'Switzerland of Africa', the country you haven't heard of - Lesotho
Part two of our Africa Leg took us to a practically unknown yet magical country - Lesotho. Let's call this leg the offbeat.
Allow me to introduce you to Lesotho. This place is dubbed as the “Switzerland of Africa”, and it’s a country many people could have difficulty finding on the map. Often called Kingdom in the sky due to its high elevation, going here is like taking a walk back in time, you will find local shepherds on horses and people living in huts. This reminded me of our trip to Kyrgyzstan. It is such an authentic travel experience, there aren’t many places like this left in the world.
A country completely landlocked by South Africa, it’s a nation of blue skies, massive mountains, horse trekking and impressive national parks. When I first started researching, all I could find was a bunch of random info but no one with a weaker passport had ventured into this place or specified how it is done. I had to do all of my own information - that is my favorite part of every trip, from finding a local guide to getting the visa information, it took me some time but it was worth every bit of effort.
This is my guide for all the relevant information you will need to add this fantastic destination to your African bucket list.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: land and drive to Avani, Lesotho. Check in, dinner, rest.
Day 2: Drive and hike to Maletsunyane Waterfalls
Day 3: Mountain drives and visit to Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village
Day 4: departure to Johannesburg
At the time of writing this, you will need a vaccination certificate to enter Lesotho via land or by air.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling with an Indian passport)
South Africa is the only entry point into this tiny nation. There is an airport, that looks more like someone's house. You will have to fly from Johannesburg to Maseru, Lesotho with Airlink and same for the return. There are no other connections.
I often hear people say EU visas are complicated. Complicated would be an understatement for many African countries, including Lesotho. With absolutely no information available online for Indian passport holders, I did my own research to find a local guide (who also didn’t know much but he was on the ground).
This is what you need to do if you plan to travel to Lesotho:
- finalize your travel dates, book your tickets and hotel. Submit to the Lesotho Tourism Authority to prepare a formal letter with your details.
- before you arrive in Lesotho, your local guide will submit this original letter to the immigration officer at the airport.
- now once this is done, they have to register passengers with certain passports at the airport. This took about an hour.
- You are not done yet. The next steps - you will have to head to the home affairs office, hand over your passport, pay $60 for the visa. They may not be open after 3 p.m. so it won’t be done the same day. Come back next day, wait until it is stamped (it can take up 24 hours) + hold on to the receipt to exit.
This was by far one of the most complicated visas we have ever had stamped. It was worth it because we were the ONLY travelers there. Is there anything more amazing than that? In my books, no. I would do this a hundred times if it means we can have real adventures like these in countries that still maintain their authenticity.
Solo traveling in Lesotho
Much like South Africa, this isn't the safest part of the world to travel solo or venture out on your own. Not because you are a lady but because of vandalism. If you are traveling solo, avoid driving at night, use common sense, go with a guide.
Best time to visit
I specifically chose winter to avoid crowds and it was just great timing. We were the only travelers in the entire place.
Language and People
English is widely spoken. as is the case in many parts of Africa, which has always impressed me.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. Carry local currency for small purchases and tipping.
Renting a car or choosing a guide
Now, a lot of people do Lesotho as a day trip from South Africa but I urge you not do this. Spend at least 3 days here. More if you are also going to the Northern side.
Now if you do decide to spend more than a day, you will need a car or a guide. Since we also needed to do paperwork, I chose to go with a guide. His name is Fokoane and you can find his details here. He was quick to respond and took care of us until we boarded our flight back to South Africa. From submitting the letters and managing the complication with the vusa, he was with us through it all. Highly recommended.
You might as well forget about a fancy restaurant here - you will just find a whole lot of Pizza, and be waiting for it.
How expensive is Lesotho?
It isn't as inexpensive as South Africa so expect to spend a bit more on decent stay and food.
Who Should go to Lesotho?
This isn’t one of those places I would recommend to everyone. Probably not my parents, for instance, or a first-timer in Africa, or a traveler accustomed to guided tours. A lot of research time & patience are needed to navigate Lesotho on your own. If you’re someone with a bit of travel experience in developing countries, and a taste for REAL adventure, then you’re a perfect fit. Also let me clarify that this isn’t always a budget- friendly country, from visa costs to hotel, somethings were more expensive than we expected. If you are looking for fast service, you will be disappointed. Go only for the experience. You will have rustic views like this for miles, without another traveler in sight. Ah, this is what paradise must feel like
Things to do in Lesotho
These are the best things to do here if you only have three days:
1. Take a drive up the mountains every chance you get. If visiting by road from South Africa, drive through the iconic Sani Pass. The drives here were something special.
2. Saddle up - take a pony ride like the locals do.
3. Live life above 1400 meters - it’s the only independent state in the world above 1000 meters!
4. Photograph the epic landscapes. I cannot tell you how many times I kept saying this is like Kyrgyzstan but cannot compare it, this is such a unique place.
5. Visit and hike the Maletsunyane waterfalls
6. Soak in the Basotho culture at Thaba Bosiu, the birthplace of the Basotho people.
7. Mingle with the locals. Irrespective of the language barrier, the local kids and adults are welcoming and love to chat. We actually had a lot of conversations about traveling in Africa with the immigration officers while we were waiting to board. So casual and so chill!
Where we stayed
We stayed at Avani Maseri. This the best hotel in Maseru.. it was not to the usual Avani standard but it was good enough. The breakfast spread was decent but be ready to wait a long time for food to be served.
After a very long travel day with a lot of paperwork, we just wanted to take a nice long nap. So that is what we did.. after a needlessly long wait for dinner.
Day two was going to be exciting... after a long wait at the home affairs office, we started our drive towards the waterfalls.
In terms of sheer beauty, it is difficult to imagine a more perfect waterfall than Maletsunyane Falls.
Located near the town of Semonkong, aptly called “The Place of Smoke” among locals, the waterfall sees the river plunge in an unbroken cascade over a 630-foot precipice located at the point of a natural V in the rolling green cliffs above.
It is one of the highest single-dropping falls in Africa. You can of course hike here.. another alternate is to ride a pony to the falls.
Top tips for visiting the falls:
no tips to escape “crowds” because there won’t be any!
the best way to get here is to drive from the capital, takes about 2.5 hours. You can then park and hike for about 2 hours to get to this point
if you have more time, stay at the Semonkong lodge, we didn’t because we expected paperwork delays.
If traveling in the winter, you have to check the weather ahead of time. The rain/snow makes these roads inaccessible!
This day was one with no agenda. I just kept an extra day for paperwork and for rest before our next two legs.
Once we picked up our passports, we wanted to take another drive up to the mountains. Stopping along the way every five minutes.
We were surprised to find snow.. in Africa. The views here are absolutely incredible. The hills still partly green with grass, rolling like giant waves against the horizon.
After a long day out driving, we stopped at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village, the birthplace of the Basatho People. This place is an ode to the larger-than-life king Moshoeshoe I. You walk along a paved path until you reach his massive statue. Once inside the complex, you will find thatched huts and chalets - apparently a lot of these huts were also built for his wives; he had an astounding 140 of them. SAY WHAT? The huts have a small kitchen area, sleeping area and such.
If you enjoy deep diving into history and culture of the places you visit, then you shouldn't miss this fantastic monument just 24kms from the capital. Followed by a magical African sunset on the way back to the hotel for a restful evening.
This country was the main reason we touched down in South Africa. This true hidden gem in Southern Africa, with it's snow-capped mountains to flowing rivers and mystical waterfalls, was a dream come true for the adventure girl in me.
I added this place to my (never ending Africa) list way back in 2018, when I read an article about the 50 most beautiful places to visit in Africa. This was a country I traveled to without a whole lot of expectations; I just wanted to make it to this waterfalls.
Little did I know how amazing this country actually is or how many unique things there are to do. It’s underrated and undeniably bewitching. People dream of having places like this all to themselves. In Africa, these dreams are often a reality! I hope I have convinced you to add this place to your list. Go. Just go!
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