Even though Lesotho is a nation distinct from it’s powerful and all embracing neighbor South Africa, it nonetheless exists as an integral part of the great South African geographic and race kaleidoscope. Therefore, notwithstanding a persistent claim to a separate identity, it is difficult, if not impossible to completely separate Lesotho as a regional travel destination from South Africa.
Lesotho’s independent character is alive and well, however, and is related in no small part to the fact that it was never wholly drawn into the family of territories governed from or through Whitehall during the long colonial period. Why this is so it is hard to say, but it would be reasonable to suppose that it has much to do with that fact that no overt mineral wealth exists within the mountain fortress of Lesotho. It is also true that at the peak of European expansion through South Africa the region was an ordered and well-governed polity under one of the region’s greatest sons: Paramount Chief Moshoeshoe.
From a travel perspective Lesotho is principally a cultural and nature destination, it’s borders being defined by both the climactic escarpment of the Drakensberg range and the rolling plateau of rivers and grassland that lie beyond. The country is governed as a constitutional monarchy, and as a nation it clings with tenacity to it’s distinct cultural heritage. In the generally over developed and highly industrialized landscape of South Africa Lesotho exists in something of a time vacuum. Here people still live and interact as they did in pre-colonial times. There is, of course, a veneer of modernity, but that veneer is very shallow, and rarely is it difficult to peel away the surface layer and see the rich texture of African traditional life beneath.
Travel To & Within Lesotho
Why Travel to Lesotho
Lesotho has a tradition of horse breeding and use. This owes its origin to the introduction of horses to The Cape by early Dutch settlers. In due course these were adopted and adapted by the BaSotho, eventually emerging as a distinct breed known as the Basuto Pony. These are hardy little mountain horses ideal for long-range pony trekking through the signature mountain terrain of the country, and this is indeed one of the principal attractions of Lesotho.
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Lesotho is critically overpopulated, so do not approach the national parks of the country with any expectation to view wildlife in any quantity, or be blessed with endless wilderness to explore. Of Lesotho’s wilderness heritage, however, the mountain dominated Ts’ehlanyane National Park in the north of the country is well worth a visit, as is Sehlabethebe National Park, which is poised on the eastward limit of the Drakensberg escarpment. Both parks are a hikers hill-walkers paradise, and both are surrounded beautifully appointed lodges and country hotels.
As a general touring destination Lesotho can be very rewarding. It has a good road and general communications network, with much South African influence evident in the diversity and standard of accommodation options throughout. These are usually associated with areas of great natural beauty, which of course are many. Driving through Lesotho represents a brief glance back in time, which is particularly so as one is surrounded elsewhere else in the region by the general advancement of South Africa. Customary dress is common, as is the traditional homestead and lifestyle, and it is in particular at higher elevations that the simple and pastoral stock herding lifestyle is most evident.
When To Visit Lesotho
Situated at altitude and some way south of the tropics, winters in Lesotho can be very cold. In particular the escarpment regions can be frigid during this period, with frequent and heavy snowfalls recorded across the territory. However this is an extremely outlandish and beautiful manifestation of highland Africa, and although somewhat alpine, winter hiking in the Drakensberg and in Lesotho generally is not restrictive.
For balmy days, however, and cool summer nights, the best time of the year to visit Lesotho is in the summer months between April and October.
The country is somewhat touched by the South African attitude to crime, and one must never underestimate the threat. However violent crime rates in Lesotho are much lower than in South Africa, and on the whole movement is unrestricted and most parts of the country safe.
Avoid walking after dark anywhere in Maseru, or in any other city. Hiking along the Drakensberg escarpment unassisted is usually safe, and although incidences do occur from time to time, they are rare. It makes sense to be careful, to not overtly display your expensive hiking gear, and on the whole be respectful but aloof toward the stock herders whose country it is.
HIV/AIDs infection rates in Lesotho are among the highest in the world, a fact that has had a catastrophic effect on local society. While caution is advisable in this regard anywhere in Africa, this is particularly so in Lesotho.