The Sani Pass, the legendary mountain pass between Lesotho and South Africa, is 9-kilometer stretch of rough terrain and is a favorite among motorcyclists and other thrillseekers.
Lesotho – Been There

Lesotho's legendary pass

Photo by Edwin Remsberg

Lesotho – Been There Lesotho's legendary pass

Rain hammers down relentlessly on the roof of the Duck and Donkey Tavern at the Semonkong Lodge in Lesotho. Thunder is crashing across the heavens, while lightning rips apart the night sky.

Sue Bryant
Sue Bryant Travel Writer

It’s hostile out there by anybody’s standards, although I’m enjoying an early evening beer in the warmth of the bar.

A man staggers in, wearing a glazed expression. He is American, touring southern Africa for three months on a motorbike. He came off once today in the sea of mud that used to be a road and has had several near misses with skidding 4x4s. “It took me a whole hour to defrost my feet when I arrived,” he rasps. I ask if, like me, he’s visiting Semonkong for walking and pony trekking. “No, I gotta move on tomorrow,” he says, a faraway look in his eye. “I’m here for the Sani Pass.”

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, encircled by South Africa, attracts this kind of thrill-seeker. The Sani Pass is one of the most legendary roads in Africa, a series of treacherous switchbacks snaking over the Drakensberg mountains that straddle the South Africa-Lesotho border. In the world of motorcycling, it’s the ultimate in extreme off-road racing, impassable in winter when Lesotho is blanketed with snow, and claiming both vehicles and lives when it rains. Crossing the pass is a rite of passage for bikers.

Driving from Maseru, the capital, had been tough enough, battling for hours through one bone-shaking thunderstorm after another, disoriented by dense cloud at altitude, wallowing along a quagmire of a road that’s still only partly built.

The arduous journey, though, is a small price to pay for the extraordinary beauty of this tiny country, lying entirely between 1,000 and 3,000 meters above sea level and dubbed the ‘roof of Africa’.

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Lesotho (pronounced Ley-soo-too) is often referred to as the Kingdom in the Sky because of its high altitude. Landlocked by South Africa, it is the only country in the world with all its land at more than 1,000 meters above sea level. Photo by Jacques Marais / Getty Images

Jacques Marais

Jacques Marais

Agency
Getty Images

Lesotho (pronounced Ley-soo-too) is often referred to as the Kingdom in the Sky because of its high altitude. Landlocked by South Africa, it is the only country in the world with all its land at more than 1,000 meters above sea level.

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