GPS: S 29 18.763 E 027 28.695 | pop. 250,000 | elevation 1,538 m/5,046 ft
Maseru (meaning "the place of red sandstone"), which hugs the South African border, is the capital of Lesotho. It’s by far the most developed and largest city in the country and continues to expand as more people move to the area. Many visitors to Lesotho stop in Maseru for its selection of accommodation, restaurants, shops and modern conveniences before heading off into the interior.
GPS: S 29 20.793 E 027 39.838 | elevation 1,607 m/5,272 ft
Thaba-Bosiu is the most significant and revered historical site in the country. The mountain, with its steep cliffs and flat top was the place where Lesotho’s first king, Moshoeshoe I, established his stronghold in 1824. From this vantage point, the king and his men successfully defended the land against numerous attacks. King Moshoeshoe I and his successors are buried atop the mountain at the royal burial grounds.
GPS: S 29 27.089 E 027 43.238 | elevation 1,693 m/5,554 ft
Surrounded by sandstone hills, Roma is a small valley town that was established by missionaries in the 1860s. A number of missionary groups eventually founded various educational institutions in the area. Roma is home to Lesotho's only university, the National University of Lesotho.
GPS: S 29 27.486 E 028 05.755 | elevation 2,075 m/6,808 ft
Mohale is a small town that was built as a base for the companies and employees involved in the construction of the Mohale Dam. The town is mostly occupied by rows of boxy prefabricated worker housing tenaments, although one of the larger buildings has been converted into a lodge to host visitors who come to see the dam.
GPS: S 29 50.415 E 028 03.082 | elevation 2,219 m/7,280 ft
Semonkong (meaning “Place of Smoke”) was established in the 1880s as a refuge for Basotho villagers who were displaced by the conflict during the Gun War. Despite being in the middle of the mountains and a bit hard to access (unless you have a 4x4), it has one of the country’s top lodges and it attracts a steady stream of visitors who come to experience the pony treks, hikes, abseiling and waterfalls.
GPS: S 29 37.571 E 027 30.528 | elevation 1,669 m/5,476 ft
Morija is Lesotho’s cultural and historical capital. It was the site of the first European mission to Lesotho, witnessed the country’s first printing press and houses Lesotho’s oldest building and only museum. Every year in October the town hosts the Morija Arts & Cultural Festival (www.morijafest.com).
GPS: S 29 49.734 E 027 35.976 | elevation 1,821 m/5,974 ft
Southern Lesotho is a vast expanse of rural farmland and grassy rolling hills that is less developed than northern Lesotho. Although there are a handful of small commercial centers that dot the border, they seem more economically linked with towns in neighboring South Africa than with the rest of Lesotho. This is the perfect region to jump on a pony or set out on foot and trek to remote villages where you can experience the traditional way of life that many people in Lesotho still lead.
Malealea is a small mountain village in the southwestern part of the country. Few visitors would head to Malealea if it weren’t for the century-old, former trading post-turned-lodge that has become one of the country’s top attractions. The Malealea Lodge has integrated and involved the local community in its development, and owners have in turn established the Malealea Development Trust to support projects within the community.
GPS: S 29 49.350 E 027 14.633 | pop. 60,000 | elevation 1,666 m/5,466 ft
Mafeteng (meaning "the place of the passersby") is a small but bustling border town located 17 kilometers from the Van Rooyenshek border crossing (open 6am-10pm) that links up with the town of Wepener in the Free State. This industrial town is the capital of the district and although the largest city in the southern half of the country, it has few attractions.
GPS: S 30 24.005 E 027 42.041 | pop. 15,000 | elevation 1,517 m/4,977 ft
Quthing is the capital town of the district and the southernmost town in Lesotho. It is located about 20 kilometers from the Tele Bridge border crossing (open 6am-10pm) that joins the country with the Eastern Cape. The area around Quthing has a number of San rock art paintings and exposed dinosaur footprints.
GPS: S 30 07.078 E 028 41.069 | elevation 1,950 m/6,398 ft
Qacha’s Nek is a border town, located 2 kilometers north of the Eastern Cape that was established in 1888 and named after Ncatya, the son of chief Moorosi, who ruled over much of southern Lesotho in the early 1800s. Today there are a handful of historic buildings that remain, but other than hiking in the surrounding mountains there isn’t much to keep visitors here. It is the last sizeable town to stock up in for those continuing on to the east.
GPS: S 29 52.134 E 029 06.976 | elevation 2,410 m/7,907 ft
Sehlabathebe National Park (S 29 52.134 E 029 06.976, admission free) was established in 1969 as Lesotho’s first national park and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 650-square-kilometer park is located in the far southeastern part of the country along the eastern Maloti Drakensberg escarpment. It borders the Drakensburg nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal. A diverse ecosystem spans these mountain ridges that are teeming with birdlife, where rock overhangs and natural arches give way to grassy valleys, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Visitors can explore the park on day hikes from the main lodge or on longer overnight hikes with camping gear.
GPS: S 29 09.069 E 027 44.550 | elevation 1,710 m/5,610 ft
Northern Lesotho stretches from Maseru to Butha-Buthe and is the most developed region in the country. Cities are spread throughout the lowlands, nestled between the mountains in central Lesotho and the Caledon River that forms the border. Many of the cities form a border crossing into South Africa. It is a good region to spend a day exploring, but most of the accommodation within the cities is fairly sterile and more suitable to hosting conferences for government employees.
Teyateyaneng, or commonly called TY for short, means “the place of quick sands” because of the continuous shifting of the nearby river. It is also the craft capital of Lesotho. Hand-woven mohair products are the biggest hit in this town, and a number of craft shops sell detailed tapestries, bags and scarves in front showrooms while women work their craft in the back.
GPS: S 28 52.263 E 028 02.607 | elevation 1,646 m/5,400 ft
Leribe (or Hlotse) was established by a British missionary in 1876 and today is a bustling market town with a few crumbling colonial buildings left over from the town’s roughly 100 years as a administrative center under the British. Leribe is also the turnoff point for an interior road heading over the Maluti Mountains to the Bokong Nature Reserve and the Katse Dam.
GPS: S 28 46.057 E 28 15.131 | elevation 1,700 m/5,577 ft
Butha-Buthe was established as a tax collection post in 1884 so the local chief could pay taxes without having to travel all the way to Leribe. Today it is one of the more diverse towns in Lesotho with a sizeable Indian population. For those continuing on towards either the east or south, this is a good point to stock up on food, fuel and other supplies as the available options decline quickly in both directions.
GPS: S 28 45.251 E 028 29.700 | elevation 1,836 m/6,024 ft
Liphofung Cave (S 28 45.251 E 028 29.700, 2246-0723 or 2246-0813, www.lhwp.org.ls, 8am-5pm, adult M15, child M5) is a long sandstone overhang that has been used as a shelter for hundreds of years. The walls of the overhang are decorated with old San rock art, and it is said that King Moshoeshoe I stayed here when he traveled through northern Lesotho. Local guides are on hand to explain the significance of some of the rock art on the cave walls.
There is a Cultural Centre (8am-5pm Mon-Fri) located next to the caves with a small gift shop and displays on San rock art, artifacts and Basotho culture.
GPS: S 28 55.610 E 028 25.683 | elevation 1,934 m/6,345 ft
Ts’ehlanyane National Park (S 28 55.610 E 028 25.683, 2246-0723 or 2246-0813, www.lhwp.org.ls, M25/person, M10/vehicle) is a 56-square-kilometer park with grassy mountains and valleys that bring together the Ts’ehlanyane and the Holomo rivers. The park is a great place for backcountry camping and serves as a protected area for Lesotho’s indigenous forest, particularly the Leucosidea sericea, (also known as Ouhout), a large evergreen shrub that flourishes in high elevations.
GPS: S 29 04.181 E 028 25.546| elevation 2,940 m/9,646 ft
Bokong Nature Reserve (S 29 04.181 E 028 25.546, A25, 2246-0723 or 2246-0813, www.lhwp.org.ls, adult M5, child M3) is a 20-square-kilometer nature reserve high in the mountains midway between Leribe and Katse. The reserve is home to a number of bird species including the endangered bearded vulture as well as the small ice rat and rhebuck. One of the main attractions in the park is the 60-meter Lepaqoa Waterfall, which freezes during the winter into a tall, glassy ice pillar.
GPS: S 29 20.211 E 028 30.375 | elevation 2,055 m/6,742 ft
Katse is a small town that was built as a base for the companies and employees involved in the construction of the massive Katse Dam. The former workers’ quarters have been converted into a lodge and guest cottages that today host visitors who come to see the dam.
GPS: S 29 17.317 E 029 03.928 | elevation 2,192 m/7,192 ft
The Eastern Highlands are a beautiful section of Lesotho located high up in the towering snow-capped mountains. This remote region offers amazing drives, incredible views, some great hiking and the legendary Sani Pass. The main A1 artery that cuts through the mountains is paved all the way to Mokhotlong and navigable with most vehicles, however a 4x4 is highly recommend for those traversing the gravel and sometimes icy road from Mokhotlong to the Sani Pass.
Mokhotlong (meaning “Place of the Bald Ibis”) is the main town in northeastern Lesotho, but it is still very much a rural mountain settlement. It is the main supply town for rural villages, where you are just as likely to see locals riding ponies as driving cars. If heading south or east this is the last reliable place to stock up on food and supplies.
GPS: S 29 35.073 E 029 17.150 | elevation 2,875 m/9,432 ft
The Sani Pass is the highest mountain pass in the country and the only vehicle-accessible border crossing between Lesotho and Kwazulu-Natal. The pass is a gravel road with tightly wound switchbacks on both sides. The pass reaches 2,875 meters with beautiful views. At the top on the Lesotho side of the border you can enjoy a beer at the Sani Top Chalet - the “highest pub in Africa.”