Lesotho: it’s likely a place your friends and family have never even heard of.
The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho (as it is formally known) is a tiny speck of country, totally surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho is completely off the beaten path, even for experienced African travelers. But it is a safe, beautiful, and interesting place to experience rural Africa for the first time, especially for solo female travelers.
If you’re traveling in Lesotho, brace yourself for a great time.
Lesotho is ranked eighth by the World Economic Forum when it comes to bridging the gender gap, and women take on a variety of roles in public life. It is even common for Basotho women to travel around the country alone. If you are interested in exploring rural Africa, gaining insight into Basotho culture, and trekking or other outdoor activities, Lesotho is a fun and safe place to explore.
Maseru is the place to access all transportation in, out, and around this small country (and likely will be your point of entry). Although Maseru doesn’t feel too urban, it is completely different from the rest of the country.
In Maseru, stock up on food (especially if you are planning a big hike) at Pick n’ Pay, a South African chain that carries pretty much everything you might need.
At night, hit up Good Times to get a taste for young and hip Lesotho. You will be among many women at this bar. Make friends! Make sure that you take a private taxi if you are out after dark, unless you are staying at Lancers Inn (recommended, though a little pricey), which is just a block away.
Semonkong is surrounded by mountains and is famous within Lesotho for its large waterfall. The waterfall here holds the world record for the highest commercial abseil, in case you are seeking an adrenaline rush. The Semonkong Lodge can help you organize walking or pony treks to explore the surrounding mountains and villages, and can arrange a female guide (if this is especially important to you, you can email the lodge ahead of time to be sure they have a woman ready!).
Where to Stay
Some other mountain lodges that can organize similar experiences and offer amazing views are the Ramabanta Trading Post and the Malealea Lodge. At any of theses places, you will be able to gain access to rural Basotho culture.
The Sani Mountain Lodge teeters on what feels like the edge of the world. Perched high in the Drakensburg Mountains just on the border of South Africa and Lesotho, this place is a fabulous spot to catch beautiful views, watch cars make their way up the famously steep and windy road or to grab a Maluti (Lesotho’s national beer) at Africa’s highest pub.
Sani Mountain Lodge offers both more expensive rondavels (traditional round houses) or a backpackers hostel just down the path which still has individual rooms. During the day, the lodge can help arrange a local guide to take you to neighboring peaks, including Lesotho’s highest. At night, dinner is served family style. Though many people just come up the pass for a drink and head right back down, I recommend spending at least a day (I spent three!) and exploring.
Minibus taxis are safe for women and can get you pretty much anywhere in Lesotho. Although it is a tiny country, Lesotho is very mountainous and does not have many paved roads. Plan for transportation to take time. If you are planning to move a long distance, start early!
The price of a journey is set—you do not need to bargain. If you have questions about the price, ask your fellow passengers what they are paying.
If you get to a minibus early, I recommend either snagging a front or window seat. These taxis will stop along their route and let people on and off, so a front or window seat will minimize the amount of moving around you have to do.
Although you are almost certain to be the only tourist, you will likely not be the only woman traveling alone. Make friends with women around you! If you have a problem, new friends are more likely to help you out than strangers on a bus.
Pack light and prepare to be squished! There really isn’t storage space on minibuses. Prepare to hold all of your belongings in your lap and to be surrounded by others transporting goods from Maseru to their smaller villages.
Cultural Tip: During the last weekend of the month, expect to be more squished and to potentially have to wait in lines for transportation. This weekend is just after payday and many Basotho people will travel from villages to Maseru to stock up on goods for the month!
What to Bring
Make sure to bring warm clothes! Even the lowest parts of Lesotho are in the foothills of the Drakensburgs. It can get cold, especially in winter. Remember that the seasons are opposite from the US and Europe, so be prepared for the right season.
If you are planning on trekking, especially for multiple days, bring a warm sleeping bag, a headlamp, and water purifier to cleanse water from rivers and streams.
If you get too cold, you can always buy a Basotho blankets, worn by both men and women in place of a coat all across Lesotho.
Cultural Note: It is appropriate to wear short or skirts that hit at your knee. Shorts or shorter skirts will not offend people, but you might hear a lot of laughter. Only young girls dress in shorter garments, so women who wear these look as though they are trying to dress like children.
Don’t be out alone after dark. This is common sense, but is true in even the smallest of Basotho villages.
There are not many tourists in Lesotho, so be prepared to attract attention. Mostly, people will just express interest and curiosity, but have an exit strategy in any situation. Be aware that there are many places in Lesotho that do not receive cell phone service.
Look for places and spaces with other women. If you are the only woman in sight, you should probably leave. Immediately.
Cultural Note: In Basotho culture, friendliness goes a long way. It is important to greet everyone you meet or pass (especially outside of Maseru) or else locals may be offended. A simple “lumela” (doo-may-la) will do.
Final Note: Don’t expect to get your stereotypical Africa experience here—you won’t find sandy beaches or safaris (head over to South Africa before or after for these experiences)—but you will get a chance to experience life in the mountains and hopefully, the opportunity to converse with many wonderfully warm Basotho people.
Tsamea ka Khotso (Go in Peace!)