Having spent a day in controversial Johannesburg, we decided to use the final 3 days of our journey for venturing into the unknown kingdom of Lesotho which is entirely surrounded by South Africa. Although located literally within such a popular destination, Lesotho remains a black spot on the tourist map of the world. And, for us, that was a good reason why we wanted to see it. From our experience, usually, the less visited and less popular the place is, the more excitement of discovering its authentic and unique culture awaits for the visitors - still unspoiled by cheap souvenir stands and hordes of tourists. It was the case with places like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan or Albania. And after all, we hadn't been mistaken about Lesotho either - it turned out to be an amazing, beautiful and inspiring country.
How to get from Johannesburg to Lesotho
It's quite surprising why such a unique and beautiful place like Lesotho is so unknown. When we asked for information about how to get to Lesotho in Johannesburg at tourism centers, the staff thought we'd wanted to do a Soweto tour (I've described it in the article about Johannesburg here), no one knew how to get to the country of Lesotho.
One taxi driver, after doing some research offered to take us all the way to the border (for a ridiculous price) and said that after crossing we would have to look for another person to take us to where we wanted.
There are local buses that run to Lesotho's capital - Maseru, but to get information about them seemed almost impossible. Alternatively, you can fly - but it's extremely expensive. Also there's no point to come to Maseru if you don't have anything arranged - the tourist infrastructure in Lesotho is scarce.
What's more, we had only 3 more days in South Africa and it wasn't enough time to arrange everything separately not knowing how long it all would take. We really didn't want to spend more time in Johannesburg, one day visit was more than enough. Then, we came across a 3-day tour to Lesotho on the Internet with everything included (transport, food, accommodation and additional extras like a mountainous pony trek) for a great price of less than 200 EUR/220 USD per peson!
500 km (300 miles) ride from Johannesburg to Lesotho
The staff from the tour agency we had booked with were really relaxed. They arrived in a small bus to pick us up early in the morning and it turned out that only two of us will be traveling all the way to Lesotho! This also demonstrated how unknown Lesotho is! But, for us, it was great as the couple were easy going, not stiff or official at all, and we had the entire bus for ourselves - it made the long, 7-hour journey considerably more comfortable.
The border crossing went pretty quickly and soon after we ended up in Lesotho. At first, the capital Maseru, looked like a small town in South Africa, however the suburban areas were poorer. The quality of main roads was surprisingly excellent and the landscapes got better and better the further we got from the capital.
Our accommodation was reserved in a little, picturesque village of Malealea - here, it was the end of good roads and the only gravel and uneven path leaded to the center. If you intend to drive on your own, bear in mind that you should have a suitable car for this kind of conditions.
The Malealea lodge was modest but clean and very pleasant. There were two sections: more luxurious (which you would consider normal in a developed country) and very basic with simple huts. In the middle of all this, there was a restaurant, pub and the office. It all felt like somewhere at the end of the world.
What surprised us (after the empty bus ride), there were quite a few visitors from all over the world in the lodge. Nevertheless, it was a very peaceful and unique place.
We were accommodated in the basic hut - very tiny one, made out of mud, it looked like typical houses from Lesotho's countryside. There was only one room, no toilet or electricity in it. There was a separate building with showers and toilets outside, but due to water shortages, the showers worked only one hour in the morning and one in the evening.
If you're not comfortable with such conditions, you should ask for better huts which have a shower and power outlets inside. For budget travelers and backpackers, it's not a problem to stay in the basic hut for 2 nights, however. It was actually quite a unique and pleasant experience.
Power outages in Lesotho are a norm, although in the evening, everything was working in the cafe/bar area. What might surprise you, there was also WiFi available and it was running pretty smoothly!
The local choir
In the evening, a choir and a band composed of the local community members entertained the guests. There was no set price, you could tip if you wished to do so. It is a good source of income for the village people as resources and opportunities in Lesotho are very limited. The choir was nothing fancy, the singers weren't professional and didn't wear any spectacular outfits. They used only their voices and simple, hand made instruments. But this complete lack of pretentiousness made the event even more magical, authentic and moving. And, it made me realize how lucky we are just to be born in the west and have such an easy access to all the frills of the modern world. Watch the youtube videos below to hear the beautiful voices:
Malealea Pony trek
There are many hikes and treks available in the area. The local guides speak English, are very friendly and you can change the set route or combine two routes into one. We wanted to see one of the local villages, houses inside, people wearing the traditional clothes as well as the bushmen paintings which the area is famous for. Our guide agreed to take us a bit off the beaten path and take the longer route. We mounted our ponies and set off on an amazing journey across the vast countryside of Lesotho.
The incredibly fresh air and rough scenery of canyons, gorges and mountainous peaks was stunning. Lesotho is the only country in the world with the entire area over 1000 meters above sea level! Also, the cleanliness and clarity is striking. The villages are very modest, simple and poor but well maintained and simply beautiful!
We had a chance to enter one house where an old woman lived (the rest of her family emigrated for work to South Africa). She made her own beer out of local maze and was clearly enjoying it. It looked murky, grey and smelled pretty weird so we weren't brave enough to try it. But our guide drank half a can!
Tohlong bushmen paintings
Malealea is famous for the bushmen paintings - on the rocks in the canyon near the lodge. There are three main sites close to one another (called Tohlong). It is not known how old exactly are the paintings and who made them. Some sources clam they are over a thousand years old, other - only a few centuries. The paintings depict daily life, hunting, wild animals as well as some spiritual practices carried out by the shamans.
Be prepared for another, additional guide who will take you down to the canyon. I suppose the locals try to earn as much money from the tourists as they can, but the tip you'll give him, surely won't break your bank. Lesotho is way safer and calmer than South Africa and its people are friendly and respectful. They are rather shy in the approach to tourists, unlike some cheeky, insolent con artists in other countries like Thailand or Morocco.
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