A couple weeks ago I headed down to the bottom of the world to South Africa to spend a week volunteering at a local school there teaching computers. On the weekend after this I decided to head to the country of Lesotho for a couple days. After all, I doubt it would be anytime soon that i’d be back to South Africa let alone somewhere like Lesotho. You’ve gotta make the most of every moment and make every moment count!
The capital city of Maseru has an international airport but they have a limited selection of flights, only flights from Johannesburg and are rather pricey. As an alternative we decided to fly from Cape Town to the city of Bloemfontein in the middle of South Africa. This flight only runs about $90-$100 compared to the $200-$300+ for the Cape Town to Maseru flights. From Bloemfontein it is about a 1.5-2 hour drive to the border of Lesotho and Maseru. Landing at Bloemfontein its hard to believe this little airport in the middle of corn fields is an international airport. Literally, I felt truly like being back home in the countryside. You deplane on to the tarmac but its such a small airport that you just walk to the terminal a few meters away.
There are several car rental companies at this airport. We went with Europcar as they seemed to be one of a few with automatic transmission cars. Neither of us know how to really drive manual enough to navigate the mountainous roads of Lesotho so we figured automatic would be the best bet and for only a few dollars more, why not. Europcar offered a windshield and tire insurance option which in hindsight we should have taken as it covers any windshield and tire damages and actually only ends up being a few dollars per day each when splitting the cost.
So we got in our car and were off to Lesotho. Driving in this part of South Africa was just like driving outside Cape Town. Very clean, well maintained roads the entire way. Driving here is easy albeit a little confusing at first driving on the left for those of us used to driving on the right back home.
It was around lunch time when we reached the border of Lesotho. When you get to the South Africa side of the border just before the Maseru bridge you have to park the car and enter the immigration building. Here you will get a South Africa exit stamp and may or may not be asked any questions. I got no questions at all and was stamped through in a matter of minutes. After South Africa immigration get back in your car, drive across the bridge and again on the opposite side you will park your car once more, enter the immigration building and get your Lesotho entry stamp. There is also a fee of 30 rands (~$2-$3) for cars to enter Lesotho (but no fee coming back in to South Africa).
Heading in to Lesotho is like day and night From South Africa. South Africa is very well developed and very first world but Lesotho feels very much like a lot of the third world countries i’ve been to. Less developed infrastructure, chaotic traffic, lack of electricity or many services outside the city make this feel like a whole different world. After crossing the border we stopped in the city for a quick bite to eat at a French cafe, the only restaurant we could find before heading in to the mountains.
As you leave Maseru you’ll quickly notice a ton of potholes on the roads which will involve a ton of driving skill to effectively avoid. We did our best but ended up hitting a pretty gnarly pothole which caused the hub cap to fly off of the wheel and bend the rim of one of the front tires. When we went back to retrieve the hub cap another driver stopped and claimed the hub cap hit and damaged his car. We saw the hub cap fly off and it was nowhere near his car and besides, it was just one of the cheap plastic ones anyways. There was no damage to his car but he still initially pushed for compensation. After a minute he just laughed it off with us and let us go with our hub cap. At this point the tire rim had a huge bend in it so the cap would no longer fit.
We kept driving, heading towards the town of Semonkong and the Maletsunyane Falls that we really wanted to see! At some point our front right tire that was now bent also hit a screw and blew a hole. By time we arrived in Semonkong the tire too was flat. Throughout the drive we also noticed the gas gauge was broken and never went down off full. Great! By the time we reached Semonkong we had been driving for around 5 hours through lots of mountains so had presumably burned a lot of fuel and were anxious to find a gas station. There had been zero gas stations since leaving Maseru so we were getting a little worried at this point. There was no way we had enough fuel to make it back to Maseru at this point.
Arriving in Semonkong we quickly realized this was a rather small town/village so fuel might be difficult to come by. We stopped to ask when we noticed the flat tire. We quickly popped the spare tire on when a kid approached us offering help. He walked us to a nearby show that could repair the tire. For a mere 60 rands (~$4) the man at the shop hammered out the bent rim and fixed the hole in our tire in a matter of minutes! After the tire repair the kid then showed us a place where they had a large drum of fuel where we could refuel! What a relief! This day just made a complete turn for the better!
Unfortunately at this point we were about 30 minutes and one very rough dirt road away from the waterfall. There was no way our car could handle the journey so we opted to head back towards Maseru and stop for the night at one of the guest houses in one of the villages along the way.
Just as you enter the tiny mountain village of Nkesi we saw signs for Maluti lodge which looked quite nice on our way through. We decided to stop here for the night. A room with 2 beds cost around 800 rand (~$60 USD) and breakfast is included the next morning too. The lodge was run by a very nice English gentleman (Mark) and his wife (Mary). The guy I was traveling with brought a drone with him so he was finally able to log some airtime here as Mark was also fascinated with it. We got some incredible footage of the lodge and the surrounding mountains which we let Mark know we would send to him afterwards so he could use to promote the lovely lodge.
We spent the evening with Mark and Mary, had a delicious Indian meal and some great conversation. Mark even offered to drive us to the waterfall the next morning in his 4×4. As he claimed, you can’t come this far and not see it! We didn’t have to be back in South Africa until nearly 10pm for our train so we headed out around 8:30AM the next morning for the falls (a nearly 3 hour round trip journey)!
Mark was definitely right. You can’t visit Lesotho and go all that way not to see the waterfall! It was absolutely incredible. Words cannot do it justice! You are able to walk right up to the edge of the canyon looking down in to the lush green valley below and the waterfall in front was absolutely breathtaking. It felt like a scene from Avatar. Standing on the edge of the canyon looking down you could see a ton of birds flying around far below and the sound of the waterfall crashing on the rocks below in the distance. Looking all around, you are surrounded by the amazing hills of this mountain kingdom. It’s so peaceful, so serene.
After about an hour at the falls we headed back to the lodge and then parted ways heading back to Maseru, the border and ultimately back to Bloemfontein where we had an overnight train waiting to take us to Johannesburg by morning. Lesotho is truly a unique country and one which very few people know about let alone ever travel to. I’m so glad I took even a couple days to visit this Kingdom and see all of the truly unspoiled beauty it has to offer.