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Sani Pass – A Daring Drive into Lesotho

A woman enjoying the viewpoint of the rocky Sani Pass

Sani Pass – A Daring Drive into Lesotho

If you’re looking for a one-off experience when travelling in South Africa, the Sani Pass into Lesotho is an absolute must. For those chasing passport stamps, or simply interested in experiencing different cultures, this is the perfect adventure.

A miniature handcrafted traditional Lesotho hut with the words "Journeying the Sani Pass" superimposed

What is the Sani Pass?

The Sani Pass is a mountain pass road, taking you up and over the Drakensberg mountains. It connects the towns of Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and Mokhotlong in Lesotho.

It’s an iconic route in southern Africa and one of the most memorable roads in the world.

If you’re looking to do this as part of a longer vacation, check out our guide to the perfect 3-week South African Road Trip!

Dark Drakensberg mountains with grass and rocks in the foreground

Driving the Sani Pass

The Sani Pass through the Drakensberg mountains is a steep, winding path of stone and gravel, which continuously gets steeper and narrower as you climb.

So, a 4×4 vehicle is vital, and ideally it should be a high clearance SUV like a Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Defender, or Jeep Wrangler. Be prepared for a very bumpy ride, which the locals refer to as an ‘African massage’!

A woman looking down on a valley far below between grassy mountains

Before starting the off-road ascent, you’ll need to get your passport stamped at the South African border control. The Sani Pass isn’t no man’s land, it’s still South Africa, but it makes sense to have a more accessible office. Once at the top, you’ll then get your entry stamp into Lesotho at the Lesotho border control.

Things to Do at the Top of Sani Pass

This part of Lesotho is a mostly barren mountaintop, home to semi-nomadic shepherds. The desolate surroundings are a million miles from the bustling cities of South Africa. Of course, that means there’s not a whole host of things to do here, but there are two highlights not to miss – the traditional village and Africa’s highest pub.

A traditional Lesotho hut made from dry stone walls and thatched roof

Visit a Traditional Lesotho Village

After a few miles, the deserted landscape gives way to a small cluster of stone and mud huts. We were greeted by a local lady who showed us to her home.

On entering the traditional circular hovel, the air was filled with the welcoming, homely aroma of fresh bread and a wood fire. The source was the central fire pit in the room, radiating with its orange glow.

A traditional Lesotho village with two huts and goats in a barren landscape

We took a seat around the edge of the room and our guide Greg took us on a wonderful journey through Lesotho’s history, the culture, and how this tiny kingdom became a recognized country.

Next, we tucked into the amazing doughy bread that’s a major staple of the area. Cooked in a round pan, this loaf made out of fist-sized sections is the perfect tear and share.

A man holding a miniature handcrafted sculpture of a Lesotho hut in front of a real hut

Before heading on your way, you can buy local handicrafts like wooden ornaments and miniature traditional hats as a memento and to support the local community.

Highest Pub in Africa

The outside of a stone and render pub with the sign reading "Highest pub in Africa - 2874 meters"

Back near the border you’ll find the highest pub in all of Africa. At an impressive 2,874m (9,429ft) above sea level, this welcoming tavern offers a wide choice of food and drinks, including Lesotho’s only beer – Maluti.

A well stocked wooden bar with a sign reading "Highest Pub In Africa" above

Before you leave, remember to soak in the views from the balcony area at the back as this will be the last chance for a full view of the Sani Pass. You might want to use the bathroom too as the journey down is just as bumpy!

Where to Stay near Sani Pass

The easiest places to stay for a Sani Pass trip are the nearby towns of Underberg and Himmeville. Here’s a few options to suit any budget:

Underberg Accommodation

High-End: The 4-star Malachite Manor has modern, well-furnished rooms and stunning scenery. Rooms start at $140 and include breakfast.

Mid-Range: The beautiful and laid-back Sani Pass Manor Guest House with huge lawned gardens and includes a great breakfast. Rooms start around $80 per night.

Budget-Friendly: Lairds Lodge is a quaint property with mountain views and an outdoor pool starting from $50 a night.

Lesotho Accommodation

If you’re looking to stay the night in Lesotho, then the Sani Mountain Lodge is the best option with it being right on the border.

A woman on a wooden balcony looking out over the Sani Pass

Sani Pass FAQs

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Sani Pass?

The time it takes to drive the Sani Pass can vary hugely depending on the condition of the road, the weather, type of vehicle, and experience of the driver. A rough estimate would be between 1.5-3 hours depending on how many stops you make.

It took us around 1.5 hours, but we had excellent weather and road conditions, and a very experienced off-road driver who regularly makes the Sani Pass journey.

Do You Need a 4×4 for the Sani Pass?

Yes, a 4×4 is absolutely necessary to negotiate the Sani Pass. We wouldn’t recommend attempting it in any old 4-wheel drive car, but a high clearance SUV.

A view of dark Drakensberg mountains with a straight plateau

Is Sani Pass Dangerous?

The Sani Pass can be a challenging and dangerous road trip due to the steep gradients, rough terrain, and changeable weather. Added to that, it’s quite remote if something were to go wrong. One other potential issue is the high altitude which is just enough to make some people ill.

However, the vast proportion of trips are successful without incident. With a suitable vehicle, experienced driver, and proper preparation, the inherent risks can be avoided.

Is Sani Pass Tarred?

No, the Sani Pass road is not tarred, it’s an unpaved, gravelly road with rocky patches. The only section that is tarred is the very bottom as you leave the main road towards the start of the ascent.

Is Lesotho a Country?

Yes, Lesotho is a country in southern Africa. It’s one of the smaller countries in continental Africa, and one of only three sovereign enclaves in the world – the others being San Marino, and the Vatican. An enclave is a country that’s wholly enclosed within the territory of another state.

A man standing next to the "Welcome to Lesotho" sign at the top of the Sani Pass

Do You Need a Passport for the Sani Pass?

Yes, you must take your passport in order to access the Sani Pass. The pass takes you across the border from South Africa to Lesotho. You’ll need your passport at both the South African border post and the Lesotho border post.

Most countries don’t require a visa to enter from this checkpoint, but you will need entry and exit stamps in both directions.

A sign reading "Welcome to South Africa - Sani Pass" featuring the South African flag

The Tour Company – Sani Pass Private Tours

We booked a private tour with Sani Pass Private Tours and honestly can’t recommend them enough! This isn’t a sponsored post or mention, we were just so impressed with the tour, we wouldn’t hesitate to endorse it.

They’re a husband-and-wife team – Greg and Angie – that run various road trips including the Sani Pass.

A small deer on a grassy hillside

Greg’s comprehensive knowledge of the area, local history, Lesotho culture, and flora and fauna makes him a wonderful guide and great company. And what’s more, an excellent driver!

You’ll be treated to the best homemade cookies and muffins on your journey thanks to Angie’s delicious baking!

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