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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Lesotho

Lesotho: Kingdom of Lesotho
Capital: Maseru
Population: 2,207,954
Currency: loti (LSL); South African rand (ZAR)
Languages: Sesotho (southern Sotho), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa
Religions: Christian 80%, indigenous beliefs 20%
Borders: South Africa 909 km

Lesotho is an extremely mountainous developing country completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. The capital, Maseru, is at 5,000 feet (1,500M) above sea level, and the mountains reach to 11,400 feet (3,500M). Facilities for tourism are limited. A limited number of restaurants are available in Maseru. Tap water is not reliably potable.

Visitors to the interior of Lesotho should bring clothing and equipment suitable for cold weather. In the mountains, weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. In winter (June-October), snow often closes mountain passes and temperatures often drop below freezing during the night, even in the lowlands.

Lesotho held completely peaceful parliamentary elections in May 2002. New general elections will be held in 2007, while local government elections may be conducted in late 2004. As a matter of general safety, U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

Lesotho's high unemployment rate, aggravated by the return of large numbers of unemployed miners from South Africa, has contributed to an increasing number of armed robberies, break-ins, and carjackings. These types of crimes occur primarily in the capital city of Maseru, but can occur elsewhere in Lesotho. Victims have included foreign diplomats and members of foreign aid missions. Personal crime is more likely to occur at night, but there have been recent incidents in the middle of the day. Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Lesotho law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lesotho are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities in Lesotho are limited. Good medical service is available in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 90 miles to the west of Maseru. In Lesotho, there is no reliable ambulance service. The Embassy maintains a list of physicians and other health care professionals who may see U.S. citizen patients. The Embassy does not guarantee their services or provide recommendations.

Many medicines are unavailable at facilities in Lesotho; travelers should carry with them an adequate supply of needed medicines and/or prescription drugs, along with copies of prescriptions.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions, which differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Lesotho is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Very Poor

Traffic moves on the left, with right-hand drive vehicles.

The authority for road safety issues rests with the Lesotho Mounted Police. Never assume right-of-way, as aggressive and undisciplined local driving habits result in frequent collisions. Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries given its small size. The previous king died in a road accident in 1996. Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, animals on the roads, and the prevalence of crime, including occasional carjackings.

Travel is best accomplished by private car. Rental cars are available, and cars rented in neighboring South Africa may be brought into Lesotho with written permission from the rental company. Although bus and public taxi services exist, chronic overloading combined with inadequate vehicle maintenance and lack of driver training make them unsafe. Some private taxi service exists in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided. There is no train service in the country.

Although the number of paved roads is gradually increasing, the majority of Lesotho's 5,000 miles of roads are unpaved. A few main rural highways are comparable to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails are not to U.S. standards, and unfenced livestock pose a particular danger. Lesotho's mountainous terrain makes driving on secondary roads hazardous. Unpaved roads in the interior, often narrow, twisty and steep, are poorly maintained. For travel in the interior, especially in wet or snowy weather, a high ground clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended. Four-wheel-drive is required for entering Lesotho through the Sani Pass on the eastern border.

There are no auto club or reliable ambulance services. Drivers should contact the police in emergencies.

For specific information concerning Lesotho driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, consult the Lesotho government official website via the Internet at

As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Lesotho, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lesotho's civil aviation authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet home page at

The only scheduled air service is between Maseru and Johannesburg on a South African Airways subsidiary. There is no scheduled air service among towns within Lesotho.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 14, 2004

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