How to drive the Sani Pass in a Rental Car: tips and guide for driving the Sani Pass, South Africa to Lesotho
As we planned our South Africa road trip we had question after question about our Sani Pass adventure: can we drive ourselves across the Sani Pass, do we need a 4x4, is it difficult to drive off road, how are the road conditions and so, so many more! Now that we’ve driven across the Sani Pass we wanted to share all our tips and info with any of you considering following our tire marks across the Sani Pass! Here’s our guide to self driving the Sani Pass!
Renting a Car in South Africa
Renting a car in South Africa is the best way to explore the country plus driving is relatively easy in the country (check out our tips on driving a rental car in South Africa). Having your own car gives you the flexibility to travel at your own pace a see place that are simply not possible on group tours or public transport.
We’re huge fans of road trips and have driven rental cars in over 40 countries so we have a lot of experience renting cars in foreign countries. Book your car now with RentalCars.com, where you will find the best rental car prices
Where to stay for the Sani Pass
We stayed in the Malachite Manor in Underburg. We loved the hotel for its close proximity to the Sani Pass, the beautiful rooms and food and the wonderful owners who were incredibly welcoming to three weary souls who’d driven in thick fog to reach the hotel – check prices here!
What you need to drive the Sani Pass
A 4 x 4 rental
Border authorities require that drivers use a 4x4 vehicle for driving through the Sani Pass. They may refuse you permission to drive the pass, especially starting from the South Africa, if they deem the vehicle unfit to tackle the conditions of the Pass. This is for the safety of all drivers.
You will also be required to produce proof of vehicle ownership and insurance. We requested and received written permission from our rental company when we picked up our rental and this acted as a Border Letter of Authority.
Our 4x4 rental:
Make sure you have your passport with you and that is valid for at least 6 months. If you like collecting passport stamps this is an excellent opportunity: our passports were stamped on leaving South Africa, entering and leaving Lesotho and again on entering South Africa!
How difficult is it to drive the Sani Pass?
The Sani Pass is a steep road with continual twists and turns, is at times a dirt track and lasts for almost 10km. The road was in reasonable condition initially, however as we climbed higher after our departure from the South Africa border post the quality of the road changed drastically. The road quickly became a dirt track which then turned into a proper off road experience.The adrenaline inducing turns have names such as Devil’s Corner, Suicide bend and Hairpin Bend say it all really!
I had no previous 4x4 driving experience and found the drive mostly manageable but it is very challenging at times! Part of the road has been upgraded which makes the drive a little easier for the less experienced.
Be mindful of the weather conditions
We recommend crossing the pass on a dry day. Snow, wind and rain make for more even more difficult conditions and I can only imagine how hard it would be to stay on a slippery Sani Pass! Seasoned 4x4 drivers may prefer the challenge of the winter months or rainy days although the pass can be closed on particularly bad days.
The Sani Pass climbs 1,332 vertical metres to an altitude of 2,876 m and the temperature drops throughout the ascent. We started in shorts and t-shirts but were soon reaching for our hoodies and jackets as the winds picked up and the temperatures dropped in the approach to the Lesotho border control.
How long does driving the Sani Pass take?
We left our hotel as soon as the sun rose and, after stopping to pick up supplies, headed straight over to start our drive through the pass. At times we had the Pass almost to ourselves and we had our pick of scenic spots to pull and admire the view. The road got busier as the day progressed and we started to meet local taxis flying down towards South Africa. It’s a bit of a pain to have to pull in constantly to let traffic pass so we recommend getting on the road early.
In total, from the start of the Pass to the Lesotho border took about 2.5 hours with lots of stops for pics and views.
The Border Crossings
What time are the South Africa and Lesotho Sani Pass border crossings open?
The core hours for the border crossings are 8am to 4pm but the borders can be open from 6am to 6pm. We crossed the South Africa border post prior to 8am the day we drove the Sani Pass. Both border posts were quick and efficient and the passport stamps were a treat!
Remember to allow a few hours between the two border posts as a considerable portion of the pass sits in No Man’s Land – the South Africa border is at the bottom of the pass while the Lesotho border resides at the very top. It’s important to leave a buffer so as no to be stranded in this section with the borders closed!
How much does it cost to cross the borders at the Sani Pass
From South Africa to Lesotho:
- At the South Africa border officials stamped our passport and checked our Letter of Authority for our rental car. No fee was payable.
- At the Lesotho border our passports were stamped, our Letter of Authourity checked and we paid a road tax of 30 Rand.
Other Sani Pass essentials:
Ask before taking pictures of the shepherds in the mountains
Can you spot the shepherd in the pic below? Yea, well we didn’t either until he started screaming at us frantically not to take his picture. Many of the shepherds we came across preferred not to have their image captured despite being covered from head to toe in blankets.
Bring snacks and drinks
There are no shops along the Pass and the first opportunity for some refreshments is at the very top when you reach Lesotho.
Toilets are available at the South Africa border post and at the Lesotho pub at the very top of the pass.
At the top of the Pass
Make a pit stop at the highest pub in Africa
It’s not every day you get to toast life at the highest pub in Africa and we jumped at the opportunity to have a beer, take some pics and enjoy the spectacular view.
Lesotho is a beautiful country and, rather than turning back into South Africa, we opted to drive through the Mountain Kingdom. It was incredible to witness the very different pace of life and meet the people of the country. The Lesotho roads are relatively new and, from the very top of the pass, are of a similar standard to what we are used to in Europe.
We kept going!
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