There are few countries in the southern reaches of Africa as off-the-beaten-track as little Lesotho. Why? Well, for starters, it’s Landlocked and entirely encompassed by the popular lands of South Africa the country, meaning it’s not exactly the easiest place to get to. And then there’s its veneer, spiked for the most part by impenetrable mountains of stark rock and sweeping plateaus of dusty sandstone – not the easiest place to navigate! But with Lesotho’s difficulties so too come its beauties.
The backcountry is wild and primeval. Sweeping grass plains are broken only by the occasional peppering of thatched San villages. The great mountain rivers are only just being tamed by even greater mountain dams. There are awesome waterfalls or valley panoramas around every corner, and the trekking – well, the trekking is simply to-die-for!
Lets explore the best places to visit in Lesotho:
1. Tsehlanyane National Park
The undisputed jewel in the crown of Lesotho’s national park system comes in the form of the sun-baked highlands of Tsehlanyane.
Surrounded by the rock-ribbed peaks of the mighty Maloti Mountains (also home to the Afriski resort, believe it or not!), the region is famed for its rare woodland habitats and high altitudes of up to 5,600 meters above sea level.
Trekkers often opt to hit the connecting trail that links the park with Bokong, and come to delve into the wildernesses of chi chi trees and rare fern species, endemic berg bamboo groves and mountain animals that abounds in all its glory here.
Welcoming, stable, small and on-the-up, Maseru might just be something of the odd one out when it comes to African capitals.
Slowly being reconstructed after a period of upheaval in the late 90s, the town is now a charming and characterful place to while away a few days.
The most noticeable landmark has to be the appropriately-named Basotho Hat, which is actually a gift shop selling traditional Basotho arts and crafts.
Aside from that there’s a smattering of great tailors and international eateries, not to mention a fair bit of backpacker traffic in the bars.
Nestled between the dusty escarpments of the Maseru District, close to the geographical heart of Lesotho as a whole, the little conglomeration of bamboo-topped thatch villages and huts that is Semonkong might not look like one of the most-visited spots in the country; but it is.
Why? Well, that honour surely has to go to the mist-producing plumes of the great Maletsunyane Falls, which can be found roaring over the edge of a table-top mountain nearby.
Thousands of visitors come to wonder at this great natural creation, to scale the mountain paths in its presence and see the ice-caked plunge pools into which is descends.
4. Katse Dam
Blocking the meanders of the Malibamat’so River as it flows down from the cold highlands of the country, the Katse Dam once reigned supreme as the largest of its kind in all of Africa.
And while that superlative has been taken by the Tekezé Dam of Ethiopia, there’s no question that this dramatic wall of concrete and steel remains one of the continent’s real engineering wonders.
Surrounded by grass-topped mountains and undulating peaks, it clocks up a whopping 185 meters in height and comes in at nearly 2,000 meters above sea level!
Nestled between the dramatic mountains just to the west of the aforementioned Katse Dam, the little hill town of Bokong is a great place to wax up the walking boots and hit the trails of central Lesotho.
In the immediate vicinity, visitors will be able to discover the likes of the Lepaqoa Waterfall, crashing over the escarpments of rock that define Lesotho’s highlands in plumes of mist and steam.
The surrounding Bokong Nature Reserve is also a real draw.
Complete with winding hiking trails and maintained campsites, it’s a great place for horse riding and trekking, and even runs into the paths of the Tsehlanyane National Park on its northern fringes.
The sinewy mountains around Liphofung rise in hues of ochre and snow-white during the winter.
They conceal the fascinating historic sites of the Moteng Valley, which have yielded evidence of human habitation in these parts of Lesotho since at least the Stone Age.
Today, visitors can come and explore the unique history of the Liphofung Caves, where a well-rounded visitor’s center now offers an insight into the old Basotho kings and the ins and outs of traditional Basotho craft culture.
There are also oodles of walking routes in the area, and some good campsites to boot.
Also known by the name of the river that fringes the north and south of the town (Hlotse), little, laid-back Leribe is the place to go for a glimpse of authentic Basotho life.
Set right on the Lesotho-South Africa border in the north of the country, its wide, sun-baked streets are lined with low-rise shacks and tin homes.
Some draws include the local marketplace, the Leribe Craft Center (loaded with handmade fabrics and wools), and one or two historic wartime lookout points (dating from the years of English colonialism). There are also English-style statues peppering the squares and a pretty Anglican church to see.
The gateway to the northern passes, the northern “city” of Butha-Buthe touts easy access to the prehistoric wonders of the Moteng Valley, some of the country’s most dramatic mountain roads, and the aforementioned Afriski ski resort to boot.
However, the town itself is also worth a little attention, thanks largely to the natural rock fortresses on its edges.
These once helped the Basotho kings fend of Zulu invaders, and still offer some breathtaking views over the roofs of the city and surrounding district.
9. Thaba Bosiu
You could be forgiven for thinking that you’d been transported to the hoodoo-spiked lands of Arizona or Mexico when you first behold this vast and flat stretch of desert-like sandstone that dominates the landscape between the Orange and Caledon Rivers.
But no, this is still Lesotho, and the two square kilometers of elevated space offered by the Thaba Bosiu plateau represents the historic natural fortress of the Basotho tribe, while the spot also served as a stronghold during the Basuto Wars, and against the Boers during the Basotho conflicts with the Orange Free State in the 1850s.
10. Ha Kome
The awesome Ha Kome cave houses of Lesotho’s Berea District are surely one of the most striking wonders in the country.
Carved directly from the rock faces of the surrounding mountains, they can be found hiding between the valleys close to the village of Mateka.
A truly earthy and interesting look at traditional family living in this part of Africa, the structures are still inhabited by the descendants of those who built them almost 200 years ago.
Come and meet the cave dwellers and take a tour of the on-site Ha Kome Visitors Centre, which unravels the heritage of these curious highland settlements.
Mohale is a beautiful place. Sprawled over the sculpted mountains right in the heart of the country, it’s enveloped by sweeping highland panoramas on all sides.
And while there are only a few who come to enjoy the less-popular trekking away from Bokong and Tsehlanyane, most these days will flock into the region for a glimpse of the award-winning Mohale Dam.
Intended as a backup to the aforementioned Katse Dam, this awesome structure counts a whopping 145 meters in height and bridges a wide crest on the Senqunyane River of more than 700 meters in total!
Once a hot point of conflict during the Gun Wars of the late 19th century, and then subsequently a working mill town, little Mafeteng makes its home south of the Basotho capital and close to the border with South Africa to the west.
A place at once industrial and historic, it’s known for its flair for local famo music, and has a clutch of good hotels, local eateries and bars besides.
Mafeteng is also a convenient stopover if you’re making a beeline for the border at Wepener, or going deeper into the mountains, to spots like Malealea, or to the cultural attractions of Morija just to the north.
The gateway to the great mountains of the Berea District, where ancient San tribal cave paintings hide between the rocks and monolith villages – still inhabited, mind you – emerge from the dusty cliffs, Teyateyaneng (often conveniently referred to as just T.Y) is one of Lesotho’s more enthralling and interesting highway towns.
It’s known for its earthy local craft markets, which boom with wood carvings and traditional costumes throughout the week.
There are also weaving galleries and the occasional mountain tavern to enjoy.
And the city is a great option for further explorations into Ha Kome and Hlotse.
Famed for its other moniker – the Selibeng sa Thut – Morija is something like Lesotho’s answer to England’s Cambridge or the US’s Massachusetts.
Long a center for learning, it’s considered the go to place to unravelling the mysteries and histories of the Basotho culture and past.
The main institution has to be the acclaimed Morija Museum and Archives, which contains fascinating relics that detail episodes of the Gun Wars, the Boer War and English colonialism in these parts.
The town is also the host of an annual arts and culture event, which brings traditional dance, live music and performances to the streets.
15. Sehlabathebe National Park
The paradise on the tops of the Maloti Mountains, Sehlabathebe National Park occupies around 68 square kilometers on the very roof of Lesotho.
It’s actually joined at the hip with the Maloti-Drakensberg Park National Park across the border in South Africa, and boasts the same breathtaking vistas of rolling highland savannah, wild flower meadows and verdant valleys overlooked by craggy faces of primeval stone.
Intrepid travelers flock here to ride across the plateaus on horseback, encounter semi-nomadic tribal peoples, and embark on some of the most beautiful trekking trails in the entire Qacha’s Nek region.