Lesotho is the only country in Africa that is completely landlocked within one country, that being the much larger South Africa. This tiny kingdom is a land of quiet valleys and towering mountains; these very mountains draw most of the tourists to Lesotho. They come looking to unwind at the ski resorts in winter, or to engage in tranquil endeavors during the summer such as hiking, bird-watching, horse-back riding, and fishing.
Lesotho has a rugged scenery and charm that creates an atmosphere that is difficult to find in most 21st century societies. Because of the country’s unique location entirely within South Africa, Lesotho is forced to foster good relations with its neighbor.
Lesotho is largely comprised of highlands that rise as high as 11,000 feet in the Drakensberg Range. The remaining 25% of the land consists of “lowland” areas with moderate elevations of around 5,000 feet high; these lowlands make up the country’s chief agricultural region.
Lesotho’s chief attraction is its outdoors. Ski resorts have been built in the heart of Lesotho’s highlands and have become popular among skiers from Europe and South Africa. These same highlands attract mountain climbers.
Many visitors also come to horse-back ride or pony trek. The great falls at Maletsunyane, Ribaneng, and Ketane are three popular treks. The Molimo Nthuse takes a route that leads to the Qiloane Falls. These pony trails pass through rural areas and villages that best exemplify Basotho life and culture.
Moyeni and Mohales Hoek are two other outdoor sports destinations. Both offer hiking, horseback riding, and mountain climbing facilities. Of interest near Mohales Hoek is the Motlejoeng Caves. There are dinosaur footprints at Moyeni. And you’ll find the petrified forest of Thaba-Ts’oeu and the Masitise Cave House near both Moyeni and Mohales Hoek. Trekking expeditions can be made to explore Ramanbanta, the Maletsunyane Waterfalls, and the Sehlabathebe National Park.
For birdwatchers, there are more than 280 known bird species along the Mountain Road. Lesotho’s dams and rivers provide good fishing; you’ll find brown, carp, and rainbow trout.
Historic sites include the Ha Khotso Bushmen Rock Paintings near Maseru and the battle site of Thaba Bosiu, where the Basotho made their last stand against the Boers. You’ll find the burial sites of the Basotho chiefs there.
Lesotho receives on average about 28 inches of rain a year. In the eastern areas, it receives up to 60 inches. Most of the rain comes between October and April, while the other months are quite dry. When rain does come, it usually arrives in soaking showers. There are occasional droughts that cause immense damage to crops.
In the lowlands, temperatures generally average around 32° C. (90° F) and will drop as low as -7° C. (20° F) in the summer months. In the highlands, temperatures are extreme and sub-freezing temperatures in the summer are common.
The Basotho emerged as a unified people by 1818. By mid-century, the Basotho were engaged in a series of wars with the Dutch Boers of South Africa. The Basotho ended up losing large parts of their territory after being defeated. The chief of the Basotho, Moshoeshoe, asked Britain to protect them. The British did just that but also declared a protectorate and colonized the country. It was not until 1966 that the Kingdom of Lesotho gained full independence.
By 1970, the country was run by Leabua Jonathan under an autocracy. He backed the black nationalist cause, which angered the South African government. South Africa blockaded Lesotho and overthrew Jonathan in a coup. General Justin Lekhanya came to power and was more sympathetic to South Africa.
Lekhanya was overthrown in 1991 and the first democratic elections were held in 1993. South African troops entered Lesotho in 1998 at the request of Lesotho’s prime minister to put down a mutiny and opposition protests following his election. The South African intervention sparked riots that virtually destroyed an already impoverished country. An accord was finally reached in October, 1998 and a new election and constitution arranged. South African troops withdrew in 2000 and elections were held under the new system in 2002, which were by all accounts successful.