Are you heading to the world’s southernmost landlocked country and planning on driving in Lesotho? A few weeks ago I did just that and I’ve got some tips for you.
While I received numerous warnings beforehand telling me to be careful while driving in Lesotho, the experience was not nearly (not even close) as gnarly as the warnings; sure some warnings were possibly valid when Piet and Saartjie visited the Mountain Kingdom in 2002, and sure anything can happen at any time, but the whole journey was a pleasant and safe drive.
Driving in Lesotho: Info and tips
Here is some information about driving in Lesotho and tips I picked up along the road as I travelled. Click here to read about my 9 Lesotho Road Trip Highlights.
I don’t have a 4×4
Contrary to popular belief, you CAN visit Lesotho in a normal sedan. Of course you won’t be able to go up Sani Pass but you will be able to visit Katse Dam, Semonkong (where the highest single-drop waterfall in Africa is located), Ts’ehlanyane National Park, Bokong Nature Reserve (but there’s not going much on there), AfriSki and you can go up a few passes. Thanks to Highland Water Project of Lesotho, there are a great network of tarred roads (all the aforementioned destinations are reached via tarred roads).
Don’t let the lack of a 4×4 come between you and your adventure in Lesotho.
Of course, I you do have a 4×4 you will be able to go more places and get a more off the beaten path experience. I used the Isuzu mu-X – a multi utility crossover – in Lesotho and while I did explore a few minor dirt roads, I did not traverse over terrain limited to 4×4 vehicles only due to the fact that I was travelling all by myself. But, the mu-X behaved well on the roads I did go on with its ground clearance of 230 mm; the condition of dirt roads can quickly change in Lesotho because of weather and I did use the 4-High mode on the Terrain Command 4×4 system and Hill Descent Control, a feature that keeps your foot off the brake and the vehicle at pace of 4 km/h. Regardless of the fact that the mu-X has extensive underbody protection and a good ground clearance, I still – for the sake of safety – rolled a boulder the size of almost two soccer balls out of the way that was centre of the road.
*I didn’t roll as much as I shouldered and pushed it actually, it came with sound effects and everything. Good thing I was completely alone.
Avoid Maseru’s border crossing over a weekend. There are more than 10 overland border crossings between SA and Lesotho; not all have tarred roads (like at Sani Pass); Caledonspoort (close to Ficksburg) and Telle Bridge (close to Aliwal North) are quiet border crossings with tarred roads leading out of SA and into Lesotho. Some border crossings are open 24 hours while others open 06h00 and close at 22:00.
You have to pay road tax when crossing the border, the tax depends on the size of your vehicle; I paid M30 (R30) for the Isuzu mu-X (SUV size).
The Lesotho Loti is pegged to the South African Rand on a 1:1 basis, it’s all the same. Both currencies are accepted in Lesotho but don’t be fooled by the colour of the notes, a R10 might be green in South Africa, but in Lesotho a green one is M100 (R100).
Know what vehicle papers you need to have when crossing the border (different requirements for travelling in your own car, someone else’s and a rental car). These documents usually includes a permission letter from the rental company/car owner, a certified copy of vehicle registration/license papers, sometimes a bank letter or a police affidavit.
I travelled with a vehicle belonging to Isuzu Motors South Africa and had a permission letter with me and a certified copy of registration papers. If you travel with a rental car, let the rental company know where you are planning to go beforehand.
These papers were not checked and I was stamped in and out of Lesotho within a minute.
You don’t need one.
You need TWO emergency triangles in Lesotho and you can be fined for having only one.
Check your spare tyre, and don’t only check to see if you have one, pump that thing, and know how to change a tyre. If you do get into a tricky situation you’ll find that the locals are extremely helpful.
Get a sim card
I never switch on roaming, I always pick up a local sim card and in Lesotho I used Vodacom Lesotho (it was about R25 for sim card). You pay R50 for just over one gig and it is valid for a week (there are other options too). Your phone’s internet settings might not switch to Vodacom Lesotho automatically and you can simply call the helpline at 114; they’ll ask you what type of phone you have and guide you from start to finish. Despite all the mountains, cell phone signal is really good.
Before my arrival I bought two maps of Lesotho, from MapStudio and AA, (since I didn’t know if I would be able to use Google Maps on my phone). Both maps are outdated and major roads, like the tarred A5, were missing. If you drive along the tarred roads and can’t use Google Maps, familiarise yourself with where you are going before you leave and get to know some of the village names between your destinations.
The speed limit is 100 km/h on national highways, 80 km/h on average roads and 50 km/h in built-up areas and villages. If you don’t know how fast to go where, rather stick to 60/70 km/h than 80/90 km/h.
Before and after every village. Often these bumps come with zero warning so keep an eye out as soon as you approach a village.
Getting pulled over
A lot of the warnings I received prior to my trip to Lesotho were about being pulled over by corrupt policemen. I got pulled over three times on the same day, and the one policeman was as friendly as the next; be respectful, stick to the speed limit and make sure your car’s license is valid.
Keep in mind; you must come to a complete stop at any stop sign. If there’s a road block ahead, wait for the police officer to show you that you may move forward. All fines should be paid at a local police station and cash should not be handed over to the officer who stopped you.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that 120 km will take you just over an hour; allow enough time to reach your destination and if you don’t know how long it will take, ask your accommodation place for advice.
The major thing to look out for on Lesotho’s main tarred roads is actually not potholes, but rather fallen rocks/stones and also livestock; expect the unexpected, expect donkeys, horses, cows, goat and sheep around every corner and drive accordingly. To reach places like Semonkong Lodge, Maliba Lodge and Motebong Lodge, you have to venture off the tarred road and drive for a few hundred metres on a dirt road; these few hundred metres can become inaccessible for a normal car in extreme weather conditions; if you are unsure, call ahead and find out.
Black ice and snow
In winter, black ice and snow is not just a possibility but also a reality; don’t get yourself into a dangerous situation, check the weather ahead of time and avoid driving in these harsh conditions. Not even a 4×4 will help you in black ice; sleep in a bit longer as black ice forms usually at night and the shadow-y places are more exposed to sun midday.
Fuel stations are not widespread in Lesotho – fill up before you cross the border – you can find fuel in Roma, Maseru and Butha Buthe (and perhaps in bigger towns too). In some villages you can buy fuel by the bottle (but you’ll never know the quality). Keep in mind: fuel is cheaper in Lesotho so fill up before you leave.
If you have a 4×4, Lesotho will be your playground, but do you research about the roads you want to tackle. Knowledge is power.
And there you have it, now go explore!