The Kingdom of Lesotho is a land-locked country nestled between the Drakensberg and the Maloti mountain ranges and is completely surrounded by South Africa.
Roughly the size of Belgium, and containing the highest mountains in Southern Africa, it is known by some as Africa’s best kept secret, and that is absolutely true. The most fascinating thing about Lesotho is that it’s the only country in the world that is entirely above 1,000 metres, higher than any other country.
“The Kingdom in the Sky” as it is aptly nicknamed, is packed with the most breathtaking mountain ranges of all different shapes and sizes.
During my visit to Southern Africa I spent five days in Lesotho, and I can honestly say it is one of my favourite places in Africa. Still, there is so much to explore here, and from my travels in the country I discovered some very intriguing and fascinating facts, which I have compiled and put together in this post.
Scroll on to read 48 Incredible Facts about Lesotho:
Table of Contents
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33 General Facts about Lesotho
#1: The only country on earth that exists entirely above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft)
Lesotho has the “highest lowest point” of any country, no other country on earth has a base altitude of 1,400 metres, and more than 80% of the country sits 1,800m above sea level. Hence it is aptly nicknamed, “The Kingdom in the Sky”, “The Roof of Africa”, and “The Mountain Kingdom”.
#2: Lesotho is quite a small country
Ranked the 137th biggest country at 11,720 square miles, Lesotho is very sightly smaller than Belgium (11,787 square miles), and just a little larger than Albania (11,100 square miles). Though what is considered in Europe tends to be seen as small in Africa. Compared to US States, Lesotho is slightly smaller than Maryland, US.
#3: Maseru is the capital city
The city is located on the Caledon River, on the country’s north-west border. The name of the city means “red sandstones”.
#4: The name “Lesotho” roughly translates as “land of the people who speak Sesotho”
#5: A land-locked nation
Lesotho is a country within a country, surrounded on all sides by South Africa. It is situated around 300 miles south of Johannesburg, or just 50 minutes by airplane.
#6: Lesotho has one of the highest adult literacy rates in Africa
The literacy rate for women is higher than that of the men. Men are mostly occupied in livestock and subsistence farming from a young age.
#7: One of the 3 remaining kingdoms in Africa
The other two are Eswatini (Swaziland) and Morocco. Lesotho is officially a constitutional monarchy.
#8: Letsie III is the current king of Lesotho
Reigning since 1996, he did sit on the throne temporarily between 1990-1995, while his father was in exile. He was educated in the UK at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire and at Bristol University. Letsie III has three kids, including his heir, Prince Lerotholi.
#9: Lesotho is classified as one of the Least Developed Countries in the world
#10: 75% of the population live in rural areas
Animal herding and agriculture is their main occupation.
#11: One of the few places on earth where you can gaze at the Galaxy
Lesotho is a high-altitude country, situated at an elevation of 2,161 metres above sea level. This means that not only is the mountain air pure and fresh, but the skies are so clear you get the most incredible views of the stars above.
#12: Lesotho enjoys 300 days of sunshine every year
Rainy season in the country falls between October and April. During the winter months the temperature drops and the mountains become snow-capped.
#13: One of many land-locked African countries
Lesotho is not alone in being far away from the sea. Africa has more landlocked countries than any other continent, with 16 of the 45 members of the planet’s No Coast Gang.
#14: A Homogenous country
More than 98% of the population of the country belong to the Basotho ethnic group, making Lesotho one of the most homogenous countries in the world.
#15: Lesotho is pronounced “le-soo-too”
#16: Lesotho has one of the world’s smallest road networks
There is just 3,700 miles of roads in Lesotho, which is not surprising for a a highly mountainous country. Nevertheless, it has witnessed a huge expansion in the past 50 years. At the time of independence, the only paved highway was the Kingsway – which linked the royal palace to the airport.
#17: The Basotho hat is an iconic symbol of Lesotho
The famous comical woven hat features a distinctive knot at the top, and is a common sight amongst farmers all over the rural countryside. The hat design is also featured on the national flag of the Lesotho.
#18: Nearly half the population lives in poverty
As of 2022, more than 40% of the population of Lesotho is below the poverty line. Many women in the country also work because of poverty, as a result of their husbands unemployment or due to the death of their husbands.
#19: A large chunk of the population work abroad
This is due in part to the lack of work opportunities and the expanding population of the country. As a result, foreign remittance plays a significant role in Lesotho’s economy.
#20: Lesotho has three rivers all originating from the Lesotho Mountains
They are the Caledon River, The Orange River, and the Tugela River, the latter which flows into South Africa and forms the world’s tallest waterfall, Tugela Falls.
#21: The Katse Dam in Lesotho is the second-largest double-curvature arch dam in Africa
At 185 metres high and 710 metres in length, the project cost $8 billion and the dam was completed in 1996. Water delivery from the Katse Dam officially began on 22nd January 1998, however, the majority of the water from the dam is transported solely by gravity into South Africa, whom pays $35 million annually to Lesotho to supply water to the Gauteng region.
#22: Population increase is causing desertification, soil erosion, and overgrazing
Due to this, the quality of life in the country is being adversely affected.
#23: The South African Rand is accepted freely everywhere in Lesotho, but the Lesotho Loti is not accepted in South Africa
#24: Pap (or Pap-pap) is the daily staple food of the people of Lesotho
The dish is made of a cornmeal porridge consisting of oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk). The porridge is accompanied with a thick sauce made from vegetables, peas and other chopped greens.
#25: 23% of the country’s population has HIV/AIDS
The majority affected are young women between the age of 15-40 years. The government is taking steps to combat the disease with the help of technology and better education and awareness programs.
#26: The Basotho Blanket is the traditional dress
Made almost entirely from wool, the blanket protects the wearer from freezing temperatures during the harsh cold winters. These blankets contain colourful patterns and are their cultural identity as well as a status symbol. The woollen balaclava is another typical feature (leaving only the eyes free), and the gumboots.
#27: Maletsunyane Falls, a 192 metre-high waterfall in Lesotho
A visit to Lesotho would be incomplete without witnessing the incredible views at Maletsunyane Falls. The world’s longest abseil is adjacent to the waterfalls – completing this activity results in being awarded a Guinness World Record approved certificate!
#28: Cows are valued above money in Lesotho
Beef is the most important meat in the country, with cows slaughtered on special occasions, whilst sheep and goats are also raised for wool, milk, and meat. Chicken provide fresh eggs popularly eaten at breakfast.
#29: Diamond mining is an important part of the country’s economy
It accounts for 9% of Lesotho’s total GDP. 4 of the 20 largest diamonds ever discovered came from Lesotho.
#30: Beer and tea are very popular in Lesotho
Tea is often served with fried cakes while locally brewed beer is preferred by many households across the country.
#31: Kids play football and listen to music to entertain themselves
#32: Water here is known as “white gold”
This is due to the natural and plentiful abundance of pure clean water in the country. South Africa depends heavily on Lesotho’s water supply for some of its regions, making it a lucrative trade.
#33: The Basotho are extremely friendly people
Last but not least, one of the greatest things about Lesotho is the kindest and generosity of the Basotho people. Everywhere you go in the country, they will smile, greet you and wave at you, and will make you feel very welcome in their country. This is one of the big differences that you’ll notice between Lesotho and South Africa.
Here’s an incredible drone footage video below of Lesotho:
7 Historical facts about Lesotho
#34: Lesotho was formerly known as Basutoland
It was previously called the British Crown Colony of Batusoland.
#35: A dinosaur is named after the country of Lesotho
The Lesothosaurus means the ‘lizard from Lesotho’. It was in Lesotho that early dinosaur fossils were first discovered.
#36: In 1868, Lesotho became an official British Protectorate
Lesotho was previously known as the British Crown Colony of Basutoland, from 1868 until it declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. Now a fully sovereign state, it is a constitutional monarchy known as the Kingdom of Lesotho and is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the African Union, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
#37: The people of Lesotho are known as the Basotho
And an individual person is called a Mosotho. Their language is called Sesotho, one of the two official languages (alongside English).
#38: The country gained independence from British rule in 1966
After nearly 100 years of British rule, the country declared independence on 4th October 1966, after which the name was changed from Basutoland to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
#39: March 11th is celebrated as “Moshoeshoe Day”
The day commemorates the death of the founding father of the country, Moshoeshoe I, on 11th March 1870. He was a great ambassador and leader known as one of the world’s finest diplomats due to his successfully appealing to Queen Victoria to establish the country as a British Protectorate to defend itself from neighbouring hostile Zulu and Boer forces. Moshoeshoe I worked tirelessly to preserve the country’s rich heritage, language, arts and culture.
#40: Lesotho became a constitutional monarchy in 1933
After decades of struggle between Lesotho’s reigning monarchs and the country’s government, resulting in abdications and military coups, the current King Letsie III is head of state serving as a ceremonial function, but no longer possesses any executive authority and is prohibited from participating in political initiatives.
8 Lesser known facts about Lesotho
#41: Lesotho is one of three of the world’s ‘enclave’ states
An enclave is a country that is entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state. Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South Africa. The other two enclaves are the Vatican City and San Marino, both completely surrounded by Italy.
#42: Home to the highest ski resort in Africa
Yes, you can ski in Lesotho. The country is home of Afriski, a winter sports enclave situated in the Maloti mountains 3,050m above sea level. The downhill area is not particularly vast – just a 1km-long piste. But it does operate during the winter season (June-August), and is just 4.5 hours drive from Johannesburg.
#43: Funerals and weddings are expensive occasions
For a Lesotho family these events are costly as they have to serve delicious foods to the guests and neighbours.
#44: Radio is the most popular form of media in the country
Indeed, the good old fashioned radio is still the go-to method of media in Lesotho. The country also receives radio and television stations from South Africa.
#45: Home to the highest altitude pub in Africa
At 2,874 metres above sea level, this pub is situated at the end of the iconic Sani Pass right at the border with South Africa. A chilled beer is very welcome after diving the scenic pass starting in South Africa, and to top it all off, you’ll be met with the most stunning views from the top.
#46: Almost 90% of goods consumed in Lesotho are imported from South Africa
This makes sense being an enclave country. However, to avoid the cost of importing food from South Africa, most families raise their own wheat, corn, cabbage, pumpkins, peas, and more.
#47: Lesotho is home to one of the largest dinosaur footprints
The footprint belonged to the Kayentapus ambrokholohali, a 200-million year old giant carnivore that used to roam the continent. It is estimated the species stood at 2.7 metres high and was 9 metres long. The footprint was discovered in 2016 in the Roma valley near the National University of Lesotho.
#48: Home to one of the world’s scariest airstrips
The Maketane airstrip is considered one of the scariest and probably the most dangerous runways in the world. The length of the runway is a mere 400 metres (1,300ft) long, which ends right at the edge of a cliff with a 600 metre (2000ft) drop.
So there you have it – 48 of the most fascinating, curious, and fun facts about Lesotho.
I hope you find this post an interesting read, and that it inspires you to visit this wonderful country some day!
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Lesotho Wiki Facts:
More information, statistics and general information about Lesotho, updated as of 2023:
- Motto: “Khotso, Pula, Nala” (Peace, Rain, Propserity)
- Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
- Monarch: Letsie III
- Prime Minister: Moeketsi Majoro
- Independence from United Kingdom: 4 October 1966
- Land area: 30,355km2 (11,720 sq miles) (rank: 137th)
- Capital city: Maseru
- Population: 2,175,699 people.
- Currency: Loti (LSL), South African Rand (ZAR)
- Languages: Sesotho, English
- Religions: Christianity (92.3%), traditional faiths (6.4%), other (1%).
- National Holiday: Independence Day, 4 October, Ascension Day, 13 May
- Highest Mountain: Thabana Ntlenyana, 3,482m (11,424ft)
- Largest Lake: Lake Letsie
- National Dish: Pap-pap
- National Flower: Aloe Polyphylla
- Member of African Union: Yes
- Official Website: www.gov.ls
- Time zone: UTC+2
- Driving side: left
- Country Number/Prefix: +266
- Country Code: LS
Commonly Asked Questions
It’s the only independent state on earth that exists entirely above 1,000 m (3,281 ft).
Lesotho has the “highest lowest point” of any country, no other country on earth has a base altitude of 1,400 metres above sea level. Hence it is aptly nicknamed, “The Kingdom in the Sky”.
Lesotho is famous for its breathtaking scenery which includes snow-capped mountain ranges during the winter and is one of the few places on earth you can properly gaze at the galaxy above. At the heart of the country is the Sehlabathebe National Park on the Maloti Mountains, which boasts rich plant, animal and bird life.
Lesotho was previously a British Protectorate known as the British Crown Colony of Basutoland, from 1868 until it declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1966. Now a fully sovereign state, it is a constitutional monarchy known as the Kingdom of Lesotho and is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the African Union, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Lesotho’s national animal is the black rhinoceros, a species whose conservation status is sadly critically endangered.
Maseru is the capital and largest urban centre of Lesotho. The city is located on the Caledon River, on the country’s north-west border. The name of the city means “red sandstones”.
The small, mountainous nation of Lesotho is the coldest country on the African continent.
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