How to drive the Sani Pass in a Rental Car: tips and guide for driving the Sani Pass, South Africa to Lesotho

by | Aug 6, 2016 | Africa, Lesotho, Road Trips, South Africa

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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!

To read more about our Sani Pass adventure click here!

 

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

Click here for the best South Africa 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!

Click here for the best Underberg hotel prices

 

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.

The warnings:

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-9

Our 4x4 rental:

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-4

A Passport

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!

Border control:

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-8

The Driving

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.

Conditions at the Sani Pass finale on the approach to Lesotho:South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-16

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.

A quiet pass:
South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-25

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!

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-27

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.

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-31

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

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.

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-32

Explore Lesotho

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!

South Africa Driving the Sani Pass-21

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8 Comments

  1. GARRY SMITH

    Hi,
    Can you have a meal at the Pub at the top?

    Reply
    • Elaine McArdle

      Hi Garry, the pub is part of the Sani Mountain Lodge. I think the food is served in the lodge rather than the pub but not 100% sure.

      Elaine

      Reply
  2. Mark M

    Hi Elaine, excellent article. I’m planning on going up the pass with wife and two small kids. One question;you mentioned a driving time of 2.5 hours. Was this with stops included? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Elaine McArdle

      Hi Mark

      Ihe 2.5 hours included our photo stops (it’s really beautiful). That was from the start of the road onto the pass to the Lesotho border. We spent some time at the border and at the pub in addition to this.
      Have a great trip!

      Elaine

      Reply
  3. Will

    No car hire website seems to actually say whether or not the SUV that we are hiring will definitely be a 4×4…i.e. it could well be a model which is actually a 2x rather than a 4x…Do you have any idea about how to get around this?

    Reply
    • Elaine

      Hi Will, I guess just insist when you rent. If you rent from Johannesburg it’s likely to be a 4x as many are going to the parks. In Cape Town we got a 2x but so many renters there are doing the Garden Route a 4x is not always necessary

      Elaine

      Reply
  4. Kaylee Dobie

    Hi, we are planning on organising a transfer across the pass as our car isn’t a 4×4. Not sure if you would have noticed this, but do you know if it’s possible to (safely) leave your car on the South African side?

    Reply
    • Elaine

      Hi Kaylee, I think you might be able to leave it at somewhere the transfer company suggests or your previous accommodation if you are staying nearby. I wouldn’t leave anything in my car but that applies anywhere in the world!

      Elaine

      Reply

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