Lesotho is a small nation in Southern Africa. It covers 11,700 square miles (30,300 sq. km), making it just a bit smaller than the state of Maryland. Lesotho is completely surrounded by the nation of South Africa, making it an enclave state. Lesotho has the distinction of being one of only three sovereign enclaves in the world — the other two being San Marino and Vatican City.
The area that is now Lesotho was settled long ago by peoples who spoke the Bantu language and called themselves the Basotho. The Basotho were decentralized until the early 19th century, when a king began to consolidate their various lands. After a war with the nearby Boer people began to turn for the worse, the Basotho king Moshoeshoe requested assistance from the British, who placed the Basotho lands under their protection.
The area that is now Lesotho was made a part of the Cape Colony by the British, and administered with that territory. At the beginning part of the 20th century, when the Union of South Africa was formed, Lesotho was initially put on track to become part of that union. The adoption of apartheid policies in the Union of South Africa halted this, however, and Lesotho remained a direct protectorate of Britain.
The move towards independence began in the mid-1950s, and by 1965 the first legislative elections were held. Independence was formally declared in 1966. Four years later, in 1970, following an election in which the ruling party was largely believed to have lost power, the Prime Minister declared the elections null, suspending the constitution and dissolving Parliament. Over the next years Lesotho’s relationship with South Africa soured, largely as a result of the African National Congress working from within Lesotho.
By 1986 the situation had come to such a point that the king was granted all of the powers of state. This transfer of power was orchestrated by a military council, who positioned themselves as advisors to the monarchy. In 1990 the leader of the military government stripped the king of his powers, moving the country back towards democracy. In 1993 a new constitution was adopted that left the king with no real powers; in 1994 a coup had suspended Parliament again, but this lasted only a month.
Despite stated voting irregularities, and another brief period of upheaval in the late 1990s that led to military intervention by Botswanan and South African troops, Lesotho continues to democratize. The country is currently relatively stable, and the security situation has settled down.
Lesotho is home to some beautiful national parks, most notably the Sehlabathebe National Park, with horseback riding, fishing, and beautiful hikes. Lesotho is also a great country for crafts, with Teyateyaneng being the undisputed center of traditional arts. It is here that you can find beautiful Basotho tapestries and clothing.
Reaching Lesotho is easiest from South Africa, where flights leave daily from Johannesburg to Moshoeshoe. Although you might expect to find buses for the overland routes, you’ll have to take a taxi the last leg of the journey, as there are no direct buses from any major South African cities to Lesotho.