19 February 2014

Exploring the Kingdom of Lesotho

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 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 authenticity of the experience, it also means that you need to be prepared when entering 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!

43 comments:

  1. The views look so beautiful!

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    1. Lesotho is definitely one of the most beautiful places I've ever been! The views are incredible.

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  2. Oooh our mid year break list is just getting longer!
    We still haven't decided where to go this year! *sigh*
    This looks amazing! Love your photos!
    http://johced-ourjourneytoeverywhere.blogspot.com/

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    1. Funny enough, I was thinking of you while writing this post - the orange monster would be perfect for a trip like this!

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  3. What gorgeous views! I love discovering through your eyes! I'm sure it's such an under-appreciated continent as your pictures show! :)

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    1. I definitely agree that Africa is an under-appreciated continent. Particularly in SA, most tourists tend to flock to Cape Town and some head to Kruger for the safari experience. But SA has SO much more to offer. Beaches, deserts, mountains, hot springs... you'll be missing out completely if you only focus on one or two areas.

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  4. Oh my goodness, what a stunning place to visit! I love those vistas (though I would be a little nervous driving on those hairpin roads)!

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    1. Oh believe me - I refused to be the driver for any amount of time on that trip! Huge potholes and crazy dirt roads are left to Jurgen ;) But driving aside, the country was almost too beautiful to be real.

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  5. Jenna this looks so amazing! What beautiful views. I am continuously envious of your adventures around the world. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Daina! I'm also continuously mesmerized by your photos of NY... I would absolutely love to spend a few years of my life in the big apple.

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  6. WOW! Looks amazing. I have never been to Lesotho....Really must make a plan

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    1. You guys definitely need to find a time to take a trip - it's incredible how different Lesotho to SA in terms of both culture and scenery... like a whole different world!

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  7. WOW.... what a amazing place!!!!!! Im so jelouse !

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    1. Lesotho is only a plane ticket and 4x4 vehicle away ;)

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  8. oh Jenna, this looks so beautiful. I wish that I had been able to go while we were there

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    1. It was absolutely stunning - I wish you could have joined us! Unfortunately SA is just too big to ever do or see everything. You guys did so much in your six months that I haven't gotten around to doing in my six years!

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  9. JENNA these pictures... We drove alongside the border of Lesotho last year on our drive up towards Jo'burg and were dying to change course and drive over the border. This just confirms that we need to go back and visit :) xx

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    1. Yes, you definitely need to come back and visit! Although the area surrounding the border of Lesotho is pretty spectacular in and of itself :)

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  10. Wow, Lesotho looks amazing! And great tips by the way... I hope to make it there on that trip I want to do to South Africa as well :)

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    1. Anyways, so excited that you might be coming to South Africa!

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  11. BEAUTIFUL!! I wish places like this would stay untouched!

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    1. Me too! We were actually a bit bummed to see some of the roads being paved, which means the country is on its way to development and commercialization. On the one hand it makes me happy if it brings opportunity and wealth to the people, but at the same time I want Lesotho to remain secret and untouched.

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  12. How cool is this! Lesotho has always been one of the countries that I could find on a map, but never actually knew anything about. If it's really as untouched as you experienced, then it's certainly a rare gem in this world.

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    1. Kudos to you for being able to find it on a map - I didn't even know of its existence until slightly before I first came to SA! It must be one of the last remaining truly 'off the beaten path' places in this world.

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  13. Ah, you succumbed to the allure of the Mountain Kingdom. I knew you would. I loved your photos of the mountains, which show how beautiful they are. Thanks for the shout out too!

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    1. Thanks for all your help and inspiration in the planning process - our friends planned most of this trip, but on our next one, I want to visit a lot more of the places listed on your blog. Those caves look so fascinating!

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  14. Oh my gosh the views, how absolutely gorgeous!!

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    1. Stunning isn't it! And believe me, the pictures can't even do it justice.

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  15. How beautiful! Looks like a lovely time.
    ~ Country Girl's Daybook, recently posted: Catholic beauty & our student chapel: http://bit.ly/1c4jBmC

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  16. Wow wow wow. What a cool experience. I like y'all so much for the pure fact that your only itinerary item was the highest pub. Gorgeous day and photos!

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  17. This is absolutely gorgeous Jenna! I'm constantly amazed at the places you visit - places I'd never even considered. I've heard of Lesotho, but I had absolutely no idea what the country itself was like. Your photos are completely breathtaking - I can see why you loved it so much!

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  18. Wow, gorgeous photos. The scenes are breathtaking! I always love reading about your adventures!

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  19. Love love LOVE. Never would have thought to go to Lesotho, thank you for changing my mind :)

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  20. Gorgeous! I took a class at university about South Africa, Losotho & Swaziland. It made me want to visit there and now after seeing these pics, I want to go even more!! RachelBoulevard

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  21. This looks gorgeous! What a great day! My husband lived in South Africa for two years and I am always wanting to to Africa with him and explore. Love these pictures and loving your blog!

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  22. ahhh! can't wait to go here once my parents move to SA ! XO

    the well-traveled wife ♥

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  23. This does look gorgeous! My brother studied abroad in South Africa last summer and they went to Lesotho, but I'm not sure which part. I do know that he loved it!

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  24. WOW beautiful view! I love that picture of the little one drinking milk. Absolutely precious!

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  25. oh wow - stunning! I think if I went I'd want someone who'd been before to be the driver - otherwise I'd be afraid that the driver wouldn't keep his eyes on the road because he'd be distracted by the scenery!

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  26. I always feel so silly writing this, but wow! Stunning view. Great photography as always. :)

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  27. Hi Jenna...just catching up on your blog! Lesotho looks Lesolovely ;-) If you're ever in the Garden Route, message me! I'm American, and my South African fiance and I would love to show you around!

    hugs,
    Courtney

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  28. Hey hey! Thank you! Now I'm even more excited about my trip there in July! I know that it would be a whole different weather than when you were there, but do you think it would be possible to go over the Sani Pass at that time of the year? And how safe is it in general to rent a car?

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Thanks for commenting! I love reading each and every one of them :)