How To: Sani Pass Without a Car
Sani Pass, in the southern Drakensberg mountains, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen so far in South Africa (and trust me, it has some serious competition). Its also a great way to enter the eastern side of Lesotho, a tiny country that is well worth a visit. Only problem is, unless you’ve got your own car, or are willing to pay a high price for a tour, it’s tough to figure out just how you’re going to get through the pass. After an online search, asking others for advice, and pretty much just winging most of it, we managed to travel through the pass cheaply on public transport. Here’s how you can, too:
Durban is the jumping off point for most visitors to the Sani Pass. Your hostel can book you a seat on the shuttle bus, which picks you up at your door and drops you at your accommodation near the pass (usually at the Sani Lodge, which I highly recommend). Prices vary according to how many seats are filled. When we asked, it was R550, so we opted for shared taxis instead.
Shared minivan taxis (confusingly just referred to as “taxis”) don’t run directly to the pass. We took one to Pietermanizberg (1 hour, R55), then another to Undersberg (2 hours, R95), then a third to Sani Lodge (30mins, R35- this taxi continues through the pass after stopping at the lodge). The bus from Johannesburg to Durban stops at Pietermanizberg so if you want to skip Durban just get off here. The taxi stand in Durban can be hard to find, so it’s best to get a private taxi to take you there from your hostel (don’t walk around with your luggage, because Durban is [not safe]).
Shared minivan taxis leave when they’re full, so be prepared to wait a while. If you have large luggage, this will be placed on the front seats, and you’ll have to pay a portion of the price of those seats. Though sometimes the driver agreed to let us wedge our rucksacks under our feet or in the aisle instead.
The Sani Lodge is a wonderful assortment of dorms and rooms in a stunning surroundings. Dorm beds cost R160. A three course dinner is available for R90, or you can use the kitchen to make your own food (bring this with you as there are no shops other than a souvenir/ snack shop).
Lots of hiking trails lead from the Sani Lodge into the surrounding area. We opted for a shorter trail that took us through beautiful mountain scenery to a tiny waterfall, but longer day trips or overnight camping trips are available. Permits are needed to trek in the area, and these can be purchased at the lodge for R35 per day.
From the lodge, you must make your own way to the taxi stand, which is 3km away. We managed to flag down a car halfway there (just as our rucksacks were really weighing us down!). From the stand, some taxis will take you to the top of the pass, others will go all the way through to Mohotlong, in Lesotho. We opted for the latter, and once the van was full, headed through the pass.
The views were spectacular!
The road up to the top zigzags steeply, and is unpaved, so it was slow going. At the top, we went through the South Africa border and got our stamps, then drove through a long stretch of scenic no mans’ land before reaching the Lesotho border.
The Lesotho border is as far as many travellers go before heading back the way they came. There’s a pub here that boasts of being “the highest pub in Africa”, where you can enjoy a drink and a view, and a teeny tiny village that gives new arrivals their first glimpse into Lesotho life.
The road down into Lesotho is smooth and paved. If you are driving through the pass, I recommend going from South Africa into Lesotho, not the other way around, as going down the unpaved road must be far harder than going up.
Once in Lesotho, we got more and more taxis, each one taking us further to Maseru. I don’t recommend this unless you have a pickup arranged, as we arrived in Maseru late at night, couldn’t find a taxi, and were stranded in a rough part of town, until we were rescued by some off-duty police officers who drove us to a hostel (Note to self: stop wandering through dangerous areas late at night with everything you own on your back).