25-27, 2017

Motto: “Peace, Rain, Prosperity”
Capital and largest city. Maseru 29°28′S 27°56′E
Official languages. Sotho, English
Ethnic groups. 99.7% Basotho, 0.3% other Africans
Demonym. Mosotho (singular), Basotho (plural)
Government. Unitary parliamentaryconstitutional. monarchy King Letsie III
Independence. from the United Kingdom 4 October 1966
Area. Total 30,355 km2(11,720 sq mi) (140th), Water (%) 0.0032%
Population. 2009 estimate 2,067,000 (144th), 2004 census 2,031,348, Density 68.1/km2 (176.4/sq mi) (138th)
GDP (PPP) 2016 estimate. Total $6.017 billion, Per capita $3,133
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate Total $2.096 billion, Per capita $1,091
Gini. (2015) 54.2 high
HDI (2013) 0.486[4] low · 162nd
Time zone. SAST (UTC+2)
Drives on the left
MONEY. Lesotho loti (LSL)/ plural maloti. Fixed at the value of the South African rand, which is accepted everywhere. Maloti are not accepted outside Lesotho.
If changing currency, do outside in SA as rates are better. Few ATMs in Maseru. Most hotels, restaurants and travel agencies accept credit cards. Tipping – normal to round up the bill or tip 10% in tourist areas.
VISAS. Citizens of most Western European countries, the USA and most Commonwealth countries are granted a free entry permit at the border or airport.
No vaccination certificates are required unless you have recently been in a yellow fever area.

WHY GO? Lesotho is essentially an alpine country with rock strewn, green valleys, stone faced mountains and streams. It is an underrated destination – beautiful, culturally rick, safe, cheap, and easily accessible.
September. Renowned Morija Arts and Cultural Festival – dance, music and theatre.
Dec & Jan. Maletsunyane, the regions highest waterfall in full force.
Year Around. Contrasting temperatures in the highlands and lowlands.

Estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.

Lesotho ( i/lᵻˈsuːtuː/; li-SOO-too), officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, is an enclaved, landlocked country in southern Africa completely surrounded by South Africa. It is just over 30,000 km2 (11,583 sq mi) in size and has a population slightly over two million. Its capital and largest city is Maseru.
Previously known as Basutoland, Lesotho declared independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966. It is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The name Lesotho translates roughly into the land of the people who speak Sesotho. About 40% of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.

South Africa/Lesotho Border
Cross the Mohokore River over the Masaru Bridge and enter Maseru City, the capital of the country. On the low-lying western edge, rimmed by the Berea and Qeme Plateaus. Has few sights.
The border formalities were simply waiting in line for stamps for most Westerners. It took 40minutes. They even stamped where I asked them to.

NE Lesotho is made of the rugged escarpment of the Drakensburg. Best known for Sani Pass, the highest mountain in Southern Africa, 3482m Thabana Nthenyana, the highest mountain in south Africa), highland villages, shepherds, sandstone rock shelters and serious hiking.
Oxbow. On the dramatic 2820m Moteng Pass. 4½ hrs by bus from Maseru. From here the road traverses 3 more high passes in terrain well above the tree line.
Mokhotlong. 270kms from Maseru (8 hr by bus) and first major town north of Sani Pass. We got gas here at 9.5 per litre, about 4R less than South Africa.
Lesotho is a gorgeous country. We stopped in Maseru to do some grocery shopping. Panhandling is incessant. Parking dudes try to charge for free street parking. After climbing out of Maseru, the good road (some potholes) passed across a wide plateau bordered by flat-topped buttes, mesas and escarpments topped by a broad sandstone cliff. The area could easily pass for Southern Utah.
The standard of living is a step down from S Africa. But the housing was a real treat, with no two alike, they are obviously an individuals statement about himself. They excel at abutting boxes together with wildly different rooflines. The more steps, angles and levels, the better. The poorest housing is small rectangles with sloped one-level roofs. There are lots of windows, all multipaned.
After passing half way, traditional round, thatch-roofed houses of stone appeared. Entire villages are stone. Windows are a big part of houses including the stone ones and all are multi-paned. Shepherds tend small numbers of cattle or sheep. Fields are entirely maize.
One goes over several passes on the way to Sani Top

SANI TOP. At top of the steep Sani Pass, this is the only dependable road into Lesotho through the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Mountain Range. At Sani Top, the road is new, good pavement for a few hundred kilometers well past the Chinese built diamond mine. We filled the gas tank in Mokhotlong for 9.55R/litre (over 13R in S Africa). It is 5 hours by bus from Mokhotlong via Sani Top to Underberg, S Africa and back. Requires 4×4. Descending from Lesotho requires great brakes and nerves of steel, but we have been reassured by all the bikers that have just come up and the Lesotho border police, that we should have no problems descending in our VW Polo. But coming back up would be impossible in that car. A Spanish/French couple warned us not to do it.
The only accommodation here is Sani Top Chalet with dorms (R260) or campsite (R110) available at Sani Top Backpackers just down the road. There is a good kitchen and lounge with a nice fire. The bar is the highest pub in Africa at 2874m.
There are several day walks from Sani Top:
Thabama Ntleeyena. At 3482m, the highest mountain in southern Africa and a long, 9hr, arduous climb. Mark and Toby left at 7am from the Backpackers so walked 5kms along the road each way. Then they got lost a few times, took wrong turns but eventually got help from shepherds and got to the top. They returned in the dark for a long day. There is no trail, only a route.
Hodgson’s Peaks (3257m). easier hike 6km south. Can see Schabathebe NP and KwaZulu-Natal.
While they hiked, I relaxed and had an easier day. When they returned late, I set my tent back up and we stayed the night, well below zero. A herd of 6 horses galloped through our camp site. Off at 8am, we decided driving down Sani Pass was too likely to result in damage to the car and we returned the way we came, a beautiful drive from both directions: Highest Point, at 3440m, the first pass we went over. Just as we were leaving a caravan of 10 SUVs, all with older couples on board, arrived. It was another big descent and ascent to Tlaing Pass at 3420m. The road follows the ridge top here for miles with panoramic views in all directions. We descended to 2 rivers, the Seatis River at 2425m and another 2490m and then climbed up to Moteng Pass at 2820m. The road on either side of the Tetseng Diamond Mine is great in both directions. Up to this point, we had seen more people riding horses than in cars, 25 cattle on the road, 20 donkeys usually with loads, 3 sheep and a lot of people walking. Corn looks to be almost the only crop planted often on terraces that climb the hillsides. All the houses in the villages remain tiny, round, stone and thatch roofed.

Less developed with massive mountain ranges, valleys and villages off the beaten track. We didn’t go here but have included a brief account of what is good to see. There is no road connection with the Sani Pass area to Southern Lesotho.
Mlaletsunyane Falls (204m). 1 ½ h walk from Semonkone. Best in summer
Ketand Falls (122m) are 30km from Semonkong.
Malealea. 2 1/2h from Maseru. Gates of Paradise Pass, great mountain scenery. San rock art. Basotho villagers.
Mafeteng. Transport centre and border crossing 22km to Wepener in Free State. 1 1/2 h to Maseru.
Quthing. Masitise Cave, a San rock shelter. Road to Qacha’s Nek along the winding Senqu (Orange) River Gorge is one of Lesotho’s most stunning drives.

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I would like to think of myself as a full time traveler. I have been retired since 2006 and in that time have traveled every winter for four to seven months. The months that I am "home", are often also spent on the road, hiking or kayaking. I hope to present a website that describes my travel along with my hiking and sea kayaking experiences.
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