Flag of Lesotho


Entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, the aptly named mountain Kingdom of Lesotho (pronounced Le-sue-toe) is proudly independent of and very different in character to its dominant neighbour. Formerly Basutoland, the name Lesotho roughly translates into 'the land of the people who speak Sotho'.

The Lesotho lowlands form an east-facing crescent around the country, and are where all the nation's major towns are located, including the busy capital of Maseru, with its very African mix of new glass buildings and dusty streets. There are plenty of interesting things to see in the lowlands - the weaving crafts of Teya-Teyaneng, the extraordinary caves at Mateka, and Thaba Bosiu, the mountain fortress of Lesotho's founder, King Moshoeshoe I - though in many ways the everyday bustle of life is the most fascinating part of all.

The true splendours of the country, however, lie in its ruggedly beautiful Highlands, an extended mountainous area characterised by plunging valleys, remote villages, improbable roads and inspiring vistas. Once up the steep, twisting roads which lead into the hills, travellers can visit the engineering masterpieces of the Katse and Mohale dams, ski at Oxbow, fish from rivers everywhere, and above all wander through the countryside, dividing their time between remote villages of simple stone-and-thatch huts and the peaceful solitude of the mountains.

There is an almost total absence of fences in Lesotho, which means that visitors can hike into the upland regions at will, whilst meeting some of the most hospitable people of the region. Lesotho is also virtually treeless, with the exception of the invasive and water-hungry eucalyptus and the peach trees introduced by French missionaries a century ago. Indeed, the country - once the grain basket of the region - is in deep ecological trouble, and acres of irreplaceable topsoil, loosened by decades of over-farming, are washed away down its rivers each year.

Although the tarred road network is good, many Sotho still travel by pony, particularly in the Highlands. Visitors can do the same from pony-trekking lodges all over the country; a day trek or, better, a longer ride incorporating a night in a remote Basotho village, is the way to experience Lesotho. Most of Lesotho's four hundred or more San rock-art sites and the many more dinosaur footprints can only be visited this way - although there are still plenty close by the roads that can be reached with ease if travelling by car.

Map of Lesotho