We love inspiring you with new ways to explore Africa. And with a new year upon us, we asked Peter Gostelow, a cyclist with 34,000km of experience on the continent, to pick the ten most rewarding routes you can ride on a two-week holiday.
1. Desert wilderness - Windhoek to the Fish River Canyon, Namibia (900km)
desert scenery, traffic-free roads and the opportunity to cycle
alongside wild animals make this part of Namibia a great place for you
to explore by bicycle.
After the ride begins in Windhoek there
is a moderate climb southward over the Kupferberg Pass. This provides a
warm-up for the following day’s ascent up the Spreetshoogte Pass
(Namibia’s highest), which offers dramatic views westwards and an
exhilarating descent towards Africa’s most famous sand dunes at
Sossusvlei. Take time to climb and explore the famous desert landscapes
here, then continue south through the NamibRand Nature Reserve. On a
bicycle you’re much more likely to see some of the wild animals
(springbok, oryx, kudu, zebra, giraffe) that run freely. If you miss
them there is a second chance within the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Park
further south. Here you can also ride alongside the Fish River Canyon
and gaze into its depths, before soaking in the natural hot springs that
mark the end of the road. If undertaking this ride independently you’ll
need to carry sufficient water. This route is also offered as part of
an organised trip with Exodus. (www.exodus.co.uk)
2. Lake of stars - Karonga to Blantyre, Malawi (700km)
This novel journey sees you travel south along Lake Malawi, both by bicycle and by boat.
Karonga and ride south along the lake’s beach-lined shore, camping and
swimming to your heart’s content, before undertaking the challenging
ascent to Livingstonia. Views across the lake to Tanzania make this
climb particularly rewarding. Continue south on a dirt track towards
Rumphi, stopping in villages that rarely encounter visitors. Rejoin the
tarmac and cycle the quiet road to Mzuzu. A stunning descent back to the
Nkata Bay awaits, before taking a two-day ferry trip to Monkey Bay
(views from the boat are spectacular). Ride south towards Liwonde
National Park, watching out for colourful birds as well as crocodiles
and hippos in the Shire River, then soak up the colonial atmosphere in
nearby Zomba. Cycle cross-country to Mount Mulanje, where lush tea
plantations carpet the slopes and teashops welcome visitors. Cycle
Active (www.cycleactive.co.uk) offers part of this journey as an organised tour.
3. Western and Northern Cape - Cape Town to Springbok, South Africa (700km)
Leaving one of the world’s most beautiful cities is easy knowing that penguins, whales and wine are all in waiting.
by cycling south from Cape Town through stunning coastal scenery
alongside Table Mountain (keep an eye out for whales) before returning
via historic coastal villages and the penguin colony on the eastern
shore of the Cape Peninsula. Continue northwards towards the West Coast
National Park and enjoy the turquoise waters off Langebaan Lagoon
(seasonal flowers abound here between August and October). Camp
overnight at Elandsbaai and watch the mesmerising surf, then head
towards Lambert’s Bay and Strandfontein along a well-graded and
little-used track, which is flanked by windswept beaches. From here a
gently undulating road, fringed by picturesque winelands and quaint
villages, takes you inland into the wilderness of the Northern Cape.
Follow the boulder-strewn landscape and wide-open views northwards
towards Springbok. This is a very accessible ride to tackle
independently. For those wanting an organised cycle trip in this region,
Exodus (www.exodus.co.uk) offers a similar ride starting in Cape Town and heading through wine lands around Stellenbosch.
4. African rift - Lake Kivu, Rwanda to Fort Portal, Uganda (550km)
Not for the fainthearted, this incredible ride involves some serious climbs and heaps of wildlife-viewing potential.
from the glistening southern shore of Lake Kivu and ride north on a
challenging but endlessly scenic track, passing small villages where
banana and rice terraces give way to sweeping views down and across the
lake to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Take a well-earned
rest in the stunning lakeside town of Kibuye, before climbing again and
descending through tea plantations to Gisenyi the following day.
Dramatic volcanic peaks shadow the well-paved road towards Ruhengeri and
north into Uganda. Climb up between Kisoro and Kabale, then enjoy the
swimmable shores of Lake Bunyoni en route to Bwindi National Park. Here
colobus monkeys are likely to be seen swinging through the ancient
forests, which are also home to endangered mountain gorillas. Continue
north into Queen Elizabeth National Park, where you can watch out for
elephants and hippos at Lake Edward. The freedom to cycle in these two
national parks makes this tour special. Finish your ride at Fort Portal
after passing alongside the dramatic Rwenzori Mountains that flank the
border with the DRC. This route isn’t offered by any operators, but
African Bikers (www.africanbikers.com) offer a similar tour that just focuses on Uganda’s national parks.
5. Through the Guineas - Bissau, Guinea-Bissau to Faranah, Guinea (900km)
this unique route is well off the beaten path, you’ll have plenty of
wonderful Guineans to share your experiences with on the road.
Portuguese-influenced Bissau on a smooth, quiet road towards the
atmospheric colonial towns of Bafata and Gabu. Traditional villages and
cashew nut plantations dominate the landscape along the way. Continue
across the border into Guinea and follow the small track east from
Koundara into the Fouta Djalon highlands. Enjoy the company of local
cyclists who transport goods on this challenging but very scenic ride
towards Mali-Ville. Once there have a rest and soak up the spectacular
views down into Senegal before taking on the dramatic ascents and
descents en route to the town of Labe. There, the tarmac begins again,
but the road remains blissfully traffic-free, with plenty of
opportunities to stop in small villages and meet the locals. Guineans
are amongst the most friendly of people in West Africa. Watch out for
monkeys and colourful birds in the dense roadside bush as the rolling
landscape continues to Faranah. Here the River Niger begins its long
journey. This is an independent trip and bikes should be brought from
6. Spice Island loop - Zanzibar and Pemba, Tanzania (300km)
Crooked alleys, beautiful beaches, lush forests and a flying fox or two will greet you on this memorable route.
Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town before heading north to the quiet
coastal fishing village of Mkokotoni. Watch local carpenters making
traditional fishing boats here before continuing to Nungwi for a
stunning sunset. Return south the following day along the quiet
palm-fringed east coast, stopping at villages like Pongwe and Chwaka.
Enjoy the empty beaches before going off-road for a short stretch beside
Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park (keep an eye out for monkeys). If the
tide is out, try cycling along the white sand south from Michamvi
towards Makunduchi. Be sure to look out for dolphins on the ride over to
Kizimkazi. After reaching the island of Pemba by ferry from Stone Town,
head north with the pungent aroma of drying cloves from the roadside to
keep you company. Like Zanzibar, Pemba’s roads are well paved and
quiet. Watch out for flying foxes (indigenous to the island) on the ride
through Ngezi Forest in the north of the island and take in the
spectacle of fishing boats bringing in the afternoon catch at nearby
Tumbe Beach fish market. Return south to Mkoani for the return trip to
Zanzibar. Bicycles can be rented on either island for independent rides,
or local tour operators such as Cycle Tours Tanzania (www.cycletourstanzania.com) can organise a similar trip.
7. Sea to sky - Ilha de Moçambique, Mozambique to Mount Mulanje, Malawi (700km)
landscapes, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ilha de Moçambique and
roadside nibbles consisting of mangoes and cashews make this ride one to
Explore the atmospheric streets of Ilha de Moçambique
before leaving the Indian Ocean behind on a well-paved and quiet road.
The roadside on your route west is dominated by mango and cashew trees,
which means there is plenty to fill up on when they are in season
(between November and January). Overnight in Namialo before continuing
west past the stunning limestone karsts that surround the town of
Nampula. Leave the tarmac at Molocue and climb through beautiful rolling
scenery and traditional villages to the tea plantations around Gurue.
After a rest explore the photographic foothills of nearby Mount Namuli,
before following the remote tracks to Molumbo and the border with
Malawi. Watch Mount Mulanje rise up in front of you before crossing the
border and turning right to cycle around the eastern side of the
mountain. Small mountain streams and rarely-visited villages line the
track heading up to Fort Lister and Phalombe. Finish in nearby Mulanje
or Blantyre. This route is not covered by organised trips, but it’s a
great one to take on regardless.
To subscribe or buy back issues, click here
8. Kili to the coast - Moshi to Tanga & Indian ocean, Tanzania (550km)
See the best of Africa’s mountains, wildlife and beaches (without crowds).
west from the town of Moshi before turning north towards Sanya Juu. En
route you pass through little-visited Maasai villages, with Mount Meru
looming to your left and Kilimanjaro rising to your right. On day two or
three you experience a dramatic change in scenery as the dry savannah
plains are replaced by the cool cloud forests on Kili’s northern slopes.
A steep descent takes you to Lake Chala on the Kenya border. Camp here
and explore – you may even see elephants as they migrate through. Head
south next, eventually branching off towards the lesser-known Pare
Mountains at the village of Same. Quiet roads and remote villages line
the tracks that continue behind the Usambara Mountains, which are a true
treat. A gradual slope takes you down towards the swaying palm trees on
the coast at Tanga. Head south and relax on one of the pristine white
beaches. Cycle Tours Tanzania (www.cycletourstanzania.com) offer a range of organised tours in the area if you are not keen on taking it on yourself.
9. Over the Atlas - MarrakeCh to Ouarzazate, Morocco (500km)
the delights of Marrakech, you’ll be faced with challenging hills,
great cultural opportunities and adrenaline-inducing descents.
culture-rich Marrakech and head west, with dramatic views south towards
the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Overnight in the diminutive village of
Demnate, then continue with a gentle climb the following day to the
stunning Cascades d’Ouzoud, Morocco’s highest waterfalls. Further west
the real adventure begins, on a little-used track towards Imilchil,
where you pass rugged mountain landscapes and remote villages. As
cyclists are rarely spotted here, don’t be surprised to receive friendly
invitations from local Berber people to overnight in their house – it’s
an opportunity not to be missed. From Imilchil, turn south towards the
wild high-altitude scenery and climb over Tizi-n-Ouano Pass (2900m). The
subsequent descent to Dades Gorge is adrenaline-inducing. Ancient
fortresses dominate the traditional red-brick villages in this area, and
it is here that the tarmac starts again – it’s a smooth and scenic ride
into Ouarzazate, the gateway to the Sahara. This ride (and other
similar Atlas Mountain routes) can be done independently or through
10. Jungle ride - Bangui, Central African Republic to Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo (600km cycling)
Few cycling itineraries are as adventurous as this one through Central Africa.
by loading your bikes into a dugout canoe in Bangui for the paddle
cross the River Oubangi to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Zongo,
join local cyclists as they begin their journey south along the remote
jungle-track with their enormous cargoes. Villages along here rarely see
foreigners, and as many of these poorly maintained tracks are hard to
access by motorised vehicle, cycling is the only way to go – it’s an
overwhelming experience. Watch out for monkeys and colourful butterflies
that line the tracks. Continue south towards the mighty Congo River,
catching the barge travelling upstream towards Kisangani at either
Lisala or Bumba. The week-long journey on the river is a true adventure.
Cycling in the DRC is purely for the adventurously minded, but the
rewards are well worth it.
Easy does it
an entire cycling holiday isn’t up your street, there are many great
opportunities in Africa to enjoy shorter stints in the saddle while on
safari and still see some amazing things. Here are some of Travel
11. Cape Town, South Africa
are various cycling day trips based out of this gorgeous city, some on
roads and others on trails. Take to the slopes of Table Mountain, or hit
the tarmac to Stellenbosch for guided rides through the Winelands.
12. Marrakech, Morocco
are several operators in the city who rent mountain bikes and offer day
trips into the nearby Atlas Mountains. Options include routes in the
Ourika Valley, Gadji Valley and Tikla Valley. The latter option is
possible all year, but the others are valid only between September to
13. Arusha, Tanzania
There are great
day-trips here, either riding up in the foothills of Mount Meru or more
extended rides that head out on to the plains or some combination
thereof. A full day can include a tour – Arusha does have some
interesting sites, from the German fort or boma, to the Rwandan war
crimes tribunal. Further afield, lie a crater lake and some rural areas
that offer fantastic mountain biking.
14. Manyara, Tanzania
day trips are available from Lake Manyara Serena, which normally
include a visit to the village of Mto wa Mbu. Further afield, however,
there are some real gems, from riding outside of Tarangire National Park
to areas further south around Kolo and Kondoa (where there are ancient
rock paintings). This region is great for a blend of culture, history
15. Mount Kenya, Kenya
bike rides on the lower slopes of Kenya’s highest peak are organised by
several companies. These can be done as day trips or as part of a
multi-day cycling trip into the nearby Laikipia Plateau. A day-ride is a
great add-on to those trekking the mountain.
16. Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya
are few opportunities to cycle amongst classic African wildlife within a
national park. Hell’s Gate is one such place. Bikes are available to
rent nearby along the shore of Lake Naivasha (Fisherman’s Camp is one
well-known option). The park’s volcanic landscape is stunning too.
17. Garden Route, South Africa
is no shortage of great mountain bike trails along the Garden Route,
between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. They are varied in difficulty, which
means there are routes for beginners as well as for experts.
18. Oudtshoorn, South Africa.
popular route that involves you being driven by bus up to the top of
Swartberg Pass, which gives you the opportunity of a gravity-assisted
54km ride back to town. Possible stops en route back to town include the
impressive Cango Caves, camel and ostrich farms and a swim at the Cango
19. Moshi, Tanzania
Arusha, Moshi does have a rich history and you can certainly visit
various sites with great cycling in between. Day trips up the slopes of
Kilimanjaro are great for those who really want the exercise and there
are some easier rides around town.