In an overly connected world where it seems impossible to escape the grip of civilization, travelers are increasingly looking to find a truly unusual experience. Lesotho, Southern Africa’s “kingdom of the sky,” offers the answer to the growing need for escapism.
Lesotho is a small country completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa and is the only country in the world that has all of its land lying at altitudes in excess of 5,000 feet above sea level. It offers natural beauty, rugged terrain and rich local culture and traditions as well as a surprising scarcity of civilization's trappings.
Although there are numerous routes available to travelers by 4x4 vehicle, by car or on foot, pony trekking is undoubtedly the best way to truly connect with the country and its people. The Basotho people are renowned as a nation of horsemen. For generations, they have bred the Basotho pony as the ideal form of transport in the rugged mountains. Today, the pony is still one of the most effective means of reaching more inaccessible mountain villages, and for visitors this offers an authentic way to get to some of the most beautiful parts of the country.
The most popular place in Lesotho for pony treks is probably Malealea Lodge and Ponytrekking, a simple, unpretentious place that was once a trading post. Several activities can be arranged at Malealea that enable visitors to truly connect with the Basotho people. Travelers can, for example, visit a museum in a traditional hut where they can learn about Lesotho herbs and plants. On a village walk, children from the village will take travelers on a walk to their homes and neighborhood. Or visitors can meet with a sangoma, a healer, and ask him to “throw the bones” and discuss their health, travels and well-being.
Overnight pony treks can be tailor-made to travelers’ requirements at Malealea. They can last from one day to six days or even longer and take trekkers through spectacular mountain passes and to view high, cascading waterfalls and Bushman paintings. On the lodge’s Rough and Tough 2-day pony trek, visitors will pass through very remote areas to a Basotho village, where they will stay overnight in a very basic Basotho hut and will experience village life.
Pony treks are also the only way to reach the majestic Maletsunyane Falls, the highest waterfall in Southern Africa. The falls have a 650-foot single drop, nearly twice as high as Victoria Falls, and offer great rappelling possibilities. The Maletsunyane Abseil is the longest commercially operated single-drop descent in the world and is operated by Semonkong Lodge. Set on the edge of the spectacular Maletsunyane Falls, this abseil descends 670 feet to the bottom of the gorge. It is an extremely exposed straight drop where at times you are suspended in mid-air with the spray of the waterfall upon you and birds flying around you. For more information about rappelling possibilities, contact Semonkong Lodge.
At night, travelers can opt to stay at Semonkong Lodge and do a Donkey Pub Crawl to traditional and local entertainment sites in a unique way, by donkey. Visit a traditional beer-brewing home and local bars and enjoy Basotho music and dancing. Local homestays are also available to travelers who wish to experience social traditions, local cuisine, rituals and the everyday life of a Lesotho host family.
Continue your Lesotho adventure by visiting the Ha Kome caves, a National Heritage Site. Ha Kome is a remarkable village where cave dwellings have been carved out under towering rocks. The families still living there are descendants of the original people who built the dwellings in the 19th century. They live very much as their forefathers did almost two centuries ago, and those who have occupied the caves over the years have left a rich cultural history. The cave dwellings were built as a hiding place where the Lesotho went to escape from cannibals who lived in the area.
Traveling through Lesotho will truly enable visitors to discover a different Africa with invigorating mountain air, spectacular panoramas of rocky crags, deep valleys and fields of alpine flowers, and the warm welcome of the Basotho people.
How to get there? South African Air Link offers regular flights from Moshoeshoe Airport to Johannesburg. However, the majority of visitors to Lesotho arrive by road. Eleven border posts offer entry into Lesotho from South Africa. Because of the ruggedness of terrain in some parts of the Mokhotlong and Qacha's Nek districts, 4x4 vehicles are advised for these parts.
Visas: U.S. citizens are granted free entry permit at the border; the standard stay permitted is two weeks.
Language: The official languages are Sesotho and English. Most people in the larger towns or tourist attractions speak English to a reasonable standard and a few words of Afrikaans; however, outside these areas, these languages will not be understood.
Currency: Lesotho's currency, the loti (plural Maloti), is fixed at a 1:1 ratio with the South African rand. South African currency is accepted everywhere. Credit cards are only accepted in the main towns.
Climate: Lesotho experiences extremes in temperatures. Winter in Lesotho occurs between May to September, during which time visitors can expect snowfalls and temperatures falling to below the freezing point. The coldest months are June and July. Summer is between October and April and is characterized by warm and wet weather, with January and February being the hottest months and also experiencing the maximum amount of rainfall. Temperatures during the summer months range between 60 to 95 degrees. The summer months of October to April are a good time to visit Lesotho.
Health: Lesotho lies entirely outside the tropics, at a considerable height above sea level, and is thus a bilharzias- and malaria-free destination. The air is very thin, especially in the Highlands, which can lead to altitude sickness.