Lesotho Helpful Travel Information
Lesotho is known as the Kingdom in the Sky, because of its lofty altitude – it has the highest lowest point of any country in the world (1400m) and is the only country to be entirely above 1000m!
Originally, the Sotho-Tswana people lived in what is now the Free State in neighbouring South Africa. They were farming people and fled up to the Lesotho mountains due to forced migration. King Moeshoeshoe established himself as the king and Thaba Bosiu as his mountain fortress.
Moeshoeshoe allied himself with the British Cape Colony government in a bid to protect the Basotho from the Boers’ rapidly increasing presense in the area. Lesotho was however granted independence from the British Empire in 1966.
Lesotho has only 10 cities namely Maseru (the capital), Hlotse (also know as Leribe), Mafeteng, Maputsoe, Mohale’s Hoek, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek, Quthing (fantastic rock art nearby!), Teyateyaneng (also referred to as TY and known as the craft centre of Lesotho), and Thaba-Tseka.
Cultural and Language Considerations
The Kingdom of Lesotho was formed through the pursuit of peace, and this peaceful nature still exists in the Basotho. They are friendly and welcoming people and do not have an aggressive nature.
The official languages are Sesotho and English. Most people in the larger towns or tourist attractions speak English to a reasonable standard and a few words of Afrikaans; however, outside these areas, these languages will not be understood.
Try to learn a few Sesotho words before travelling to Lesotho. The locals appreciate a foreigner trying to learn their language. Always refer to an elser person, or a person of higher social standing as N’tate (male) or M’e (female).
Lumela (pronounced due-mela) is ‘hello’. So you would say Lumela N’tate or Lumela M’e. Kea Leboha (sounds like ke-la-bore) is ‘thank you’. U Phela Joang (O-;ila-joan) is ‘how are you’. Respond with either hantle (well) or Ke Phila hantle (I am well), Sala hantle is ‘stay well’ and equivalent to ‘goodbye’. Somaya hantle is ‘go well’ if they are going and you are staying.
Try and not show frustration or anger as this is not acceptable in the culture and easily offends. Also use both hands when giving and receiving items; and show respect for food, don’t throw it around or eat whilst walking.
Getting around – transport systems and fuel stations
Moshoeshoe Airport is situated 10km from Maseru and there are daily flights between Maseru and Johannesburg. You should arrange taxi pick-up in advance as often there are no taxis at th airport.
When entering by car you will be coming from South Africa and the major border posts are Caledonspoort, Ficksburg Bridge, Makhaleng Bridge, Maseru Bridge, Ngoangoma Gate, Peka Bridge, Qacha’s Nek, Ramatseliso’s Gate, Sani Pass, Sephaphos Gate, Tele Bridge, and Van Rooyen’s Gate. Please note that some of the border posts can only be accessed by 4×4 and only Maseru Bridge and Fickburg Bridge is open 24 hours. The main roads in Lesotho are well maintained, but care should be taken when back roads are travelled due to pot holes. If in doubt ask the locals if the road you want to take is okay to drive, especially in winter time, and more so if you don’t have a 4×4. Finally, petrol and diesel can be a problem – it is best to fill your tank in Maseru or South Africa.
There are also coach services between Maseru and Johannesburg, and hitchhiking is also an acceptable form of transport in Lesotho.
Currencies and ways to pay
Lesotho’s local currency, the Loti (plural Maloti), is fixed at a 1:1 ration with the South African Rand (ZAR). South African currency is also accepted everywhere – there is no need to change money. However, you will receive Moloti in change which is very difficult to unload in South Africa.
There are ATM’s at banks in most towns, although you will not find there elsewhere. Most banks change travellers cheques for you, but it can be a very lengthy process if there are in any other currency apart fro ZAR. Credit cards will be accepted at certain stores and the main hotels, but not elsewhere. Restaurants outside of Maseru will probably not accept credit cards as means of payment.
Health, Safety and Emergency Information
Lesotho in general is safe, but caution should be taken when walking alone in Maseru. There are also some instance of conversations that turn into solicitation for money and, as anywhere else in the world, only give when you feel comfortable to. This is especially prevalent when hiking in the mountains, and most times they are incessant requests for ‘sweets, sweets!’ which has been exacerbated by tourists actually giving in.
At night time it is the norm to drive through red traffic lights – this is to speed up your journey and also to counter carjackings; however, on the other hand, caution should be taken to look out for other vehicles doing the same.
The HIV/Aids incidence rate in Lesotho is the 3rd highest in the world at around 25% or 1 in 4 people being infected. Therefore, please take necessary precautions.
Consult a doctor as to which vaccinations you will require, but they will most likely include Hep A, Hep B, and Typhoid. If you are staying in rural areas for a long time then a rabies shot would be a good idea.
Lesotho is at a very high altitude, and the air is very thin especially in the HIghlands, so be careful of altitude sickness when you first arrive. Drink lots of water and keep covered up, skin burns quickly in the think mountain air.
The water in Lesotho is not clean and should not be drunk untreated. Be warned about street vendors who sell fizzy drinks as these are usually in unclean reused glass bottles.
Embassies and high commissions contacts (www.lonelyplanet.com):
China – Tel 2231 6521; http://ls.china-embassy.org/eng; United Nations Road, Maseru
France – Tel 2232 5722; www.alliance.org.za, Alliance Francaise Building, cnr Kingsway and Pioneer Road, Maseru
Germany – Tel 2233 2292; c/o Alliance Francaise Building, cnr Kingsway and Pioneer Road, Maseru
Ireland – Tel 2231 4068, Tonakholo Road, Maseru
Netherlands – Tel 2231 2114; Lancer’s inn, Kingsway, Maseru
South Africa – Tel 2231 5758; 10th Floor, Lesotho Bank Tower, Kingsway, Maseru
USA – Tel 2231 2666; http://maseru.usembassy.gov, 254 Kingsway, Maseru
Satellite and Mobile Networks
In Maseru there are several internet cafes and although fairly cheap, they are pretty slow – at best.
The cellphone network are okay in the towns, but pretty poor out in the countryside. Lesotho uses GSM900 networks. If you have a South African Vodacom sim card, you can use it in Lesotho if your roaming is activated.
Border and Entry Requirements
Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Lesotho visa-free:
For up to 90 days: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Dominica, Fiji Gambia, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe
For up to 14 days: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland
Your passport needs to be valid for another six months and you need at least two blank pages. The proof of a return or onward ticket or your future travel plans might be asked, but this should not be a problem.
The major border posts are Caledonspoort, Ficksburg Bridge, Makhaleng Bridge, Maseru Bridge, Ngoangoma Gate, Peka Bridge, Qacha’s Nek, Ramatseliso’s Gate, Sani Pass, Sephaphos Gate, Tele Bridge, and Van Rooyen’s Gate. Please note that some of the border posts can only be accessed by 4×4 and only Maseru Bridge and Fickburg Bridge is open 24 hours.
Visitors are not allowed to bring in any alcohol.
Lesotho has 300 days of sunshine. The rainy season extends from October to April in which Lesotho gets 70mm of rainfall, mostly during severe thunderstorms. Extensive snow falls are possible in winter but may occur in any month on the high mountains. Nighttime temperatures go below freezing in winder (May to September) and houses do not feature central heating, so bring a jacket – or three.