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Lesotho is fortunate to possess a wealth of tourism assets, such as outstanding natural beauty and a unique cultural identity; factors which enhance its competitive edge in the international tourism industry and make the sector ripe for investment. These assets are complemented by the Mountain Kingdom’s close proximity to South Africa, which attracts more international visitors than any other destination in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Travel & Tourism Economic Impact Report 2017

Lesotho’s tourism sector is small in absolute size – 169th out of 185 countries in 2016 – according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in its 2017 Travel & Tourism Economic Impact Report. However, with a ranking of 69, tourism’s relative contribution to the national economy is much higher.

The WTTC report estimates that the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Lesotho’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was M1 520.5 million (US $103.4 million) in 2016, which translates to 5.3 percent of total GDP. It is anticipated that the sector will grow by 1.2 percent per annum in the 2017 to 2027 period to M1 686.0 million (US $114.6 million) or 3.8 percent of total GDP by 2027. This indicator reflects economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services), as well as restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists. At the same time, the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP, including both direct and indirect contributions, reached 12.2 percent in 2016 and is forecast to rise by 1.3 percent per year to M3 926.3 million (US $266.9 million) in 2027.

The travel and tourism industry directly supported 34 000 jobs in 2016, translating to 4.9 percent of total employment in that year, with this figure expected to rise by 5.3 percent in 2017. The industry’s total contribution to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by tourism, was 11.4 percent of all employment (79 000 jobs) in 2016. This is predicted to increase by 4 percent in 2017 to 82 000 jobs.

According to the WTTC, visitor exports generated M405.8 million (2.9 percent of total exports) in 2016, with this figure forecast to grow by 5.3 percent per annum between 2017 and 2027 to M689.7 million (US $46.9 million).

At present, most spending is generated by business travel at M2 672.1 million (89.7 percent), while leisure travel is responsible for the balance of direct travel and tourism GDP. In 2016, domestic travel spending generated 86.4 percent of direct travel and tourism GDP compared with 13.6 percent for foreign visitor spending or international tourism receipts.

TOURISM DEVELOPMENT VISION

The Government of Lesotho continues to identify tourism as a key pillar of development in its quest to diversify the economy. Recent achievements under the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture include:

  • Completing the zoning of Sani Top and Semonkong Tourism Development Areas
  • Developing the tourism destination brand and communication strategy
  • Developing the tourism business barometer
  • Celebrating Arts, Innovation and Culture Week
  • Completing documentation of oral histories and more than 65 rock art sites at Sehlabathebe National Park World Heritage Site
  • Development of the Creative Industries Empowerment Programme which has created access to the international market for 50 local producers, with US $97 000 generated for the 2016/17 financial year

Specific measures being adopted during the 2017/18 financial year include the introduction of a regulatory regime to promulgate sound legislation which will regulate the tourism sector for the benefit of domestic investors. Other policies and programmes to be finalised during the year include the revised Tourism Master Plan, Tourism Investment Policy and Tourism Promotion Strategy, and the Community-Based Tourism Blue Print.

In addition, Government is divesting its interest in Molimo Nthuse Lodge, Bokong and Liphofung chalets, Thaba-Chitja Island and Sehlabathebe chalets to aid job creation and improve the upkeep of these facilities. These will be transferred transparently, and without any form of conflict of interest, to investors in Lesotho’s tourism product. Grading of tourism facilities is also ongoing in order to uphold international standards of service. Furthermore, the cost of obtaining visas is being reviewed.

Having realised the importance of tourism to the economy, the Ministry of Education has introduced travel and tourism into Lesotho’s education curriculum in the form of a pilot project in nine schools across the country’s
various districts.

An amount of M220.8 million was proposed for the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture for the 2017/18 financial year. Of this amount, M90.1 million went under the recurrent budget, while M130.7 million was allocated to the development budget – M12 million from donor funding and the balance from government revenues.

Construction is nearing completion on the National Museum and Art Gallery, which is expected to open in 2020. The three storey building has been designed in the shape of a spiral aloe, one of Lesotho’s endemic species traditionally known as ‘Lekhala-Khaletsa’. The museum will include displays on the history of Lesotho and the Basotho people up to the present day, including their attire, norms and values, beliefs, food, animals and more.

During 2017 the World Bank approved US $13.4 million in additional financing for the Second Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP II). Part of this funding is going towards the construction of a Tourism and Handicraft Information Centre that will serve as a reference point and retail centre for both tourists and locals.

The Ministry’s medium-term priorities for the tourism sector include:

  • Tourism product development – Developing a National Tourism Development Plan and Community Based Tourism (CBT) Strategy; implementation of a tourism levy; promotion of tourism education and awareness.
  • Promotion and marketing – Development of a National Marketing Strategy; promotion of domestic tourism.
  • Developing infrastructure for conservation, preservation and proper management of heritage resources – Establishment of the National Museum and Art Gallery for conservation, preservation and proper management of heritage resources; digitisation of archival material.
  • Documentation, conservation, management and presentation of heritage resources – Conducting research on heritage resources in all the districts; design, production and installation of exhibition at Sehlabathebe National Park (oral history and rock art); establishing a copyright society; continuation of the annual Arts, Innovation and Culture Week.
Lesotho Northern Parks Guides in Ts’ehlanyane National Park © Anne Wade

Tourism statistics

Arrivals and accommodation statistics, tourism employment surveys and domestic tourism surveys are invaluable in making informed planning and investment decisions by players in the tourism sector. These statistics are also helping to facilitate the planning and design of marketing programmes in line with tourism sector needs and demands, as well as providing information for the provision of more competitive and attractive destinations.

Although Lesotho is yet to establish its own Tourism Satellite Account (TSA), a standard statistical framework for the economic measurement of tourism, the sector is currently estimated to be contributing about 3 percent to GDP. The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) is currently working with Lesotho’s Bureau of Statistics to establish the country’s own TSA, which is expected to be launched soon.

Visitors to Lesotho can now apply for visas online at http://evisalesotho.com, as well as find out what the particular visa requirements are for each country.

The 2017 Arrival & Accommodation Statistics Report and Visitors’ Exit Survey Report were released by the LTDC in September 2017. These statistics revealed that Lesotho welcomed a total of 1 196 214 visitors in 2016. This represents a substantial increase of 10.5 percent over the figure of 1 082 403 visitor arrivals in 2015. According to the same report, hospitality establishments recorded a marginal increase in revenue of M844 million in 2016, which is 2.7 percent higher than the M822 million generated in 2015.

The top three African source markets of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana represent more than 90 percent of all visitors, and South Africa continues to be by far the largest source market. International source markets include China, United States of America, United Kingdom, India, Netherlands and Germany.

More than half of all arrivals are from those visiting friends and family, while just over a quarter come to Lesotho on holiday, and about 10 percent travel for business purposes. The average length of stay for all tourists visiting Lesotho is around five nights. Those visiting friends and relatives stay the longest (seven nights on average), while leisure tourists stay for approximately four nights.

LESOTHO TOURISM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) promotes Lesotho as a preferred tourist and tourism investment destination, both locally and internationally, through strategic marketing and sustainable product and industry development in partnership with the private sector and the community. Robust private sector engagement forums are essential to improve the participation of business in all aspects of the tourism product.

The Domestic Tourism Strategic Survey revealed that there was a great deal of scope to stimulate domestic leisure tourism and thus reduce the exposure of the local tourism industry to fluctuations in international demand or seasonality, particularly because international tourism can be extremely sensitive to global political and economic factors. This resulted in the implementation of the ‘visit your country first’ campaign aimed at encouraging Basotho to travel locally.

The LTDC has been focusing on attracting more investment into the sector, especially in areas such as Semonkong, where the World Tourism Day celebration on 27 September 2017 was used as an opportunity to encourage the local community to engage in sustainable tourism activities. Activities lined up by the LTDC included public gatherings to create awareness on the importance of protecting natural resources and the general importance of tourism and its benefits to the local community. There were also stakeholder forums to discuss sustainable tourism opportunities.

Marketing and promotion

The LTDC has launched a new tourism brand identity and slogan for Lesotho. Designed to showcase the country’s high altitude, unique landscape and culture, Lesotho’s new positioning statement is ‘The Unexpected High’, while the new slogan is ‘The Kingdom in the Sky’. The new brand identity incorporates the country’s four signature attributes: welcoming, majestic, energetic and authentic.

Lesotho’s tourism product is promoted in international markets through articles in magazines and brochures (both print and electronic), as well as participation in international tourism fairs, such as Germany’s International Tourism Bourse and London’s World Trade Market. The country is also well represented at South Africa’s Indaba, the largest tourism marketing event on the African calendar and one of the top-three ‘must visit’ events of its kind internationally.

Lesotho’s revamped tourism website features the newly-designed logo which comes in different shapes and colours to represent the signature attributes of the Mountain Kingdom: culture, adventure, snow, peace, water and prosperity.

Digital technology has become a key element for visitors in planning and booking their holidays, as information on new and exciting places to visit is sourced and shared via the internet. In acknowledgement of the importance of a website in marketing tourist attractions, Lesotho has recently revamped its online presence at the LTDC tourism website: visitlesotho.travel. In addition to providing comprehensive tourism information on attractions, accommodation facilities and activities in different parts of the country, the redeveloped site is visually engaging, more interactive, user-friendly and easy to navigate.

With new studies revealing that 60 percent of travel searches start on a mobile device, and that travellers increasingly rely on mobile phones when they arrive in a new destination, LTDC has introduced the mobile app ‘Best of…’ to assist visitors to Lesotho. The app serves as a travel guide for anyone intending to explore new destinations in the country, and has an interactive map with GDP coordinates and directions. Travellers can see pictures, video clips and 3-D topography of popular attractions along the routes as well as details of medical services, financial services (banks and ATMs), schools, restaurants, accommodation facilities and more. The app can be downloaded from iStore or play store.

Lowlands Heritage Route

The LTDC has intensified its initiatives to ensure that communities benefit from tourism assets in their environs by launching the Lowlands Heritage Route, which encompasses tourist destinations in the four areas of Malimong, Ha Kome, Thaba-Bosiu and Ha Baroana. The launch was conducted in Kome village in the Berea District, where the community is expected to benefit from the anticipated tourist traffic to sites that include Malimong – widely believed to be the place where the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I’s father Peete, was killed.

Ha Kome, which is rich in archaeological information about the lives of the San – popularly known as the ‘Bushmen’ – as well as incidents of cannibalism in the 19th Century, is a well-known attraction. Other places to visit include Thaba-Bosiu, originally inhabited by King Moshoeshoe I, and the cave wall at Ha Baroana, which is covered with paintings of human figures, animals and birds. This is in addition to other rock art sites situated along the river amidst the spectacular terrain of the central Maloti mountain range.

The LTDC partnered with the STEP Foundation of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) to initiate this community-based tourism development project. Established Basotho tour guides were invited on a familiarisation tour of the route.

The initiative builds on earlier efforts to empower communities, such as the development of the Kome Rural Homestays Project in December 2014. The homestays seek to generate income for villagers through the provision of accommodation to tourists, who also enjoy the opportunity to experience Basotho culture and hospitality in a domestic setting.

The Lowlands Heritage Route provides visitors with a true Basotho cultural experience, including local tour guides, community interaction and homestay opportunities, while also enhancing rural livelihoods by stimulating enterprise development and income generation prospects.

Star grading

The implementation of the Quality Star Grading System will also go a long way towards supporting private accommodation providers to improve their facilities and ensure a world-class hospitality sector. The Grading Council, which is a division of the LTDC, was established with support funding from the World Bank and enjoys standards consistent with the RETOSA (Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa) harmonised standards.

The star grading system is an internationally recognised method of classifying the quality of any accommodation facility (hotels, lodges, guesthouses, bed & breakfasts, self-catering units and camping facilities) based on a one to five star rating. This is one of the first such programmes in the region to integrate grading standards that reflect both the overall quality of the lodging facility as well as its environmental impact and suitability for guests with disabilities. The emphasis is on features such as room size, furniture and linen, structural soundness, cleanliness, cuisine, bathroom facilities, service and reception facilities. The process is benchmarked on the experiences of Botswana and South Africa.

Establishments in strategic locations are being earmarked for upgrading. The popular Maloti Route is one of those targeted in order to ensure the legitimate development of this high-value travel corridor. Focusing on locations that are close to the Lesotho-South Africa border is also important in order to encourage South Africans to stay overnight in Lesotho rather than a cross-border establishment.

TOURISM ASSETS

Lesotho has unique tourism assets which set it apart from other destinations on the continent. Outstanding features include its high altitude and dramatic landscape of towering mountains and scenic river valleys, surging waterfalls and crystal clear streams, distinctive flora and fauna, and vivid cultural heritage, not to mention its status as one of the three remaining kingdoms in Africa. There are a variety of sites of geological, historical and archaeological importance, including rock art in the highlands and dinosaur footprints embedded in the sandstone of the lowlands. Moreover, as the only country in Africa with regular winter snowfall, it offers an exceptional African-cum-alpine experience unmatched in the region.

Adventurous motorists can tackle the meandering route and spectacular views as they travel from South Africa up the Sani Pass. This route featured in the rebooted ‘Top Gear’ TV series, which tested the endurance of the new Jaguar, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz in negotiating its tortuous hairpin bends.

Entering Lesotho at Sani Top, which rises 2 874 metres above sea level, visitors will be left with little doubt as to why the country is known as the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’. Africa’s highest peak south of Kilimanjaro, Thabana-Ntlenyana, is a 15-kilometre hike from Sani Top village. Travelling further into the highlands, the dramatic ‘Roof of Africa’ route unfolds through the 3 240-metre Kotesipola Pass, down into the valley below and the town of Mokhotlong. The 47-kilometre road between Sani Top and Mokhotlong has been upgraded to bitumen standard.

Sani Top has the highest pub in Africa and is a superb spot to take in the beautiful mountain scenery.

This remarkable mountain habitat is contains many rare and endemic species, and while wildlife is not prolific, the varieties to be found have made fascinating adaptations to their environment. These include rhebuck, mountain reedbuck, baboons, jackals and smaller animals such as rock hyraxes, mongoose, meerkats and ice rats. Reptiles include the small yet very rare berg-adder.

The mountain ranges are home to 280 different varieties of birds, some of which are endemic. It is quite common to see vultures and eagles soaring on thermals, with less usual species comprising the sentinel rock-thrush, orange-breasted rock-jumper and bald ibis. Birding takes place primarily between October and March, with the Sani Pass area ranking as one of the top ten birding spots in southern Africa. The cold mountain streams of Lesotho are good for fly fishing at most times of year, with the exception of the rainy season.

Fly fishing © Semongkong Lodge

Despite its subtropical latitude, Lesotho’s elevated altitude means that it is free from both bilharzia and malaria. The climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters, marked by clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine for more than 300 days a year. Long, hot summers are followed by warm autumn days that are ideal for hiking and pony trekking. However, these high altitudes also make weather patterns unpredictable, and beautiful cloudless conditions can rapidly give way to thundershowers or snowfalls.

During spring, the hillsides are adorned with a diverse variety of alpine flowers, while the valleys are covered in peach blossom and mimosa. Lesotho’s national flower, the spiral aloe, may be seen on the slopes of the Maloti Mountains.

Accommodation

The accommodation sector is one of the chief sources of tourism revenue and well as employment. Accommodation establishments in Lesotho encompass hotels, bed & breakfasts (B&Bs), lodges and guest houses, self-catering cottages and backpackers’ hostels. These range from sophisticated, well-appointed establishments, with casinos and conference facilities, to those which offer more basic amenities.

Lesotho has seen steady growth in the number of accommodation facilities over the past few decades. Maseru enjoys two large international hotels and an exclusive boutique hotel, and a variety of new establishments have been built throughout the country in the past several years, such as the luxurious Maliba Mountain Lodge and self-catering Riverside Lodge in Tšehlanyane National Park.

In addition, the rise of community tourism has seen more and more rural home-stays offered in villages where visitors are able to experience a slice of real Basotho life. These include Malimong, Ha Kome and Morija in Maseru district; Tsatsane in Quthing and Thamathu in Qacha’s Nek; as well as others in Moteng and Monontsa in Botha-Bothe district, and Matsoaing and Malubalube in Mokhotlong.

Skiing and snow sports

Lesotho’s picturesque countryside boasts snow-covered mountain slopes during winter, making it unique to Southern Africa and ideal for skiing and other snow-dependant activities. With most of the country lying at more than 1 500 metres above sea level, snow can fall up to nine months of the year, peaking during the winter months of June, July and August. In the highlands, snow skiing takes place below the Mahlasela Pass, which is just a five-hour drive from Johannesburg via the Caledonspoort border post.

Afriski Mountain Resort is Africa’s highest ski resort, and its slopes attract around 10 000 visitors every winter. Although winter is the busiest time, the resort is open all year round, proving an ideal venue for summer holidays, winter getaways, sporting adventure, team-building and conferences.

In winter the ski slopes are serviced by a 1-kilometre long T-bar lift, as well as three beginner lifts, with a travelator for complete beginners or children. A snowmaking system ensures that skiing is possible in winter, even when there is little natural snowfall. In summer, a range of adventure activities are on offer like mountain biking, monster rolling trails, motor biking, abseiling, hiking, and high-altitude fitness training.

Annual events at Afriski include the Winter Whip snowboarding Jam; Winter Fest music festival in August, a great mix of music and bum-boarding, tubing, snowboarding and skiing; a mountain bike festival in October; and mountain biking weekends throughout the year.

The slopes are open from June to the end of August during the winter season. There are nursery-level and intermediate slopes, along with the main 3 220-metre high Mahlasela ski slope. Afriski boasts an experienced team of qualified instructors, who are available to skiers of any experience level. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, activities such as incredibly fun bum-boarding and snow tubing are on offer.

Equipment and ski lessons may be booked directly at the resort, but pre-booking is advisable. The Pudi children’s club offers supervised snow activities for kids, while adults have their time on the slopes.

Reminiscent of an Alpine ski village, Afriski offers several accommodation options, from superior mountain chalets and ski lodges, to modest apartments and backpackers’ quarters.Other amenities include the Gondola Café Après Ski Bar, situated at the foot of the slopes, and Africa’s highest restaurant a stone’s throw from the accommodation.

There truly is something for everyone, and experiencing Africa’s snow first-hand is a must-do experience. For further information, view the website www.afriski.net, or contact Central Reservations at bookings@afriski.net.

Adventure sports and trails

Lesotho’s dramatic topography is ideal for all manner of high-altitude adventure sports, and the mountainous highlands pose an exhilarating challenge for climbers, hikers and bikers against the backdrop of a pristine and scenic natural environment. Rivers, waterfalls and dams – particularly the Mohale and Katse dams and the Senqu River – offer various water sports opportunities. The Maletsunyane Falls, one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere and the highest in Southern Africa, plummets 192 metres into a deep gorge, creating clouds of spray which are visible from afar.

The 204­-metre abseil off the edge of the Maletsunyane Falls to the bottom of the gorge holds the Guinness World Record for the longest commercially operated single­ drop abseil. This is abseiling at its best and most exciting, but definitely not for the faint­hearted! To help visitors familiarise themselves with the equipment and techniques used on this extreme abseil, Semonkong Lodge offers a half-day of training with qualified guides on much more modest cliffs of around 25 metres. Visitors should bring a good pair of hiking boots and quick-drying pants or a change of clothing; a water-proof jacket is also advisable. Gentler abseiling excursions are available on the pleasant cliffs around the Lodge.

Semonkong Lodge, together with the local community, offers pony trekking on the back of a gentle yet sure-footed Basotho pony, giving visitors a chance to explore the magnificent scenery and culture. There are day rides of up to five hours which take in the Maletsunyane Falls or even Mount Qoang, the highest mountain in the area. The overnight pony trekking adventures involve several hours of riding per day. While strenuous for some, this is a wonderful way to experience the wilds of Lesotho and sights such as Ketane Waterfall, the Thaba Putsoa Mountains and Ha Mojalefa. All baggage is carried on packhorses, and accommodation is in Basotho villages.

Lesotho Sky © Wayne Reiche

The rural village of Malealea is also regarded as one of Lesotho’s top adventure destinations. Experiences include overnight pony treks, hiking and mountain biking to attractions such as Botsoela Waterfall, Bushman painting, Pitseng gorge and rockpool, three caves and overhanging rock sites.

There are motor biking and quad biking adventures, as well as 4×4 trails in the highlands, with off-road driving offering many challenging routes through breathtaking mountain scenery. Celebrating half a century in 2017, the Roof of Africa is considered to be one of the world’s toughest off-road endurance events and attracts the best international Xtreme Enduro competitors. It takes place in the Maloti Mountains every year during November or December.

The rugged Menoaneng Pass on the road that connects Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka is a treat for mountain bikers and 4×4 drivers.

Bike tourism is currently the fastest-growing sports tourism sector in the world. Lesotho possesses enormous potential in this regard, thanks to its many excellent mountain biking trails which follow dramatic routes through the highlands.

For those who are passionate about mountain biking in Africa, the Lesotho Sky Mountain Bike Race has become a ‘ride of passage’. Covering more than 350 kilometres of raw, natural mountain trails over six day, the race takes riders to the edge of MTB Nirvana.

This international event was launched in 2011 with only 22 riders, and has since grown into one of Africa’s most spectacular and toughest stage races, bringing together top athletes from across the globe. The Lesotho Sky 2018 Race takes place from the 24th to the 29th of September. Entries are limited to 100 riders or 50 teams.

The Lesotho Sky has been recognised by the International Cycling Union (UCI) since 2013, and hosts both professional and amateur teams. In 2015, the race was awarded an upgrade from a C2 to a C1 event, which means that UCI riders earn more points and also earn more prize money. Thanks to the UCI points earned by Basotho riders, Lesotho is now ranked 26th in the world and 2nd in Africa after South Africa, boasting two of the world’s best mountain bikers – Phetetso Monese and Teboho Khantsi. Cycling is also the highest ranked sport in Lesotho, ahead of football and athletics.

The team behind the Lesotho Sky – Sky Events (Pty) Ltd – also offers guided mountain bike tours, organises the annual Corporate Challenge Event, road bike and mountain bike tours, as well as Team Building Events for big and small organisations.

Through charitable efforts the Lesotho Sky team has revived BMX sport in Lesotho and recently built an asphalt pump track for BMX, bicycles and skateboards at Roma Trading Post. The track is free to use and competitions are hosted regularly.

The Lesotho Sky team is based at Roma Trading Post, about a 30-minute drive away from Maseru.

For more information please visit: www.lesothosky.com; www.facebook.com/LesothoSky; www.skyadventures.net; or www.facebook.com/SkyAdventuresLesotho/ www.tradingpostlodge.com

The Sani Pass is a magnet for running and cycling enthusiasts. In addition to the Sani Dragon, which is a two-day MTB stage race taking place every September/October, races include the Sani Stagger marathon and half marathon events in November.

Held in north-east Lesotho over the rugged mountain footpaths of Tšehlanyane National Park, the Lesotho Ultra Trail offers 50-kilometre and 38-kilometre courses through breathtaking mountain landscapes. Hosted by Maliba Lodge, the race celebrated its fifth year in 2017, once again attracting a top-class local and international field. Classed as an Ultra Skymarathon© because it exceeds 45 kilometres in length and 2 500 metres in vertical gain at high altitude – with parts venturing to over 3 200 metres – it’s a challenge for even the toughest of participants.

Lesotho is also renowned for its fly fishing opportunities. The Maletsunyane River was stocked with trout in the late 1950s, and today Semonkong Lodge offers fly fisherman a pristine piece of river, where the Maletsunyane Falls has created two distinctly different fishing zones. On the easily accessible stretch above the waterfall there’s a realistic possibility of catching a ten-pound wild brown trout, while hiking (or abseiling) to the bottom of the falls reveals excellent fishing opportunities for rainbow as well as brown trout and yellowfish. The lodge also hosts extreme fly fishing adventures lasting up to seven days downstream of the falls, where the river has carved out a magnificent gorge. Only fly fishing is permitted, and this is strictly on a catch and release basis between the months of September and April. All proceeds from fishing licences go to the local guides and to the Maletsunyane River
Conservation Fund.

Katse Dam & Botanical Gardens

Located some 2 000 metres above sea level in one of Lesotho’s most popular tourist areas, Katse is the largest of the five dams built as part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – the greatest engineering project in the Southern Hemisphere when it was built in the 1990s.

This impressive dam boasts the highest dam wall in Africa (185 metres) and is one of fewer than 30 double curvature concrete arch dams in the world, as well as being among the top ten biggest concrete arch dams in terms of its volume.

This marvel of modern engineering has become a must-see tourist attraction which continues to draw many visitors. Katse is best viewed from the Mafika-Lisiu Pass, where there is a car park and view site. The now-renovated Katse Information Centre includes a model of the dam showing the series of tunnels and pumps which form part of the water transfer scheme. Guided tours are offered daily at 09:00 and 14:00.

Established in 2009, Motebong Mountain Lodge is situated on the banks of the Katse Dam and provides accommodation in fully equipped self-catering cottages. Its high altitude makes it ideal for training, and the lodge has previously served as a training camp for South Africa’s rowing team. Responsible tourism is key, and the lodge has undertaken various initiatives in and around the neighbouring Ha Lejone community, sourcing and mentoring staff from the village as well as supporting community enterprises and individual business initiatives.

During 2016, the tourism sector attracted capital investment of M707.9 million, or 7.2 percent of total investment, and the World Travel & Tourism Council expects this figure to grow by 4.4 percent per annum over the next ten years to reach M1 053.4 million in 2027.

© Morija Museum & Archives

Lesotho’s flora is uniquely adapted to the afro-alpine environment. Near the Katse Dam are the Katse Alpine Botanical Gardens, which were created to preserve some of the indigenous flora that was displaced in the construction of the dam, especially orchids and the spiral aloe, Lesotho’s national flower. The garden’s setting of paved hillside trails, rock gardens and flowers displays the country’s diverse mountain flora and plant heritage in a natural setting, as well as preserving rare and endangered species. There are two tours per day, at 09:00 and 14:00, Monday to Friday, and 09:00 and 11:00 on weekends and public holidays.

Culture and heritage

Lesotho’s proud cultural traditions are underpinned by a constitutional monarchy and the legacy of the nation’s celebrated founder and leader, King Moshoeshoe I. Cultural tourism has the potential to play a central role in economic development, and Lesotho boasts a number of must-see cultural attractions, including rock art sites, cultural villages and national monuments.

Established in 1956, the Morija Museum & Archives (MMA) lies just over 40 kilometres south of Maseru. It contains valuable archival material and museum collections, which have been growing incrementally since the 19th century and today form the basis for research and publishing as well as exhibitions and educational programmes for schools, visitors and tourists. The museum is also involved in a range of arts and culture projects, as well as heritage and community-based tourism initiatives. MMA opening hours are 08:00-17:00, Monday-Saturday, and 12:00-17:00 on Sundays. It is closed on Easter Sunday, Christmas and New Year’s Day. (tel +266 2236 0308).

Officially launched in August 2015, The Hub is a not-for-profit creative technology lab operating as a subsidiary project of the Morija Museum and Archives. It aims to provide the community of Morija and its surrounding areas – particularly the in- and out-of-school youth – with affordable access to computers, the internet and digital media training on a range of subjects, including basic computer training, photography, film making, and creative writing. The Hub has recently published a magazine – WordPower 2017 – which features short stories and poems by 12 young writers from Morija.

The Morija Arts Centre / Maeder House Gallery, another component of the Museum, offers training in drawing / painting, ceramics, mosaic and animation. It has carried out a range of initiatives in arts education and production as well as exhibitions.

MMA has helped to develop and encourage a wider range of tourism services and products in the area, including tours of historic Morija and dinosaur footprints, walking trails, bird watching and pony trekking, guest houses, a conference centre, traditional village experiences and home-stays. Morija Guest House holds regular ‘Sesotho Language and Culture’ weekends where participants learn the basics of the Sesotho tongue and acquire useful knowledge of Lesotho’s history and culture.

The Royal Archives, Museum and Information Resource Centre is located in Matsieng Royal Village, the 1858 settlement of Letsie I which became the traditional capital of the Basotho after Thaba-Bosiu. The Royal Archives were established in March 2008 by the royal family and are administered on its behalf by professionals in various fields of academia. It houses pre-colonial and post-colonial records (paper-based, digital and electronic) relating to chieftainship in Lesotho, as well as cultural objects. The Royal Palace and homestead are nearby, and the centre provides guided tours to Paramount Chief Letsie I’s settlement.

The ‘Seriti sa Makhoarane’ (The Prestige of Makhoarane) initiative is based upon a stronger partnership between Morija Museum, the Royal Archives & Museum (Matsieng) and various surrounding communities, all of which are connected to the descendants of King Moshoeshoe. Many heritage features have been documented and key informants interviewed, leading to the production of a 54-minute film ‘Ho llela borena’ (Yearning to reign). New tourism products and services are also emerging and these should be of interest to visitors to Lesotho. See www.morija.co.ls or the Facebook page (morija.co.ls) for more news about Lesotho’s ‘Valley of the Kings’.

Once serving as the mountain fortress of King Moshoeshoe I, the national monument of Thaba-Bosiu is one of Lesotho’s most famous sites because it is here that the Basotho nation was built. Situated about 25 kilometres east of Maseru in the Phuthiatsana river valley, Thaba-Bosiu comprises a steep, flat-topped mountain, its summit encircled by a belt of perpendicular cliffs which tower over the surrounding valley. From here, King Moshoeshoe successfully defended the Basotho people against their attackers for many years.

There is a visitors’ information centre at the base of the mountain, and guided tours are available to the summit. Moshoeshoe’s grave – a cairn of stones – can be seen at the burial place on the hilltop, as can his restored two-roomed house nearby. The summit also affords commanding views of the countryside, including Qiloane pinnacle which inspired the top-knot on the Basotho hat.

Located below the visitors’ information centre, the privately-managed Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village (TBCV) complements the nearby national monument. It was developed to showcase the traditional Basotho lifestyle, illustrated in aspects such as housing, entertainment, arts, crafts and indigenous plants. Visitors can experience Sesotho life within a typical village setting, consult a traditional doctor, and sample Sesotho beer. There is a site museum and interpretative centre, with constituent tribes of the early Basotho represented as well as Stone Age cave-dwellers and the arrival of Colonial forces. Other features include 41 chalets providing accommodation for visitors, a 250-seat conference centre, live-performance amphitheatre with a capacity of 800, ceremonial spaces, botanical gardens and handicraft outlets. The village is also the venue for a variety of annual events.

Hidden beneath an overhang in the pink and orange sandstone cliffs some 25 kilometres east of Teyateyaneng lies the mysterious Kome Cave Village. These sheltered dwellings were built in the early decades of the 19th century by Chief Teleka of the Basia as a refuge from the marauding cannibals who inhabited the area. Ha Kome village is near Ha ‘Matjotjo, where the notorious cannibals’ hideout of Malimong and Bokhopa Mountain is to be found. Picnics, pony trekking and a tour of the cave village may be organised from the Kome Crafts and Information Office.

The Bushmen, also known as the ‘San’, left behind a fascinating array of art in caves and rock shelters across Lesotho. The Masitise (Ellenberger) Cave House Museum in the vicinity of Quthing is part of an old mission house that was built into a San rock shelter by Reverend David-Frederic Ellenberger in 1866. Today it functions as a small museum with some good displays on local history and culture. Accommodation is available in rondavels or the caretaker’s cottage, and home-stays are offered in nearby Tsatsane.

One of Lesotho’s most important rock art sites can be found at Ha Baroana in Nazareth, Maseru District, en route to the Mohale Dam. The paintings, which are to be found underneath an overhanging rock facing the Liphiring River, depict scenes of everyday life, like hunting and dancing, as well as animals such as leopard, lion and eland, blue crane and guinea fowl.

Fascinating dinosaur footprints preserved in sandstone may be found at Subeng Stream, about 8 kilometres north of Hlotse and an easy walk from the main Hlotse–Botha-Bothe road. The site features the footprints of several different dinosaurs that existed towards the end of the Triassic period.

The fossilised footprint of ‘Kayentapus ambrokholohali’, one of the largest dinosaurs to ever roam the continent, was discovered during a university field trip to the Roma Valley in early 2016. This is a hugely important discovery, as it is a departure from established understanding of the types of dinosaurs that existed during the early Jurassic period around 200 million years ago: ‘Kayentapus ambrokholohali’ would have been some nine metres in length against the previous fossil records which point to sizes of roughly three to five metres in length. Lesotho is the second of only two sites in the world where large carnivorous dinosaurs dating to this period have been identified. It was previously thought that larger theropods such as the more widely known Tyrannosaurus rex only became prevalent during the Cretaceous period – considerably more recent at 145 million years ago.

Cultural events

Held annually in March, Moshoeshoe Day is a national holiday commemorating the life of the country’s great leader, King Moshoeshoe I, who was a staunch defender of the language, art and culture of Lesotho. The main celebrations take place in Maseru, where visitors can witness the richness of local traditions. The 2018 Moshoeshoe Day celebrations are scheduled for 12 March.

The Menkhoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu Historical Walk takes place every year at the end of March, and offers participants the opportunity of experiencing the richness of Basotho culture by reliving some of the challenges faced by the founder of the nation, Moshoeshoe I. The three-day long event begins at Lithakong tsa Moshoeshoe in Menkhoaneng, and traces the route taken by the Basotho to their future base at Thaba-Bosiu after surviving a vicious attack by the Batlokoa.

Horse racing is popular in Lesotho, and the Semonkong Horse Race is held every July with the main aim of commemorating King Letsie’s birthday. In order to make the proceedings even more interesting, betting has been incorporated into the event. Horseracing in Semonkong is currently being promoted by the LTDC as it encourages tourism while generating revenue for the surrounding community, contributing to environmental preservation and conservation, and promoting social cohesion and integration.

Now in its eighth year, the annual Lesotho Film Festival features both local and foreign films and takes place in November at a variety of venues. The festival was launched in 2011 by the NPO Sesotho Media and Development (SM&D) to give Basotho youth a platform to develop and showcase their film-making skills.

A lifestyle, music and food celebration, the annual Lesotho Tourism Festival takes place every December. Activities include a jazz festival, divas’ concert, poetry, comedy nights, parties and a golf tournament. The main concert takes place at Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village and attracts visitors from the SADC region and further afield.

First held in 1999, the Morija Arts & Cultural Festival has showcased the richness and diversity of Basotho culture and talent in an effort to promote peace, unity and confidence among Basotho, growing to become Lesotho’s premier cultural event. The emphasis of the festival has been on reviving various aspects of Basotho culture through song, music, art and dance, while boosting tourism and promoting crafters and small-scale manufacturers. This has brought together people of different backgrounds to celebrate their own culture while experiencing the culture of neighbours and other residents of Lesotho.

From the outset, Morija Museum played a key role in coordinating the festival, traditionally held every September or October over a period of four days, with attractions such as arts and crafts as well as cultural groups and performers – both traditional and modern – of music, dance, comedy and poetry from across Lesotho and neighbouring countries.

A number of other events are held throughout the year as part of an on-going calendar of activities focused on art, culture, heritage and related areas including book launches, lectures, excursions, musical events and exhibitions. (www.morija.co.ls or e-mail: info@morijafest.com)

Launched in 2015, Lesotho’s annual Arts, Innovation and Culture Week takes place in September/October and focuses on Basotho culture, music, fashion, film, food, performance art and social structure. People are urged to dress in traditional outfits and eat traditional dishes, as well as to use and wear products made in Lesotho and take part in the array of activities on offer.

Botha-Bothe Tourism Information Centre is the first point of contact for tourists entering Lesotho through the Caledonspoort Border Post.

The Botha-Bothe Peach Festival established in 2013 blends tourism, agriculture and small enterprise development initiatives. This festival is usually held during the peach season between February and April, and showcases peach products as well as handicrafts, vegetables and traditional music. Peach trees are prevalent in Lesotho, and their pink blossoms create a beautiful spectacle during the spring months.

NATIONAL PARKS & RESERVES

Lesotho’s national parks and reserves are under the jurisdiction of two different entities – Lesotho National Parks (+266 2231 1767), which manages Sehlabathebe National Park, and Lesotho Northern Parks (+266 2246 0723).

Presently administered by Lesotho Northern Parks, Tšehlanyane National Park, Bokong Nature Reserve and the Liphofung Cave Cultural Historical Site were originally established by the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) to compensate for the loss of biodiversity caused by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The affected communities have benefited through tourism projects in these areas, and receive a 10 percent share of all park collections in the form of community development projects.

Lesotho’s first national park, Sehlabathebe National Park is situated above the Drakensberg escarpment bordering South Africa. Proclaimed in 1970, this remote and rugged park has an average elevation of 2 400 metres and, covers 6 500 hectares of elevated mountain plateau, characterised by high-altitude grasslands, alpine flora, waterfalls, lakes and impressive sandstone rock formations. It is home to eland, rhebok and the secretive oribi antelope, wild cats and jackals, and birds of prey such as the black eagle and rare bearded vulture.

This pristine environment makes Sehlabathebe ideal for eco-activities such as guided hiking, rock climbing and pony trekking, and there are some good fly fishing sites and San paintings. Day hikes include those to Bushman’s Pass at the edge of the escarpment or to the Tsoelikane Waterfall, with its beautiful, deep pool.

The lodge here comprises a restaurant, self-catering rondavels and conference facilities. There is also a campsite near the Matebeng Pass, and home-stay ventures in nearby Thamathu. The development and subsequent management of accommodation facilities and other nature-based tourism ventures has contributed toward sustainable livelihoods for local communities through job creation and the establishment of joint ventures.

Considered to be of outstanding universal value because of its exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, Sehlabathebe National Park was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 2013. As an extension of the adjoining uKhahlamba World Heritage Site, the two parks are now known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Park. Together they cover an area of 249 313 hectares: the largest protected area along the great escarpment of Southern Africa.

This is not only the most important water catchment area of two countries but also an area of significant global biodiversity, characterised by unspoiled mountain scenery and a unique yet fragile ecosystem. The park provides a vital refuge for many endemic plant species and their associated fauna, particularly endemic highland birds, and there are rock art sites with Bushman paintings and other archaeological and cultural resources of universal significance.

Reaching an altitude of 3 090 metres above sea level, the Bokong Nature Reserve is the highest reserve in Africa that is accessible by motor vehicle. Bokong lies at the head of the Mafika-Lisiu pass, 72 kilometres from the border post at Ficksburg and 80 kilometres from the Caledonspoort border post. An impressive visitors’ centre has been developed on the edge of a sheer, 100-metre cliff, and affords breathtaking vistas of the highlands and the impressive waterfall which is formed where the Lepaqoa River drops down into the valley below. In winter, the waterfall becomes a dazzling ice sculpture set in a snow-dusted landscape.

This 1 970-hectare reserve is home to an impressive variety of birdlife, and visitors may catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered bearded vulture as well as a number of other bird species endemic to the afro-alpine zone. Other wildlife comprises vaal rhebok and baboons, as well as colonies of endemic ice rats. Bokong also contains excellent high-altitude wetlands at the sources of the Bokong River and Lepaqoa Stream.

Government is presently seeking private investors in Molimo Nthuse Lodge, Bokong and Liphofung chalets, Thaba-Chitja Island and Sehlabathebe chalets.

Hikes may be taken from Bokong across the ‘Roof of Africa’ into the Tšehlanyane National Park to the north. While this challenging three-day trail covers a 40-kilometre route, with overnight accommodation in two simple huts, there are also a series of less strenuous day trails and interpretive walks. The use of a local guide is strongly encouraged due to the unpredictable nature of the weather at these high altitudes. Other attractions include interesting rock shelters close to the visitors’ centre, restful picnic sites, a reconstructed cattle post and pony trekking. Accommodation is available in self-catering units.

The largest of Lesotho’s Northern Park reserves, Tšehlanyane National Park is a protected area located deep in the front range of the Maloti Mountains at the junction of the Tšehlanyane and Holomo rivers. The park is reached along a 32-kilometre gravel access road (negotiable in a two-wheel drive) that leaves the main A1 route about six kilometres southwest of Botha-Bothe and parallels the Holomo River as it passes through a picturesque valley.

Tšehlanyane encompasses over 5 600 hectares of unspoiled mountain terrain containing exceptional scenic, natural and wilderness features and preserving significant biodiversity. It has one of the very few indigenous woodland areas (Leucosidea forest) in Lesotho and contains a number of undergrowth plants that are unique to this habitat. The park also boasts some mountain fynbos as well as berg bamboo on the banks of the streams which provide a habitat for the endangered butterfly species Metisella Syrinx. Small game animals are to be seen and birdlife includes bearded vulture and ground woodpecker.

The five-star Maliba Mountain Lodge and three-star Riverside Chalets are situated inside the park. In light of the spectacular scenery, there are many opportunities for photographers. Visitors may also take a six-hour circular hiking trail, go pony trekking in the mountains or swim in the reserve’s many streams and pools. Furthermore, there are moves to transform the small village of Mabeleteng, which is situated close to Tšehlanyane National Park, into a tourist hub producing local arts and crafts as well as offering pony trekking and home-stays.

© Anne Wade

The 4-hectare Liphofung Nature Reserve situated in the lovely ‘Moteng Valley, surrounded by high mountains and beautiful scenery, is home to one of Lesotho’s smallest but most intriguing national heritage sites – Liphofung Cave. This large sandstone cave contains rich archaeological deposits and some of the country’s best examples of rock art, with a number of paintings featuring the eland after which this reserve is named. Once a San shelter, the cave was later used by King Moshoeshoe I when visiting the area. It can be reached along a 7-kilometre concrete road just off the main route from Botha-Bothe to Oxbow and Mokhotlong.

Liphofung has been developed with the focus on cultural education and the preservation of the rock paintings along with early Basotho history. There is a small visitor’s centre and displays of Basotho culture and San rock art, along with ablution facilities and a craft outlet. Local guides are available to interpret the historical, cultural and natural significance of the site and the area as a whole. Self-catering accommodation facilities have been built which complement the traditional huts of the visitor’s centre. Accommodation is also available at Mamohase B&B, a renowned rural home-stay facility at a nearby village.

TOURISM INVESTMENT

Enjoying the highest altitudes in southern Africa, Lesotho has naturally clean, crisp mountain air and an abundance of water sources and bodies. These attributes, together with the scenic beauty of the country’s landscape, have created a host of tourism investment opportunities that cover everything from extreme adventure to eco-tourism and leisure activities.

Over the years, the Government of Lesotho has invested in infrastructure programmes to make the rugged terrain more accessible and pave the way for development. In addition, a series of studies have been undertaken to establish the viability of proposed tourism initiatives, as well as vigorous marketing of such opportunities in line with the new Lesotho tourism brand identity. The LTDC provides professional services to investors both before and after investment, assists foreign investors in obtaining clearances (residence permits, work permits, licences, etc) and provides investment advice.

The following areas have been identified for investment:

  • Ski resorts – Lesotho experiences snowfall in the mountains between May and August every year. Long south-facing slopes offer opportunities for the development of ski slopes in Kotisephola (Mokhotlong District) and Sehlabathebe (Qacha’s Nek District).
  • Water sports and boating excursions – The Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), with its mighty dams constructed in the central highlands, has great potential for the establishment of water-based adventure centres and investment in cruise boats of not less than 100 people.
  • Accommodation facilities – These are mostly located in Maseru city and major district towns, and the LTDC is encouraging investors to consider positioning new accommodation developments at prime tourist attractions where there are at present few or no facilities offering international quality services to travellers.
  • Health and wellness resorts – Lesotho is proud of its authentic tourism attributes that offer travellers a true African wilderness characterised by tranquillity, clean air and skies, and clean water free from equatorial diseases such as bilharzia and malaria. These features are crucial for destinations offering health and wellness facilities to outpatients and those escaping the hustle and bustle of city life to rejuvenate mind, body and soul. Lesotho’s many pristine areas offer an opportunity to establish health and wellness resorts.

The Lesotho National Development Corporation and Makeka (Pty) Ltd are presently looking for investors to assist in developing the world’s highest altitude eco-distillery for the production of spirits from agave and other sources. There are also plans to build a 20-bed, four-star boutique hotel at a demonstration farm in Botha-Bothe, with an on-site spa, restaurant and events venue. Subsidiary business activities include the production and sale of agave by-products such as cosmetics and furniture in the longer term.

Contact the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation: PO Box 1378, Maseru;
tel +266 2231 2238; fax +266 2231 0189; e-mail: ltdc@ltdc.org.ls; website: www.visitlesotho.travel