The Kingdom of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands, where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light aircraft.
Resources are scarce - a consequence of the harsh environment of the highland plateau and limited agricultural space in the lowlands.
The former British protectorate has been heavily dependent on the country which completely surrounds it - South Africa.
Over the decades thousands of workers have been forced by the lack of job opportunities to find work at South African mines.
The Lesotho Highlands Water Project was completed in the 1990s to export water to South Africa.
The Kingdom of Lesotho
Population 2.2 million
Area 30,355 sq km (11,720 sq miles)
Major languages Sesotho, English
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 51 years (men), 56 years (women)
Head of state: King Letsie III
King Letsie III succeeded his father, King Moshoeshoe II, who was dethroned in 1990.
Five years later, after the return to civilian government and amid political instability, he abdicated and his father was reinstated as monarch.
Letsie III was restored as king in 1996 after his father died in a car accident. The monarch has no legislative or executive powers.
Prime minister: Moeketsi Majoro
Finance Minister Majoro Thomas took over as prime minister in May 2020, after the resignation of veteran leader Thomas Thabane, who was named as a suspect in the murder of his own ex-wife.Mr Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC) had won early elections in June 2017, and continues to govern in coalition with three other parties.
Radio is the most-popular medium. As well as domestic outlets, South African radio and TV stations can be received.
1820s - Basutoland founded by Moshoeshoe, who unites various groups to repel challenges from Zulus.
1834 - Territorial encroachment by Boer trekkers starts decades of conflict.
1860s - Becomes a British protectorate.
1871 - Annexed to the Cape Colony without people's consent.
1884 - Becomes a British colony after revolt against Cape Colonial rule. Paramount chiefs retain large degree of autonomy.
1966 - Independence as Kingdom of Lesotho, with Moshoeshoe II as king and Chief Leabua Jonathan (Basotho National Party) as prime minister.
1998 - Troops from the region restore order following disputed elections.
2004 - Official opening of first phase of Lesotho Highlands Water Project.