The small Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, known as the Kingdom of the Sky, is landlocked and surrounded by the Drakensberg and Maluti mountains. The lowest point in the country is 1,388 metres above sea level, the highest low point of any country in the world, while the summit of Thaba Ntlenyana is 3,482 metres above sea level, the loftiest peak south of Kilimanjaro.
Lesotho is almost entirely mountainous and is known for its breathtaking highland vistas. Majestic landscapes include golden sandstone cliffs, basaltic peaks, undulating montane grasslands, spectacular waterfalls that plunge into deep canyons and myriads of streams and rivers. Midwinter months of June to August often bring heavy snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures that transform the waterfalls into beautiful icy sculptures.
Lesotho is home to the Basotho people who live in traditional stone and thatch huts. Villagers on horseback in multicoloured blankets and balaclavas are a common sight throughout the country and create a distinct impression. The country is mainly rural with an agricultural economy and very little industrialisation. Shepherds roam the countryside on foot or horseback, accompanied by flocks of sheep and Merino goats whose coats are used to produce the wool and mohair handicrafts for which Lesotho is known. Ancient traditions remain part of a living 21st-century culture that both enthrals and welcomes visitors.
The highlands and mountains of Lesotho offer many thrilling activities including hiking, Basotho pony trails, 4×4 trails, skiing, mountain biking, canoeing, fly-fishing and the world’s highest commercial abseil at Semonkong.
Archaeological and historic highlights include dinosaur footprints dating back more than 200 million years, rock shelters adorned with centuries-old Bushman rock paintings and a host of 19th-century landmarks associated with King Moshoeshoe I and various early missionaries.
Lesotho’s oldest cultural heritage is preserved in the sandstone rock shelters that characterise the kingdom’s highlands. In prehistoric times these basalt-capped shelters provided refuge to Bushman hunter-gatherers who adorned the sandstone walls with rock paintings depicting their mysterious shamanic trance rituals.
Some of Southern Africa’s finest rock art can be found in the remote caves of Tsatsane Valley and Sehlabathebe National Park. More accessible sites from Maseru include Ha Baroana and Liphofung, and there is also rock art within walking distance of Malealea Lodge.
In more recent times, the caves of the highlands have offered sanctuary to many a blanketed Basotho shepherd and his livestock on a cold winter night. This cave-dwelling tradition still lives on at Ha Kome, where a deep overhang houses a cluster of adobe houses whose curvaceous exteriors recall the adobe architecture of Mali’s Bandiagara Escarpment.
Another important cultural site in Lesotho is Thaba Bosiu, a tall sandstone plateau that served as the residence and military stronghold of King Moshoeshoe I from 1824 until his death in 1870. Still revered by the Basotho today, the summit of Thaba Bosiu hosts the cemetery where Moshoeshoe and all successive Sotho monarchs are buried.
Pony Trekking & Hiking
Guided hikes and treks on hardy Basotho ponies, specially bred for traversing the high mountains, can be done from lodges such as Malealea and Semonkong as well as in Sehlabathebe and Tse’hlanyane National Parks. Day Treks can include visits to Basotho villages and natural features such as waterfalls, rock pools and fascinating rock formations as well as sightseeing and trips to Bushman Rock Art sites.
Overnight treks can be done to include a village stay with a Basotho family.
For more dedicated hikers and pony trekkers, exciting multi-day routes include the 32 km track connecting Bokong Nature Reserve and Ts’ehlanyane National Park via the so-called Roof of Africa, and a 40km escarpment footpath between Sani Top and Sehlabathebe National Park.
Other organised adventure activities include the world’s highest commercial abseil at Semonkong, seasonal skiing and snowboarding at Afriski Mountain Lodge, some challenging mountain biking routes at Afriski, Semonkong and Malealea, and paragliding and hang-gliding from the country’s plentiful cliffs. For keen 4×4 enthusiasts, there are a few genuinely wild back routes traversed by a mere handful of vehicles on a busy day, while the many streams and rivers that rise in the Lesotho highlands offer superb opportunities for fly-fishing.
Exploring Lesotho in a 4×4 is a wonderful experience for those with a sense of adventure and can be challenging depending on weather and road conditions. Accommodation ranges from simple guesthouses to 5 star lodges. Your adventure can include cultural tours, pony trekking, hiking and other adventure activities such as mountain biking, snowboarding, abseiling, paragliding and hang-gliding.