In front of the Tourist Information centre there is a handicraft and curio centre called Basotho Hat, because the building has that shape. It is worth a visit although handicrafts are cheaper in the Tourist information centre.
It has to be said that downtown Maseru is perhaps not the most scenic of places, but it's safe and relatively clean and well organised, which make it ideal for the traveller passing though to stock up and reprovision.
The main street (Kingsway) is lined with branches of South African chain stores, which range from Woolworths (the local equivalent of Marks & Spencer, although there's no formal link) to PEP and Ackermans, as well as fast food outlets such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Debonair's Pizza.
Shopping opportunities in the rest of Lesotho for more than the absolute basics are few and far between (essentially bread, mealie meal, sugar and a few other non-perishables) even in the 'larger towns' - always a qualified term in Lesotho as large dots on the map usually equate to fairly small settlements on the ground. So if you need to stock up with something less mainstream - particularly items such as pharmaceuticals, toiletries or perishables - don't pass up this opportunity: it may well be your last until you cross the border!
Craft workshops and some tourist shops
What to buy: Given the wonderful mohair that Lesotho produces, it was inevitable that a weaving industry would be established to take advantage of this marvellous resource. Mohair is well suited to the weaving of tapestries, and the smooth texture of the mohair fibres gives the finished product a gentle and very appealing sheen that you don't get from more conventional wool tapestries.
Although mohair tapestries can be bought from a few tourist shops and hotels in Maseru, by far the nicest way to shop for them is to visit the weaving workshops where they are made. Such workshops usually have a better range to choose from and there is no better way to appreciate the work that goes into the weaving than to see it being done before your eyes. Sadly, with the decline of the mohair industry over the past couple of decades (see my tip on mohair goats for more context on this), the weaving industry has also suffered, and sadly there are fewer of these traditional workshops in evidence than there would have been twenty years ago.
The tapestry pictured here is one that I commissioned from a weaving workshop in celebration of having completed a five day pony trek to the remote and very beautiful Semonkong Falls (which was even more remote in the late 80s than it is today). The muted blues and greys of the mohair perfectly evoke the spirit of the falls and this tapestry has given me great joy over the years: quite simply one of my most treasured travel souvenirs.
Unsurprisingly (given its encircled geography), the Lesotho beer market is dominated by brands from neighbouring South Africa, but happily there is one excellent local product that provides an attractive alternative to the ubiquitous beers of the SAB Miller stable.
Maluti premium lager is produced by the independent Maluti Mountain Brewery in Lesotho (note its culturally appropriate Basotho hat logo), and is an enjoyably palatable drop. It is a lager type beer, with an alcohol content of 4.8% and makes for very pleasant drinking - if you can get your hands on any in the first place!
Having travelled to Lesotho fairly regularly over the last couple of years, my husband always tries to bring some home to provide some variety in the beer fridge. However, his experience is that Maluti is not as widely stocked as the SAB Miller competitors (such as Castle, Hansa and Black Label) which provide bottle stores with more generous incentives to carry their lines: however, he has consistently found it in the bottle shop attached to the Victoria Hotel on Kingsway in Maseru, so if you're passing through there and are interested in trialing the local produce, it may be worth stocking up there.
What to buy:
I usually consider bumper stickers to be irredeemably naff and avoid them like the plague ... or I did until I stumbled across this in the gift shop at the Sani Top Chalets!
Until you've seen the Sani Pass for yourself, you can't appreciate what a terrifying thing it is to look down on the four sets of switchbacks that cling to the buttress and realise that you've been mad enough to sign up for this act of lunacy!
Consider these bumper stickers as your 'badge of honour' - I surreptitiously bought several and then distributed them amongst our party when we finally reached the South African border post. They were greeted with gales of laughter ... which had less to do with amusement than jibbering relief that the ordeal was behind us!
Display it with pride ... hell, after that, you've earned it!
While these woolen blankets are not noteworthy creations when comparing them against mass-produced versions you can get at your local store, they are something that you should buy. A wonderful souvenir, yes, but the main reason is to support the local people and economy, as Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in Africa, which is saying something. It cannot be stressed enough what tourists mean to their well-being. At such a cheap price for you, that money goes a long way here. We met Peace Corp volunteers here, and it goes without saying that this country can use all the support it can get. Such a simple thing we can do, rather than just giving a donation, which encourages the "give me, give me" attitude that I experienced throughout Africa. Having them PRODUCE something, teaches them micro-finance skills, the value of work and life, etc. etc.
What to pay: Bargaining is okay. Driving the price as low as possible is not. You are rich. They are poor. It doesn't take a socialist to figure it out.
What to buy:
If you go past Malealea Lodge, you'll probably see the local band and their home made instruments play a little concert during the evening. Be sure to purchase a CD from the band... they start at shop prices but are negotiable, and after all, it goes for a good cause. If you're into world music this is a unique sound you'll want to add to your collection. And the show is a treat as well!
What to pay: Negotiate!
What to buy:
No one in Lesotho actually wears a "Basotho Hat." Yes, it is in the shape of a small hill, near Thaba Bosiu, and yes, everybody knows about it, but it is as traditional as the blankets that are made in South Africa or England (but everybody DOES wear those).
It's a good souvenir, but really is just for tourists.
What to buy: The local pottery is not particularly exotic (ie.g pots are more likely to be painted and varnished rather than glazed) but it is cheap and unique in as much that it is made in Lesotho!
At the entrance of the village you will find the Leribe Craft Centre where you are shown the whole proccess of tapestry creation. Very very very interesting!!
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