There aren’t many places in Africa where you can sit in the clouds and have a beer. In fact, the only place is the pub at Sani Mountain Lodge which lies at the top of the hair-raising, white-knuckle Sani Pass in Lesotho. Known simply as The Highest Pub in Africa, it’s also the only pub on the continentwhere you can have a beer in two countries at the same time.
You certainly need a drink when you get to Lesotho’s famous pub in the sky. If the freakishly-tight hairpin turns don’t scare the daylights out of you, then the lack of guardrails, sheer drop inches from your wheel and bone-rattling gravel road will leave your heart in your mouth.View all Lesotho Tours here.
After gulping down a cold one and settling your nerves, you can look forward to a simple yet scrumptious pub meal next to a roaring fire. It’s hard to say if it’s worse going up or down Sani Pass but anyway, please don’t drink and drive. Rather book a group tour to Lesotho with a designated driver.
(We’re making Sani Pass sound worse than it is for dramatic effect. It’s actually a lot of fun but there’s a reason they call it the Mother of all mountain passes.)
A beer in two countries
The Highest Pub sits plumb on the ‘Barrier of Spiers’, a few metres from the South African and Lesotho border post. Standing at an elevation of 2 874 meters (9 429 feet)on the ‘Mountains of the Dragon’, Sani Mountain Lodge is the gateway to the Kingdom in the Sky. The inspired names given to the region tell you all you need to know about this incredible region.
As one would expect, the views from the pub terrace are nothing short of breathtaking. You have a bird’s-eye view of Kwa-Zulu Natal and a 360° panoramic view of uKhahlamba Drakensberg, southern Africa’s highest mountain range and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Despite its impressive location, The Highest Pub is somehow still Lesotho’s best-kept secrets. Those who do visit, fall in love with the pub instantly. Of course it helps that the people of Lesotho are so warm and welcoming, and their charming way of life is enchanting.
Where donkeys feared to tread
The history of The Highest Pub dates back to 1913 when a simple bridle path was opened up as a trade route between South Africa and Mokhotlong, a remote village in Lesotho. A rustic inn where the lodge now stands was built at the top of the pass to provide shelter, food and drinks for weary traders.
Goods were carried on pack mules with a few spare in case one fell off the edge of the treacherous mountain pass. Vultures and Lammergeiers soaring above Sani Pass were said to be a common site and one suspects they were waiting patiently for some unfortunate donkey to succumb.
In 1948, Sani Pass was opened to the public. A fiery ex-Spitfire pilot by the name of Godfrey Edmonds and his trusty colleagues manhandled a war-surplus Jeep up the steep path to make it into the record books as the first public vehicle to drive Sani Pass. It took them about six hours to get to The Highest Pub for a much-needed drink.
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Sani Pass road has been upgraded many times since thenand, while still challenging, it’s a lot less treacherous. Actually, it’s a lot of fun. Funny enough, 4WDs are still the only motorised vehicles permitted to drive between the South African and Lesotho border posts.
Dress warmly for an ice cold beer
Your hosts may give you a warm welcome but the weather most certainly won’t. Wrap up in Arctic-ready jackets, beanies and gloves and brace yourself for a chilly few hours at the summit.
The Drakensberg Mountain which forms the high altitude boundary between KZN and Lesotho creates the perfect weather storm, producing some seriously cold and misty weather at The Highest Pub. You can leave the Underberg in glorious sunny weather and arrive at the summit in what could be mistaken as mid-winter in Europe.
Never fear, that’s part of the appeal. Everyone tucked into the cozy pub and huddled around a roaring fire is a great way to make new friends.
Getting there is not for sissies
There’s an easier way to get to The Highest Pub in Lesotho but that road is for sissies. Bush bashing, river smashing and the scarier-the-better 4×4 enthusiasts relish the opportunity to pit their driving skills on the corkscrew Sani Pass, where some sections have a gradient of about 1:4.
Don’t attempt to drive Sani Pass in a sedan. If you don’t have a rugged 4×4, book a tour with a company like the Roof of Africa who do the hard slog while you sit back and enjoy the view.There’s been talk for years that they’re going to tar Sani Pass to open it up to a wider tourist market but it’s still talk.
Just in case, plan to drive up Sani Pass sooner rather than later before the powers that be take all the fun out of getting to The Highest Pub in Africa.
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