Official name: Kingdom of Lesotho
Area: 30,355 square kilometers (11,720 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Ntlenyana (3,482 meters/11,424 feet)
Lowest point on land: Junction of the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers (1,400 meters/4,593 feet)
Hemispheres: Eastern and Southern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 248 kilometers (154 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 181 kilometers (112 miles) from west-northwest to east-southeast
Land boundaries: 909 kilometers (565 miles) total boundary length; all with South Africa
Territorial sea limits: None
Lesotho is one of the smallest countries in Africa, and one of only three sovereign nations in the world to be comh2etely surrounded by another country (the other two similar enclaves are San Marino and Vatican City). It borders the South African provinces of KwaZulu/Natal to the east, Eastern Cape to the south, and Orange Free State to the north and west. Lesotho covers an area of 30,355 square kilometers (11,720 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Maryland.
Lesotho has no territories or dependencies.
Lesotho has a dry, temperate climate, with mean temperatures of 21°C (70°F) in summer and 7°C (45°F) in winter. Extremes range from 32°C (90°F) to –7°C (20°F) in the lowlands, with winter temperatures in the highlands sometimes plummeting below –18°C (0°F). On average, there are over 300 sunny days per year.
Rainfall ranges from 60 centimeters (24 inches) in the lowlands to 191 centimeters (75 inches) in the mountains. Most rain falls between October and April. Lesotho is prone to damaging hail in the summer and periodic disastrous drought. The Maloti Mountains are generally snowcapped in winter.
Located on the Drakensburg Escarpment, which forms its eastern border with KwaZulu province in South Africa, Lesotho is mostly mountainous. Even its "lowlands," a strip of land lying lengthwise along its northeast-southwest border, have an average elevation of 1,524 to 1,829 meters (5,000 to 6,000 feet). Occupying roughly a quarter of the country, they extend eastward to the Cave Sandstone Foothills. These foothills form a narrow band bordering the eastern highlands.
Lesotho is landlocked.
Lesotho has no inland lakes.
Most of Lesotho is drained by the Orange River and the Caledon River, which forms the country's western border. The Orange and Tugela Rivers, as well as the tributaries of the Caledon, rise in the northern plateau region, where the Maloti Mountains merge with the main Drakensburg Range. Three other important rivers flow from north to south and feed into the Orange. The Kometspruit (Makhaleng) is in western Lesotho, the Senqunyane flows through the center of the country, and the Malibamatso runs through northeastern Lesotho. The Maletsunyane River is notable for the Maletsunyane Falls, located in Semonkong. The falls drop from a height of 192 meters (630 feet), making it the tallest waterfall in southern Africa.
Lesotho has no deserts.
The Western Lowlands cover approximately a quarter of the country's land area, between the Caledon River and the Cave Sandstone Foothills. They consist of undulating basins and plains ranging in width from 10 kilometers (6 miles) to 64 kilometers (40 miles), with altitudes averaging between 1,524 and 1,829 meters (5,000 and 6,000 feet). With an average altitude of between 1,829 and 2,134 meters (6,000 and 7,000 feet), the Cave Sandstone Foothills constitute an intermediate region between the highlands and the lowlands.
Mountains cover two-thirds of Lesotho, resulting in the nickname "the Switzerland of Africa." Lesotho's highlands are part of the Drakensburg Mountains, which rise in the east and then drop abruptly at the border with South Africa. The Maloti Mountains, in the center of the country, are a spur of the Drakensburg system, joining it in the north. The average elevation of the highlands is over 2,438 meters (8,000 feet). They rise to heights of over 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) in the east and northeast, reaching their highest point at Mount Ntlenyana on the eastern border.
The ruins of caves once inhabited by cannibals can be found near the mountain fortress of Thaba Bosiu.
The northern area where the Maloti Mountains join the Drakensburg system consists of a high plateau with average elevations between 2,700 and 3,200 meters (8,900 and 10,500 feet).
Maseru Bridge and Ficksburg Bridge are two of the major road links between Lesotho and South Africa.
Lesotho is the only country in the world whose lowest elevation is more than 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) above sea level.
Baedeker South Africa . New York: Macmillan Travel, 1996.
Murray, Jon, and Jeff Williams. South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland . London: Lonely Planet, 2000.
Turco, Marco. Visitors' Guide to Lesotho: How to Get There, What to See, Where to Stay. Johannesburg: Southern Book Publishers, 1994.