Enclosed by South Africa on all sides, but separated from it by the huge Drakensberg and Maluti mountain ranges, the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho is small and rounded in shape, situated on a plateau of over 3,281ft (1,000m) with peaks reaching to heights of more than 10,000ft (3,000m). Sani Pass is a breathtaking entry-point into Lesotho from South Africa's Drakensberg National Park and is the gateway to the 'Roof of Africa' scenic route, linking the magnificent scenery of the two mountain ranges.
Popularly described as the 'Kingdom in the Sky', the lofty highlands are characterised by majestic mountain scenery, crisp mountain air and the simple serenity of the traditional lifestyles of its people. Pony trekking is one of the finest ways to experience the Lesotho highlands, with time spent in remote Basotho villages scattered among the grassy hills, where waterfalls saturate the surrounding rocks with rainbow-coloured mist and crystal clear streams criss-cross the landscape. The region is also perfect for those who prefer to test the sure-footedness of their own two feet, with miles of solitary scenery to appreciate, an abundance of trout in the rivers and dams and the assurance of a warm and friendly welcome in the rugged mountain hamlets. The central highlands is home to the highest waterfall in southern Africa, the Maletsunyane Falls near Semonkong (meaning 'Place of Smoke'), which thunders from a height of 624ft (192m) and is at its most spectacular during the summer rainy season.
From the heights of the Maluti Mountains, the land descends to the western lowlands where all the major towns are to be found and where two thirds of the population live. Maseru, the capital, is a fascinating city of contrasting modern and traditional lifestyles. Blanket-clad horsemen sidestep the traffic jams on their way to market, and woven handicrafts are displayed on the busy pavements outside new glass buildings filled with self-important office workers.
Time spent in Lesotho will allow visitors to observe an African country filled with an extraordinary appeal, a kingdom of rugged beauty and unchanging culture that remains natural and largely unaffected by tourism.
The official currency is the Loti (LSL) or plural Maloti, which
is divided into 100 lisente. It has the same value as the South
African Rand, and rands are accepted as legal currency. Banks and
exchange bureaus are found in Maseru and in most main towns. Most
major hotels, shops, restaurants and travel agencies accept credit
cards; though it is best to check with credit and debit card
companies as to their acceptance before leaving home. Travellers
cheques can be cashed at banks in Maseru. Local ATMs in Lesotho
have the facility to accept international ATM cards but are
|LSL 1 =||US$ 0.12||Â£ 0.08||C$ 0.12||A$ 0.12||R 1.02||EUR 0.10||NZ$ 0.15|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
Lesotho's high altitude and crisp mountain air does not present many health problems for travellers, although its high elevation leaves the possibility of altitude sickness for recently arrived visitors. A yellow fever certificate is required from travellers coming from an infected area. HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Water should not be drunk unless it is boiled or filtered. There is a lack of good medical facilities, and medical attention is often sought in neighbouring South Africa. Visitors should carry a personal supply of medicine as supplies are limited. Lesotho's Flying Doctor service provides emergency medical services to remote parts of the country. Medical insurance is essential and should include emergency air evacuation coverage, especially if planning to spend time in remote mountainous regions.
All foreign passengers to Lesotho must hold return/onward tickets, the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country. Visa-exempt visitors who wish to stay in Lesotho for longer than their allotted 14 days, should apply for extensions at the Lesotho Immigration Authorities WITHIN the initial 14-day period. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Lesotho, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Maseru: +223 11 767 or www.mtec.gov.ls
Foreign Embassies in Lesotho
For a modern capital city, Maseru is quite a strange place, as tourists visiting Lesotho will soon find out. Way off the beaten tourist track, the main commercial and administrative centre of 'The Kingdom of the Sky' is a sleepy, dilapidated city with a distinct small-town feel. Most mid-range and budget accommodation is basic, shopping opportunities are few, and the restaurant scene isn't exactly sophisticated.
Maseru is, however, sited in one of the most beautiful regions in the whole of Africa - in the foothills of the prehistoric-looking Maluti Mountains, with a view of the jagged peaks of South Africa's Drakensberg mountain range extending to the east. Despite being situated in a slight valley (an area known as Hlabeng-Sa-Likhama), Maseru is still 5,200 feet (1,600m) above sea-leavel - a fact which, though contributing to harsh weather in winter - makes for impossibly beautiful, clear and crisp skies, and great mountain air.
Although there is not much to see and do in Maseru, outdoor enthusiasts will soon come to view Lesotho as a giant playground of sorts. A country full of walking and hiking trails, leading tourists up into the mountains and past rural villages and hamlets where life goes on in blissful disregard for modernity, there are also some great outdoor activities for tourists to try their hands at in Lesotho. Activities diverse as pony trekking, fishing, birding, abseiling, skiing and even paragliding are available - and these are well organised, and easy to get involved in (just enquire at any upmarket hotel in Maseru).
For well-heeled travellers looking to do Lesotho in style, the country also has a small but up-market selection of four and five-star hotels, game lodges (such as Maliba Mountain Lodge) and even a hotel/casino complex in the form of the Maseru Sun International Hotel.
Maseru isn't full of great shopping opportunities but does, however, boast some unique local art and craft products that make for great souvenirs. Hand-woven mohair blankets and tapestries are probably the country's most famous export - but tourists will also find hand-made traditional music instruments, clay pottery, wire and tin figurines (these are wonderful trinkets), and beaded jewellery.
With a famously friendly local population, a slow pace of life and outstanding natural scenery, Maseru can be a gentle introduction to the African continent for foreign tourists - and is a must-see place for those looking to try some outdoor activities while on holiday in southern Africa.
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