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Lesotho

Lesotho, sometimes known as the “Mountain Kingdom” or “The Kingdom in the Sky” because it’s home to some of the highest and most scenic mountain peaks in Southern Africa, is a tiny landlocked country tucked away in the middle of South Africa. Accessible from South Africa by road or air, with its main airport, Moshoeshoe I International Airport in Maseru, the capital, it’s a lovely off-the-beaten-track destination for travellers looking for big sky country, superb mountain views and few people.

First founded by the great king, Moshoeshoe, in the 1820s, Basutoland became a British Protectorate in 1884, finally achieving independence in 1966 and being renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Your clients can head out from its capital, Maseru, Lesotho’s only sizable city, to the peaks and valleys beyond and discover some of Southern Africa’s finest scenery.

In Lesotho’s south-eastern corner, in the Qacha’s Nek district, your clients will find the breathtakingly beautiful Sehlabathebe (pronounced: sella-ba-tebbie) National Park, which forms part of the larger Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. The park lies at altitudes of between 2 200m and 2 900m, and just outside its northern border, the mountains, often snow-capped, soar to 2 900m. The Orange River, South Africa’s longest river, flows through the park on its meandering journey west to the Atlantic Ocean.

Sehlabathebe is one of the least visited areas of Southern Africa, so if your clients are searching for big sky country; wilderness; limitless horizons; alpine mountain meadows full of wildflowers; grasslands; clear freshwater pools; sandstone peaks; and rocks, arches and caves shaped by wind and weather over millennia into fantastic shapes, then they should look no further than this stunningly beautiful national park.

Accommodation, including campsites, is available, and if your clients can tear themselves away from taking photographs; hiking the many trails; admiring the approximately 65 known rock art sites; spotting rare birds such as the bearded vulture, Drakensberg rockjumper and yellow-breasted pipit; and glimpsing the scampering herds of grey rhebok (like smaller versions of South American lamas), then they may want to go fishing, pony trekking or just soak up the views.

A bearded vulture.

A bearded vulture.

(Image: Alastair Rae)

They should wrap up very warmly in winter as it can get bitterly cold high in the mountains. The name Sehlabathebe in the local language, Sesotho, means “plateau of shields”, and it’s here on a high, windy plateau that a great battle between warring tribes was once fought.

The Katse Dam in the Maloti Mountains, a major joint international undertaking, forms part of the huge Lesotho Highlands Water Project that exports water to neighbouring South Africa. It is one of Africa’s largest dams, and your clients can enjoy sweeping views of its 45km of flooded valleys from the scenic Mafika Lisiu Pass.

For history buffs, a visit to Thaba Bosiu sandstone plateau, Lesotho’s most famous historical site and the country’s greatest national monument, is a must. This flat-topped mountain, with excellent grazing and freshwater springs, lies about 20km east of Maseru and was the site where King Moshoeshoe I established not only his citadel, but also the birth of the Basotho nation.

From the tourist office at the base of the mountain it’s an easy climb to the summit, where your clients’ accompanying guide will regale them with tales of the history and culture of this tiny nation.

There are also sweeping views from the summit, including that of the strangely shaped Qiloane pinnacle, the legendary conical mountain that is the inspiration for the top-knot on the traditional Basotho hat (an essential souvenir).

Your clients can also go skiing at a ski resort in the Maloti Mountains in northern Lesotho in June, July and August.

Qiloane pinnacle.

Qiloane pinnacle.