Tucked away in the heart of South Africa sits the Kingdom of Lesotho, known to locals as the Kingdom of the Sky and to travellers as the Switzerland of Africa.
As the nicknames suggest, Lesotho is mostly made up of the rolling highlands and dramatic, rugged peaks of the Maloti Mountains, the tallest of which stands at a shade under 3,500m (11,482ft) above sea level. Lesotho is the only independent state in the world that is entirely above 1,000m (304m) altitude.
The high altitude and mountainous geography lend a spectacularly scenic backdrop to the numerous outdoor activities on offer, including pony trekking, rock climbing, fishing, abseiling, hiking, bird watching, mountain biking and even skiing on the snow-covered slopes below the Mahlasela Pass.
The existence of valuable mineral and water resources led developers to build roads through some areas of Lesotho, but much of the kingdom and it’s villages remain remote and can only be reached on foot, by horseback or by light aircraft.
But Lesotho’s remoteness is a large part of its appeal, and this also helps preserve the rich traditional culture of the Basotho people, which you can experience at a number of cultural villages dotted across the kingdom. Lesotho also boasts some prominent examples of ancient rock paintings made by the nomadic San people that once inhabited this area.
Since Lesotho gained its independence from the British, poverty and unemployment have seen this protectorate lose a large percentage of its population to South Africa’s mines, while those that stayed behind have had to live with one of the world’s highest rates of HIV, which in turn has had detrimental effects on the country’s economy.
But while Lesotho might not be able to boast the wealth and infrastructure of its much larger neighbour, when it comes to raw adventure and natural beauty it can certainly hold its own.
2,160,309 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
King Letsie III since 1996.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili since 2015.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. South African-style plugs with three round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Muggers in central Maseru frequently target foreign nationals. Don’t walk alone in isolated areas or after dark and avoid driving in rural areas at night. When driving in urban centres, especially Maseru, keep doors locked, windows shut and valuables out of sight. Park in well-lit areas and do not pick up strangers. Take care at the approaches to main border crossings, particularly at night. There have been cases of armed car-jacking. If you are involved in such an incident, offer no resistance.
Take precautions to safeguard valuables and cash. Leave them in hotel safes, where practicable. Keep copies of important documents, including passports, in a separate place.
There is often an increase in criminal activity, especially property crimes, leading up to the holiday season. Take extra care and be vigilant during this period.
There is no effective public transport system. Taxis can be arranged through hotels and you should use pre-booked taxis where possible.
A British driving licence or International Driving Permit is valid for use in Lesotho for up up to three months. If you wish to drive for a longer period, you will need a local driving licence.
Driving standards in Lesotho are poor and you should drive carefully. Local mini-bus taxis are often poorly maintained and uninsured, and ignore road safety rules. Animals roaming on the roads are a hazard, especially at night.
The European Commission has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the European Union.
There are occasional spontaneous political demonstrations in Maseru. You should avoid demonstrations, rallies and large public gatherings.