Places to Visit in Lesotho
Lesotho has several nicknames: the “Magic Mountain Kingdom”, the “Kingdom of the Sky”, or even the “Switzerland of Africa”. And while that last one might be stretching things a bit (I lived in Geneva, Switzerland for six years, and it didn’t look like Lesotho), there’s no doubt that this tiny African country is a mountain lover’s paradise.
Its lowest point is 1,400 meters above sea level, which is the highest by far of any country in the world. In fact, no other country has a lowest point that’s above 1,000 meters. Lesotho is also one of very few countries in Africa to have a ski resort.
If the grit of African cities is getting you down, an escape to this mountain paradise is the perfect antidote. We enjoyed Lesotho so much, we visited the country twice in the span of one week! Granted, we did this mostly to get around South Africa’s complicated visa requirements.
But even so, I genuinely loved Lesotho, and I would gladly go back a third time. Even though it’s such a small country, there’s still a lot that we haven’t seen yet.
Since it was the last country we visited on our three-month trip around southern Africa, we were pretty weary by that point. We took things easy, just doing some short day hikes and lazing around at our pleasant accommodation.
I don’t regret that decision at all, but it does mean that I have plenty of Lesotho tourist attractions left to check off my list. And after researching this article, I have even more!
Towards the end of the article, you’ll find a list of things to do in Lesotho that I hope to get to on my next visit. But first, I want to tell you all about the Lesotho attractions that we did see on our two visits, and the cozy lodges we used as our base.
Best Places to Stay in Lesotho
Lesotho Accommodation in Maseru
The main attractions when touring Lesotho are its people and its landscapes, so I don’t suggest spending much time in the capital city, Maseru.
But if you do get stuck here and need some cheap accommodation in Maseru for the night, I can recommend Maseru Backpackers. It’s a budget-friendly place run by an Anglican association called Durham-Lesotho Link.
Since we arrived there after dark, I wasn’t able to explore the grounds much, but it’s set in a very quiet area next to a reservoir on the outskirts of town. Just be aware that this is self catering accommodation, and it’s a bit far from all the restaurants in town.
Lesotho Accommodation in the Countryside
In general, though, you’ll want to spend most of your Lesotho travel time out in the countryside. There are several comfortable accommodation options in Lesotho that get great reviews.
I’ve read good things about Kubung Guest House in the village of Likileng, Bird Haven B&B in the countryside near Hlotse, and Aloes Guest House situated in the small town of Pitseng Ha Tau.
And then there’s Sani Top Chalets, which sits at the top of the Sani Pass on Lesotho’s eastern border with South Africa. Although Sani Top is probably more famous for its pub, which is the highest pub in Africa, than for its accommodation.
The two lodges in Lesotho where we stayed are Malealea Lodge and the Roma Trading Post Lodge. Both were very pleasant, but each had its own unique vibe.
Malealea is a very well-established lodge. It offers accommodation as well as many different recreational activities in Lesotho. They also work in close cooperation with the local community to carry out different social projects.
The lodge offers a variety of rooms, with prices ranging from about $25 for a double forest hut to about $50 for a double rondavel. There’s also a campground that costs about $8 per person.
It’s a very well-run place, but its popularity does mean that it receives a steady stream of tour groups.
Roma Trading Post Lodge
Roma Trading Post Lodge, on the other hand, is much quieter and only gets about one tour group per month. When we visited, it seemed we were the only people staying there, apart from two German volunteers working at a nearby community center.
The lodge is a couple of kilometres outside the small town of Roma, in a peaceful, rural setting. Our en suite room inside the old trading post stone house cost about $40 per night. It was beautifully furnished, with a fireplace and nice views from the windows.
We had read that they also had some cheaper rooms, but that didn’t seem to be the case when we arrived. But it was easily the nicest room we stayed in during our three months in southern Africa, so we didn’t mind ending the trip with a little splurge.
Lesotho Tourist Attractions near Malealea Lodge
Malealea Lodge is very well set up for Lesotho tourism and has lots of different activities to offer their guests. They also work in close collaboration with the local community and give back to the villagers in several ways.
The lodge owners have established the Malealea Development Trust, which trains locals to work as tour guides.
The hiking possibilities are endless in the Lesotho highlands. Staff know the trails well and can advise you on the best places to visit. We did two guided hikes during our stay at Malealea.
Our first hike was a short and easy one to the top of the Pitseng Gorge, where we could look down from an overlook into the beautiful gorge below. We had the option of hiking down into the gorge, which was tempting.
We’ve had some awesome experiences with gorge hiking, like when we hiked through the Vikos Gorge and the Samarià Gorge on Crete. But we weren’t feeling too ambitious on our first day and decided to just view the gorge from above.
Our second hike was a much longer one. It took in both the Botsoela Waterfall and some rock art in the form of ancient Bushman cave paintings. Even though the falls were not that impressive (nothing like the Iguaçu Falls in Brazil or even the Manchewe Falls in Malawi), it didn’t matter because there were so many beautiful vistas along the way.
It started raining just as we were coming back, and then once we were at the lodge it bucketed down and even hailed! We found the weather to be quite changeable in Lesotho, and often cold, even in late spring. So be sure to bring some warm clothes with you.
Band and Choir Performances
Even if you don’t want to do anything as strenuous as hiking, be sure not to miss the nightly band and choir performances at the lodge. These take place around sunset, just before the communal dinner is served.
Various musical groups take turns performing. All the members are locals from the village who make their own homemade instruments out of tin cans and other junk. Each group has its own style, and some of them are quite lively. You may even be invited on stage to dance with them!
My favorite was a band called “Sotho Sounds”, who you can see in the video above. They have been playing together for over a decade now, singing in both Sesotho and English. I loved them so much that I bought their CD, even though I don’t own a CD player.
Homestay or Meal with Local Basotho Family
The lodge staff can arrange for you to eat a traditional Basotho meal at the house of a local family in the village. We were excited to find out that they could prepare a vegan meal for us, which was very authentic and pretty tasty.
The dishes served were common vegan dishes in southern Africa that we had eaten plenty of times before. These were papa (maize porridge), baked beans and moroho (finely chopped leafy greens).
However, the experience was not quite what we were expecting. Instead of sitting down with us and eating together, the family served the food to us in their living room and then left us there to eat on our own. I would have really enjoyed eating with the family and chatting with them, so that was a bit disappointing.
According to the Malealea Lodge website, they can also arrange village homestays, where you sleep overnight in a local family’s home. From the description on the website, it seems that this homestay experience is intended to be an opportunity for cultural exchange.
If I had known about this when we were there, I would have jumped at the chance. It’s a shame that the spirit of exchange was not so evident during our lunch.
In fact, there are several other activities listed on the Malealea Lodge website that I would love to do on a future visit. These include village tours, a divination session with a sangoma (a local shaman), and a visit to a local farm where a villager has come up with an ingenious technique to prevent soil erosion.
Of course, horse riding is also a popular activity here. But that’s not something I ever want to do again, now that I know how harmful it can be for the horses.
Lesotho Tourist Attractions Near Roma Trading Post Lodge
Roma Trading Post also has plenty of activities on offer. If you’re into adrenalin sports like mountain biking or motocross, this is definitely the place to come.
Roma even hosts a six-day mountain biking race, and they’ve built a pump track here as part of the #pumpforpeace movement. The aim of this initiative is to make cycling and action sports more accessible to underprivileged communities.
But since I can barely ride a bicycle, much less a motorcycle, none of those options really appealed to me. Instead, we set out hiking on our own and stumbled upon something pretty cool: dinosaur footprints.
Lesotho is a great place for dino lovers. There are a number of locations in the country where you can see fossilized dinosaur tracks, left in the sandstone millions of years ago. The country even has a dinosaur named after it — the Lesothosaurus.
About a 30-minute walk from the Roma Trading Post is a slab of exposed, weathered sandstone with several sets of footprints. The dino who made them was a small, three-toed creature, with feet only slightly bigger than my own.
Apparently, the prints of a much larger, carnivorous dinosaur were recently discovered near Roma. Inquire locally to find out exactly where those are.
This mountain hideout has been declared a national monument due to its status as the birthplace of the Basotho people.
It’s where King Moeshoeshoe the Great first established the Kingdom of Lesotho in the 19th century. You can see his grave here, with a rather simple gravestone.
There’s not much else to see on this mountain plateau, but there’s a small info center and “cultural village” on site. Thaba Bosiu can easily be reached as a day trip from either Maseru or Roma.
Visit the Leratong Community Center
We met two German volunteers who were staying at the Roma Trading Post during their assignment at this community center. It’s a place where underprivileged children can play and also learn life skills that will help them in adulthood.
The volunteers invited us to visit the center and showed us around. From what we saw, they have a pretty good setup for the kids there, with books and a playground.
But they also have several computers that don’t work, and a bunch of tablets with no adapters. It’s eye-opening to see how the things that are donated to NGOs are often not what’s needed most.
In any case, we had fun chatting with the kids and watching them play. If you plan to visit, try contacting them first on their Facebook page to see if there’s anything they need that you could bring.
In addition to their more high-adrenaline activities, Roma Trading Post also offers guided tours of the community and visits with local families. If you give them advance notice when booking, they can arrange day trips by car to visit some of the sites listed below.
More Lesotho Tourist Attractions
We didn’t make it to these places on our first trip to Lesotho, or our second. Hopefully there will be a third!
Natural Attractions in Lesotho
Two national parks in Lesotho, Sehlabathebe National Park and Ts’ehlanyane National Park. Sehlabathebe National Park connects with the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa to form the cross-border Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site.
Ts’ehlanyane National Park seems to be the more accessible of the two and has accommodation options ranging from hostel-style dorm rooms to Lesotho’s only five-star luxury accommodation, the Maliba Mountain Lodge. There’s an amazing sounding 39-kilometer hiking trail that links the park with the Bokong Nature Reserve.
This dramatic horsetail waterfall plunges 192 meters from a Triassic-Jurassic basalt ledge. The name of the nearby town of Semonkong translates as “site of smoke” and is named so because of the mist created by the falls.
In fact, the falls themselves are also sometimes called the “Semonkong Falls”. Nearby Semonkong Lodge offers a variety of accommodation and activities, including a tour by a local flower expert where you will learn about many indigenous flowers and their medicinal uses.
Kome Cave Dwellings
I was uncertain whether to categorize this as a natural site or a man-made site. In the end, I figured that the caves are natural. They just happen to have people living in them.
Members of the Basia and Bataung clans hid inside these caves during the chaotic period in the early 19th century known as the Lifaqane Wars, and their descendants have been living here ever since.
Staff at the Kome Craft and Information Office just up the road can arrange a guided tour of the Kome Cave Village.
Man Made Attractions in Lesotho
It’s probably obvious by now that the main attractions of Lesotho are natural ones. But if you want to seek out some man made attractions, Major Bell’s Tower and the Maeder House Gallery are probably the most noteworthy.
Major Bell’s Tower
Major Bell’s Tower in Hlotse was built by the British in the late 1870s, during the Gun War. It was intended to serve as a gun tower, but for most of its life it has been used to store government records. With its stone walls and grass roof, it looks similar to typical Basotho huts, only taller.
Maeder House Gallery
Maeder House dates from 1843, making it one of the oldest buildings in the country. It was the home of François Maeder, who was both a missionary and an artist. Now it serves as a gallery where Bathoto artists can display and sell their works of art.
Next door, the Morija Art Centre offers artistic exchange programmes and studio spaces where artists can work.
It’s not something I’m personally interested in seeing, but some people are impressed by this feat of engineering. The 185-meter dam wall is part of a scheme to sell water to South Africa and also produce electricity for Lesotho.
Not surprisingly, it has led to environmental destruction. Perhaps a more worthwhile place to visit is the nearby Katse Botanical Garden. This garden serves as a kind of sanctuary for plants such as spiral aloes that were threatened by the dam.
You may be wondering why this section is titled “Basotho Food” rather than “Lesotho Food”. So, let’s clear that up first.
The language spoken in Lesotho is called Sesotho, and it’s a pretty fascinating language. Citizens of Lesotho are called Basotho, which basically means “the people who speak Sesotho”.
And the name of the country, Lesotho, means “the land of the people who speak Sesotho”. From what I’ve gathered, “Basotho” as an adjective also refers not just to the people of Lesotho but to anything that comes from this country or its culture.
Although actually, the proper name for the Basotho hat that’s featured on the flag of Lesotho is “mokorotlo”. And Basotho blankets have many different names, depending on their ceremonial use. But let’s not complicate things too much!
If you want to learn a bit of Sesotho before you visit Lesotho, the Bluebird Languages App teaches basic words and phrases in two different versions of the language — Northern Sotho and Southern Sotho. Or check out this free language course.
So anyway, what do people eat in Lesotho? And most importantly for us, what is there for vegans to eat in Lesotho??
What Vegans Eat in Lesotho
Eating at Lodges in Lesotho
Lesotho has fairly limited options for vegetarians and vegans, mainly because there just aren’t that many vegetables that can grow in this harsh mountain climate.
That said, we actually ate quite well at Malealea Lodge. They serve communal dinners there every night, using locally grown ingredients whenever possible.
And even though the set meal always included meat, they were happy to make something vegan for us on request. Our meals also cost less than everyone else’s, which was nice.
On most nights, they served us some kind of stew made with soya mince as our main dish. This is a powder that, when mixed with water, looks and tastes like minced meat. It’s perfect for making a bolognese pasta sauce, for example.
You’ll see soya mince sold everywhere in Lesotho and other southern African countries, even in the tiniest tuck shops.
The cooks added other ingredients to the stews as well, such as beans, peas or mushrooms, and served them with side dishes of gem squash, carrots or other vegetables. Everything was delicious!
We’re not big on breakfast, so in the mornings we would just eat a few doughnut holes. We bought these at the village store for about three cents each. These are also popular throughout southern Africa and go by different names. The easiest one to remember is the English name “fat cakes”.
For lunch, we used the communal kitchen to make our own meals with ingredients we bought at the village store. This was usually some kind of pasta dish. There weren’t many vegetables at the shop, but we could get tomatoes, onions and potatoes, as well as soya mince and a few canned goods.
Eating at Restaurants in Lesotho
In Roma, things got a bit trickier. The cooks there seemed a bit confused when we tried to explain what we do and don’t eat. So, we decided to just eat at one of the two restaurants in town or cook for ourselves.
A simple restaurant called Green House Food was able to serve us moroho (a leafy green), samp (cornmeal mush) and a carrot salad on our first visit. It was tasty and only cost about $1.50 for the two of us, including drinks!
But the next two times we visited, they only had samp, achaar (Indian pickle) and French fries. We also tried the only other restaurant in town, Kay-Cee’s, where a promising sign on the door read “Pizza Now Available”.
The exchange that followed went something like this:
Me: Do you have pizza?
Waiter: No, sorry, we just ran out of mozzarella cheese.
Me: Oh, that’s OK, we don’t eat cheese anyway. Can you make us a pizza with no cheese?
Waiter: Is it possible to make a pizza with no cheese??
Me: Yeah, sure it is.
Waiter: Sorry, we don’t have that kind of expertise here.
Me: It’s easy, you just make the pizza like you normally would, and then don’t put cheese on it.
Waiter: Really??! [Thinks about it for a minute … ] No. Sorry.
Self-Catering in Lesotho
The frustrations continued when we went shopping at the Roma grocery stores. Of course, if we’d just stuck to pasta, soya mince and ramen noodles, it would have been fine.
But Thanksgiving was approaching, and we were attempting to make some kind of celebratory dinner to share with the volunteers.
Nick was excited to find an eggplant at a Chinese-run store in town. But when we brought it to the cashier, she told us it was not for sale. It was for the shop owners to eat.
Meanwhile, I had vowed that I would make something for dessert. But even something as seemingly basic as cinnamon proved impossible to find.
I suddenly had a new appreciation for the cooks at Malealea Lodge, who had whipped up such delicious meals with so little.
In the end, we created what will certainly be among my most memorable Thanksgiving dinners, if not the most sumptuous. It definitely made me thankful for the abundance of food I have access to at home.
Starter – tomato soup with leftover soya mince sauce from our pasta dish the night before
Main – roasted potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and cherry tomatoes with garlic, mixed herbs and raisins
Dessert – baked apples stuffed with peanut butter and sprinkled with crumbs of ginger nut cookies
Have you ever improvised a holiday meal while traveling? How did it turn out? Let me know in the comments below.