europe cycling route
France ╗Spain ╗ Portugal
west africa cycling route
Sahara ╗ Mauritania ╗
╗ The Gambia
Bissau ╗ Guinea ╗ Sierra Leone ╗ Mali ╗ Niger ╗ Burkina Faso
╗ Ghana ╗ Togo ╗ Benin
central africa cycling route
|Nigeria ╗ Cameroon ╗ Equatorial Guinea ╗
Congo-Brazzaville ╗ DRC
east africa cycling route
|Rwanda ╗ Uganda
╗ Burundi ╗Tanzania
southern africa cycling route
Zambia ╗ Zimbabwe ╗ Botswana
╗ South Africa
cape town to cairo cycling route
Lesotho ╗ Swaziland ╗ Mozambique ╗ Malawi
middle east cycling route
|Jordan ╗ Israel ╗ Palestine ╗ Syria ╗ Lebanon ╗ Turkey
╗ Bulgaria ╗ Serbia ╗ Kosovo ╗ Macedonia ╗ Albania ╗ Montenegro ╗ Croatia
╗ Bosnia ╗ Slovenia ╗ Italy
╗ France ╗ Germany
Jersey ╗ Pennsylvania ╗ Maryland ╗ Virginia ╗ West Virginia ╗ Kentucky ╗ Illinois ╗ Missouri
╗ Kansas ╗ Colorado ╗ Utah
╗ Idaho╗ Montana ╗ Idaho ╗ Washington ╗ Oregon
╗ California ╗ Arizona
╗ New Mexico ╗ Texas
╗ Belize ╗ Guatemala ╗ El Salvador ╗ Honduras ╗ Nicaragua ╗ Costa Rica ╗ Panama ╗
╗ Venezuela ╗ Guyana ╗ Suriname ╗ French Guyana ╗ Brazil ╗ Bolivia ╗ Paraguay ╗ Uruguay ╗ Argentina ╗ Chile ╗ Bolivia ╗ Peru ╗ Ecuador ╗ Colombia
France ╗Spain ╗ Portugal 4,300 kilometers June-July 2006
We set off from Eric's hometown, Obernai , France on June 7th 2006 to follow the Rhine river bicycle route to Mulhouse. There we continued heading southwest along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin which turned into the Doubs river. More easy cycling awaited us as we next followed the Sa˘ne river as far as the city of Chalon sur Sa˘ne. At Le Puy en Velay (GR65) we picked up the Via Podensis section of the famous pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago.
A thousand kilometers on through Spain, we arrived in Santiago, where we received our official credentials proving we had completed the pilgrimage. In keeping with the pilgrim spirit, we continued on through beautiful Galicia with its cool forests and waterfalls to reach the 'end of the world' at Finisterra. From there we started the pilgrimage in reverse, following the Camino 'backwards' into Portugal. We then hugged the Atlantic coast, enjoying cooler temperatures than inland and some fine coastal riding. Back to Spain and stifling heat near Seville, after which we were in for a hard ride up to picture-perfect Ronda. Swooping down to Marbella brought us to the coast and throngs of tourists. From there it was a short ride to the jumping off point to Africa, Algeciras, where a short ferry ride brought us to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the African continent.
Morocco ╗ Western Sahara ╗ Mauritania ╗ Senegal ╗ The Gambia ╗ Guinea Bissau ╗ Guinea ╗ Sierra Leone ╗ Mali ╗ Niger ╗ Burkina Faso ╗ Ghana ╗ Togo ╗ Benin 13,300 Kilometers August 2006 - February 2007
We chose to forgo the well-worn Cairo to Cape Town route in favor of first exploring the sights of West Africa, known for its ethnic diversity , cheerful hospitality and stunning architecture. Immigration into Morocco was a bit hectic owing to the multitudes of travelers wanting to cross the border during the August holiday season. We're big fans of the mountains, so after some relaxation in Martil, a beach town popular with both local and foreign tourists, we climbed up to the hippy-hangout of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains. An excellent place to relax for a few days and acclimatize yourselves to Africa. From there we continued to the Middle Atlas mountains, and enjoyed another long break in Azrou. We swooped down to Marrakesh, found the stifling August heat overpowering, and climbed up the Tizi-n-Test pass at 2,000 meters to cool off and enjoy the views.
Next it was down to the colorful market town of Taroudant and the plains. Before heading into Western Sahara, we tackled the arid Anti-Atlas and experienced some of the hottest temperatures of the trip. Southern Morocco and the 10-day ride across the Western Sahara was not only a physical challenge, but a test of our mental endurance as we traversed this desolate landscape. Mauritania brought more sand, and some nasty windstorms, but the smooth tarmac and spectacular desert scenery more than compensated for the hardships.
We whizzed through northern Senegal, did a loop in The Gambia, and then headed back to Senegal to discover the picturesque Cassamance region. A fairly heavy military presence in this troubled region didn't bode well for exploring out-of-the-way places, so we quickly spun on to Guinea Bissau. This tropical, lush country is still recovering from years of civil war and sees few tourists. Next up was Guinea and some lovely cycling through the craggy mountains of the Fouta Djalon. With so much natural beauty, extraordinarily friendly people and bargain prices, this country is a real gem.
Although the mention of Sierra Leone, our next country, conjures up images of child soldiers and blood diamonds for many, we'll always remember this struggling country for the resilience of its people who are fighting to put their troubled past behind them. It's sweltering hot almost year round, but the spirited Sierra Leoneons have an infectious zest for life that will make you forget the heat. Then it was back to Guinea, passing through Farannah, Daboula and Kan Kan on the hot and dry plains of Haute Guineau.
We hit Mali in December, the best time for cycling as temperatures drop and there's even an early morning nip in the air--time to dig out the fleece jacket that had last made an appearance at the Tizi-n-Test pass in Morocco. A relatively developed tourist sector meant toilet paper was easier to find, but on the downside some villagers demanded money for camping. We just didn't receive the same heartfelt welcome we had enjoyed in less-visited countries such as Guinea and Sierra Leone. The Sudanese style mosques are stunning and there's much to see along the small roads following the Niger river between Segou, Massina and Djenne. We couldn't miss the Dogon country, so from Bandiagara we cycled to Teli and admired the cliff dwellings. Then it was on to Douenza and a very exotic market. Africa's answer to monument valley, Hombori, with it's soaring sandstone rock formations, is a long haul from Bamako but worth the extra kilometers. Strong headwinds hampered our progress as we continued on to Gao, which felt like the end of the world.
Not far outside of Gao on the road towards Niger, the tarmac ran out and we were left with either a sandy track or the foundations of the new highway. This new road should be completed by the time you read this, so you'll have an easier time than we did. Niger welcomed us with a smooth tarmac road and a look at the Ayorou market, one of the best in Africa. After spending Christmas 2006 in Niamey, we then headed west towards Burkina Faso.
We just couldn't take the ease of tarmac for too long, so we hit the piste again and set off towards remote Parc National d'Arly nestled deep in the African bush. Ouagadougou was the next major stop, from where we switched directions and started heading south towards Ghana. Northern Ghana was much like neighboring Burkina, and it wasn't until we neared Kumasi that the arid bush gave way to lush rolling hills and tropical landscape. We spent the obligatory few days lazing at the beach (Green Turtle Lodge, Dix Cove) and then followed the coastal route visiting the old forts at Elmina before heading to Accra for a visa run. Next we spun on towards tiny Togo and the highlands between Atakpame and Kpalime-- great cycling spots if you enjoy climbs. Benin, the birthplace of voudou, has some fascinating places to discover if you take your time to stroll through its markets and old towns. Cycling can be nerve-wracking as traffic is heavy and drivers are the usual maniacs you find throughout the rest of the continent, only in higher concentration.
Nigeria ╗ Cameroon ╗ Equatorial Guinea ╗ Gabon ╗ Congo-Brazzaville ╗ DRC 8,000 kms Feb - May 2007
Central Africa was, by far, the toughest stretch of the trip. News reports from Nigeria are inevitably about kidnappings in the southern Delta region, violence and poverty in Lagos or corrupt politicians and their heavy-handed henchmen. Our plan was to avoid Lagos altogether, steer clear of religious extremists in the North and skirt around the Delta lest we be taken for expat oil workers and coveted as potentially lucrative kidnapping pawns. Down a rough and sandy track from Save, we crossed the Benin-Nigeria border at a small village called Kaboua that surely hadn't seen a foreign visitor in years.
The first major town we hit was Iganna. Cycling in Nigeria varies from pleasant paved roads with relatively little traffic to extremely dangerous highways where safe driving practices are virtually unknown. Unpaved roads are fairly easily avoided. All in all, most cyclists seem to enjoy Nigeria. The country's got a rotting infrastructure and a rotten government, but the locals are as warm-hearted as you're likely to meet anywhere. Police roadblocks are a common sight throughout the country. Not to worry, the police are so adept at fleecing the local population they're likely to leave you alone. Calabar is probably the nicest Nigerian city for a few days' rest. Heading towards the Ekang border post, the road becomes progressively worse after Oban which is 65 kilometers from Calabar. Camping at the border post should be no problem, but there are no guesthouses on either side. The Nigeria side has a few shops and maybe some place where you can get some basic food.
Rough and rutted roads continue on the Cameroon side. When we passed in 2007, there were paved sections interspersed with unpaved sections, so check for the latest info and keep in mind that these roads will be very rough and maybe impassable during the rainy season. You'll be passing through thick tropical forest and the ride is spectacular. The area near Bamenda is stunning. Try to visit some of the surrounding villages and do a bit of the ring road if possible. Cameroon has some pretty tough cycling because there are lots of steep climbs.
After a visa run in Yaounde, we headed towards Equatorial Guinea, crossing the border at Ebebyin. Not a hot spot for tourists, but if you're in the neighborhood why not go for a visit? Beware of the numerous police checkpoints. We had one pretty close call with a drunken official. There's still quite a bit of unspoilt forest on this part of the continent, so go now before it all disappears. Logging trucks trundling by are a disturbingly common sight. The oil-rich government has got very deep pockets and is paving all major roads so cycling is relatively easy. Leaving Equatorial Guinea via the Cogo border crossing into Gabon was an adventure of its own. First we had to get by the very corrupt officials at the port who insisted we pay extra fees and refused to surrender our passports. We held our ground and eventually were allowed to leave. The boat was crowded beyond even normal African capacity, which meant at least triple what it was designed for. Rough seas and panicky fellow passengers added to the fun.
Gabon greeted us with a piste that turned very muddy, very quickly. We didn't reach a tar road until just before Ntum. Logging trucks rushing by are a nuisance as you leave Libreville heading towards Lambarene, otherwise a beautiful ride through very lush, hilly country. 50 km after Lambarene we were in for more battles with the roads, at one point being forced to hop on a truck near Mouila because the road was under several feet of water.
Authorities at the Nyanga border crossing in Congo were keen to extort some money from us, going so far as to search our panniers and detain us for several hours insisting we needed proof of our status as tourists. They weren't aggressive, but they didn't give up easily. There are a fair number of checkpoints along the way and when we casually tried to pass, feigning ignorance that there was a police office in the distance, were called back by fuming officials and conspiring villagers. Congo is fascinating because its so remote, but that same remoteness can become unsettling when you realize how cut off you are from the rest of the world. Roads can be really bad. At Loutete we had to jump onto a freight train with military escort, the region near Brazzaville not yet being under government control. The situation has surely improved. Brazzaville was surprisingly laid back and not a bad place to rest and recuperate from the rigors of Central Africa.
Political unrest and pockets of violence in the DRC meant that an overland journey was a potentially risky undertaking. Instead, we opted to take a plane from Kinshasa, traverse Congo by air, and land in Goma, on the Rwandan border. From there we restarted the cycling tour and made our way further south.
Rwanda ╗ Uganda ╗ Burundi ╗Tanzania 3,400 kilometers July - August 2007
After the rigors of traveling the back roads of Central Africa, we were more than ready for the comforts associated with traveling in tourist friendly East Africa. Rwanda's roads, and just as important, its drivers, are a dream. Smooth tarmac, light traffic and a scarcity of maniacs behind the wheel made cycling a pleasure. Rwanda is a lovely, well-maintained country of neat gardens in front of tidy huts, rubbish-free city streets and breathtaking mountain vistas. Perhaps the only downside was the gawkers, who even find urinating foreigners of interest. The area around Ruhengeri and Gisenyi was particularly spectacular with cobalt blue lakes and volcanic mountains in the background.
Neighboring Uganda ranks up there with Nigeria for traffic chaos, lorries speed past at break-neck speed, buses careen around sharp bends and the traffic gushes in an unending flow around large cities. Traffic worries aside, Uganda's nice for cycling since there's quite a variety of landscapes and a decent infrastructure for tourists who've had enough of roughing it through central Africa.
Burundi was one of our favorites. The people are amongst the friendliest we met and the cool eucalyptus forests a treat to cycle through. But, like Rwanda, this is hilly country and we poured out a lot of sweat to make the kilometers go by. A little help from the energetic village kids on the steepest climbs was a blessing. After traveling through Bujumburu and around Nyanza Lake, we headed towards remote Western Tanzania, crossing the border at Mugina.
Although the rest of Tanzania may be a circus of tourists decked out in safari gear, Western Tanzania sees few visitors. Again, we were faced with a rough and sandy road after entering the country at Manyovu, heading towards Kigoma. At Kigoma we boarded the MV Liemba for a fascinating maritime journey on LakeTanganyika. At Kasanga we took to our bikes again, on some very rough and remote roads. Next our route took us up a long climb to Mbeya, from where we swooped down through the verdant tea plantations and into Malawi.
Malawi ╗ Zambia ╗ Zimbabwe ╗ Botswana ╗ Namibia ╗ South Africa 5,500 kilometers Sept. - Nov. 2007
The areas around Lake Malawi are amongst the most laid-back in Africa and we enjoyed some relaxing days of cycling and lounging on the shores of the vast lake. The 20 hairpin bends leading up to Livingstonia were a tough climb, but the spectacular campsite that awaited us made all the sweat worth it. Then it was on to Lilongwe, before continuing west towards Zambia. The highlight of our visit was the time we spent animal spotting in South Luangwa National Park. The safaris on offer are probably the most reasonably priced on the entire continent. We were actually a bit disappointed with Zambia's other big draw, Victoria Falls. Admittedly, the flow was a fraction of what it can be at its height. All in all, the views really are better from the Zimbabwe side. With all the chaos caused by Mugabe's misrule, we decided to play it safe and headed directly into Botswana after our brief visit to Vic Falls, crossing the border at Kanzungula.
Long distances, light population and loads of animals made for an air of adventure cycling through Botswana. We were enveloped in the vast sky and almost lulled to sleep on the ruler-straight road as we spun on between Kasane, Nata and Maun.
Arriving in Namibia at the Buitepos border felt like the the beginning of the end. Supermarkets replaced corner shops, gone were the rickety shacks serving up rice and beans and the service stations were modern and air conditioned. Windhoek was full of malls and fast food joints, and for a moment we loved being surrounding by the trappings of the world we were familiar with. Of course the novelty wore off quickly. Our trip inland to Solitaire, Sesriem, Helmenringhausen, Aus, Rosh Pinah and finally to the border at Noordoewer was both the most challenging and the most rewarding of the trip. Jaw-dropping desert scenery but tough going with sand storms, intense heat, and some roads that hadn't seen a grader in many moons.
It was with a sense of relief that we crossed the border into South Africa, having been plagued by doubts as to whether we'd really make it all the way through Africa. The road to Cape Town wasn't all down hill from Springbok as some locals suggested, and with head winds hampering our progress we fought hard for the last kilometers into Cape Town. In early November 2007, we were scrambling up Table Mountain to celebrate reaching the southern tip of Africa. We were blessed with a glorious, sunny day for the final, spectacular ride out to Cape Point marking the completion of our journey south.
South Africa ╗ Lesotho ╗ Swaziland ╗ Mozambique ╗ Malawi ╗ Tanzania ╗ Kenya ╗ Ethiopia ╗ Sudan ╗ Egypt
13,900 kilometers November - December 2008 + July 2008 - January 2009 (January - July 2008 break in India)
The landscapes of South Africa are perhaps the most diverse of the entire continent. We traversed the rolling winelands near Cape Town, before heading to the semi-arid Little Karoo and then on to the Great Karoo with its vast swathes of farmland inhabited only by hardy sheep and ostriches. After a stop in Bloemfontein, we cut into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and tortured ourselves with a succession of high passes. The spectacular and spectacularly bone-jarring Sani Pass brought us back into South Africa. Qwa Zulu Natal was a succession of small towns and sugarcane plantations and a fair number of hills before reaching Durban. At that point, January 2008, we'd been on tour for more that a year and a half and were suffering from a serious case of road fatigue. It was the height of the Southern Hemisphere summer and the road further north into Mozambique promised to be sweltering hot. Time for a break. We flew to India for six months of leisurely cycling and extended periods of intensive yoga practice in Kerala and Karnataka.
On July 19th, 2008 we were back on the African continent to continue the long route home. Beginning in Johannesburg, we headed on to Swaziland, then into Mozambique up the N1, before cutting up to Malawi via Tete and the border crossing at Mwanza. Laidback Malawi offered lots of easy cycling and nice camping at the many lodges dotting the lake.
Then it was on to Tanzania and a short break in Tukuyu to enjoy the cool climate and beauty of the surrounding forests and tea plantations. Winds and heavy traffic dogged us as we made our way to Dar es Salaam from where we hopped on a boat headed for Zanzibar. Once back on the mainland, we continued our bicycle journey north, stopping off at Bagomoyo and then made the long climb up to Lushoto. Here, surrounded by forests and streams, we found some respite from the heat and gorged ourselves on fresh cheese, brown bread and locally made fruit jams. We skirted around Kilimanjaro, then headed on to Arusha and into Kenya at the Namanga border.
After making the obligatory stop in Nairobi, we opted to head into Ethiopia via the west shore of Lake Turkana. The ride through tribal areas was pure adventure and we arrived at the Ethiopia border post of Omorate exhausted and longing for civilization. The rainy season was just coming to an end in Ethiopia's Omo Valley and we were faced with a washed out road and many (normally dry) river beds to cross. Cycling was a lot of work, but getting a glimpse of the colorful tribal peoples was well worth the effort. Arriving in Arba Minch marked a return to the comforts of 'civilization' and we rested up there for several days before continuing on towards Addis Ababa. Instead of following the heavily traveled main road, we took the newly-opened highway passing through Hosaina and Butajira. Aching legs were par for the course, but our efforts were well rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
From Gonder we descended down an almost completely paved road to the Sudan border at Metema. We pined for the cool highland air during our long, hot slog to Khartoum but certainly didn't miss the bands of 'You, You, You'ers who had hounded us through Ethiopia. The ride through the Nubian desert to Wadi Halfa was a time to enjoy the solitude of the desert and the beauty of the villages lining the lush banks of the Nile. The Sudanese spoiled us with warm hospitality and not a day passed with an invitation to tea, a meal, or lodging for the night.
Egypt came as something of shock with its well-developed tourist sector, well-stocked shops and local population well-versed in ripping off tourists. After immersing ourselves in a bit of culture in Luxor, we headed back into the desert in order to avoid the police escorts which are so common along the Nile route. The Western Desert varied from mind-numbingly monotonous to jaw-dropping beautiful. Camping amidst the arctic-like rock formations of the White Desert was a highlight, while slogging against a frigid headwind a test of our will to complete the ride to Cairo. Of course we did make it to Cairo and were thrilled to ride past the pyramids of Ghiza and terrified to navigate the clogged streets of Africa's largest city. Again it was back to the desert after leaving the African continent via the tunnel at Suez linking the mainland to the Sinai peninsula. More spectacular desert scenery awaited us, but with temperatures down to freezing at night we found it hard to adjust to the cool winter climate.
Jordan ╗ Israel ╗ Palestine ╗ Syria ╗ Lebanon ╗ Turkey
3,900 kilometers February & March 2009
We entered Jordan at the port city of Aqaba and then began steadily climbing towards the King's Highway to visit the ancient ruins of Petra. Lots of tough climbs left our leg's weary and stone throwing boys left our nerves frazzled.
Fortunately, relief came in the form of easy cycling along the scenic Dead Sea Highway. We crossed into Israel and the Palestinian Territories at King Hussein Bridge. The border crossing procedures were long and drawn out, but eventually we were able to enter Israel without a stamp in our passports. From 400 meters below sea level we cycled up to Jerusalem at 800 meters, a tough climb which started late in the afternoon and drug on well into the evening. After a few days playing tourist and soaking up the atmosphere we returned to Jordan, taking a back route to the border which passed through Palestinian territory and the ancient city of Jericho. This time the border crossing procedures were much swifter and we were able to leave Israel without an exit stamp and re-enter Jordan without problem and cycle north towards Syria.
We were slightly nervous about the Syria border crossing, because if there is evidence of having visited Israel travelers are barred from entering the country. The immigration officer behind the counter at the border crossing near was suspicious of a sticky substance on the back of our passports and proclaimed, "This is from Tel Aviv!'. Of course we vehemently denied the accusation. It was true. The Israelis had put some sort of sticker on the back of the passport to claim luggage after a security check. We got our Syrian visas in the end, although this was thanks to the kindness of the immigration official. Syria greeted us with rain. And lots of it. We made our way to the beautiful and lively city of Damascus, spent a few days there seeing the sights and roaming the souqs before heading on towards Lebanon.
On the pass between the two countries we encountered the worst weather of the entire trip. A snowstorm hit and we were stranded at the mosque next to the duty-free shop. Our original plan was to visit the ruins at Baalbec, but the weather dissuaded us from spending time in the mountains. Instead, we swooped down to the Mediterranean coast and spent a week in Beirut drying out and warming up at the home of our Hospitality Club hosts. We followed the old coastal road north, stopped off at the ruins at Byblos, and enjoyed an afternoon wandering around Tripoli before crossing back into Syria at the Kalakh crossing. Off the main roads the countryside is beautiful an the hospitality couldn't be warmer and we loved riding through the small villages. We arrived at Crac des Chevaliers in a downpour and the rains hardly let up the entire time we were in Syria. After visiting the ruins at Apamea and the Dead Cities we made it to Allepo. From there we took a detour to visit the monastery at Saint Simeon and finally crossed in to Turkey at Bab al Hawa.
Turkey is a huge country with much to see, but cool stormy weather and time constraints dictated that we stay as far south as possible and avoid high mountains. Through the Hatay we headed towards Iskenderoun then on to Adana and Mersin slowly making our way to Antalya. The quiet road between Silifke and Gazipasa winds and climbs its way along the coast and offers some fantastic riding through beautiful pine forests. We loved this stretch of road, although I imagine things get quite busy during the summer months. Mass tourism blights the coast between Alanya and Antalya and the whole strip is just a succession of beach hotels and restaurants with a scattering of petrol stations. At least the road is flat.
From Antalya we headed inland over some high, snow capped mountains to Denizli, famous for the nearby ruins at Pamukkale. We decided to take some backroads and got stuck in the mud, which brought back memories of all the bad roads in Africa. From Akhisar we headed towards Bergama, yet another famous archaeological site. Our map showed a scenic route passing through the villages of Kozak and Demeridere before reaching the coast. We decided to take it and our efforts were rewarded with spectacular mountain scenery and quaint villages. We continued along the North Aegean coast passing through Edremit and continuing directly along the coast after Kucukkuyu, where the main road heads inland. This wonderfully rural stretch of road passes through tiny villages and groves of olive trees, with fantastic views of the sea. From the picturesque village of Assos, we continued along the scenic road passing through Korubasi , Gulpinar, Geyekli and Kumburun until we rejoined the main highway at Akpacinar. The riding was excellent, although a lot of work with many hills and strong winds. From Canakkale we crossed into Europe and continued along the coast and then inland to the border at Edirne.
Greece ╗ Bulgaria ╗ Serbia ╗ Kosovo ╗ Macedonia ╗ Albania ╗ Montenegro ╗ Croatia ╗ Bosnia ╗ Slovenia ╗ Italy ╗ Switzerland ╗ France ╗ Germany
Cycling in Greece was but a flash, less than 50 kilometers and we crossed into Bulgaria, with its busy highways lined with rubbish. We passed through many derelict towns and cities but at least the road was flat as we cycled to historical Plovdiv, for us the highpoint of Bulgaria. On the way to Sophia we saw fewer empty factories and deserted villages and more of the beautiful nature Bulgaria is renowned for.
Crossing into Serbia was a pleasant surprise. Just across the border are charming villages, the friendly town of Pirot and lovely green countryside, and oh so clean compared with Bulgaria. From Nis we headed into Kosovo where we were met with more busy highways and unrelenting traffic.
Luckily the cycling improved vastly once we got to beautiful Macedonia, one of our favorite Balkan countries. The area surrounding Lake Ohrid is simply stunning and offers excellent cycling along quiet scenic roads.
Next it was on to Albania, another country that could benefit from modern trashing collecting technologies. Heading out of Elbasan we were faced with a steep climb before reaching funky Tirana--Albania's fast-changing capital's not a bad place to hang out for a few days. Our next Balkan country was mountainous
Montenegro, an ideal spot for a short cycling holiday if you don't mind the climbs. The ride up over the mountains before reaching Kotor was a tough one, but well worth the effort for the spectacular views afforded on the way down. Then we toured around the bay before climbing again around Lake Shkoder-magnificent cycling on almost traffic free roads. It just doesn't get any better.
It wasn't long before we found ourselves in Slovenia, a little gem of a country that certainly deserves more time for exploration. Cool pine forests and quiet roads made biking there a dream.
Then came Italy and boy were we out of place on our heavily-laden touring bikes, all the Lycra guys were whizzing by on racing bikes. Although Italy is famous for cycling, the northern part of the country is heavily populated and the mega-highways cyclists are sometimes forced to ride on hardly do the sport justice. City, after city, after endless city gets old fast. The best cycling we found in Italy was near Lake Garda.
Switzerland has an excellent network of bike paths, and after the stress of congested Italy, it was pure joy to take a break from busy highways. Cycling-wise, you probably can't go wrong in a country blessed with such natural beauty. We can highly recommend the route from the Slovenia to Lugano, heading towards Luzern and then to Basel all the way to the French border. Note that passes close during the winter months and some don't re-open until June.
The last few kilometers of our epic Africa biking tour were in France on the wonderfully flat plain of Alsace before reaching Obernai, our original point of departure in June 2006. The Africa chapter of our tour officially came to an end on 14 May 2009 at 5:05 PM. Two years, eleven months and seven days on the road. 55, 236 kilometers pedaled and 55 countries visited.
10,147 kilometers, June - November 2009
New York ╗ New Jersey ╗ Pennsylvania ╗ Maryland ╗ Virginia ╗ West Virginia ╗ Kentucky ╗ Illinois ╗ Missouri ╗ Kansas ╗ Colorado ╗ Utah ╗ Idaho╗ Montana ╗ Idaho ╗ Washington ╗ Oregon ╗ California ╗ Arizona ╗ New Mexico ╗ Texas
June 11th, 2009 we rolled out of JFK and pedaled towards Brooklyn to begin our US tour. The eastern seaboard is one of the most heavily populated parts of the country and we were ill-prepared to navigate the thick network of twisted interstates and super-highways. Spend some time carefully planning your route around New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC and avoid getting caught in heavy traffic as we did. Riding the backroads of Maryland, with its rolling hills and farms, was much more pleasant than getting a tour of housing projects in Newark.
Starting in Virginia, we biked across America roughly following Adventure Cycling's TransAmerica route until we reached Colorado, where we continued into Utah before turning north into Idaho and Montana. The Adventure Cycling route takes you from Colorado into Wyoming and then into Montana.
The toughest cycling was tackling the mighty Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia. Steep climbs and lots of ups and downs on narrow windy roads were par for the course. In Missouri, we plotted a course slightly north of the Ozarks hoping to avoid the unrelenting hills, but still spent plenty of time grinding up short steep climbs. Kansas was flat, hot and boring. But thankfully home to some of the friendliest folks in the country. Pitching the tent in local parks, complete with a free shower at the adjacent pool was the norm.
Sparsely populated Eastern Colorado has more in common with Kansas than the rest of the state, but once past Pueblo we caught sight of the Rockies rising in the distance and started in on some serious climbing. Surprisingly, pedaling through the Rockies was far easier than taking on the Appalachians. The Rockies are characterized by long, gentle climbs followed by lazy rides through lush river valleys. Fantastic vistas, varying landscapes and picturesque Wild West towns tucked away in the mountains make Colorado a top spot for cycling. At over 11,700 feet, Hoosier Pass was the highest point of the trip and it wasn't all downhill from there. Plenty of passes followed.
After Colorado, we continued cycling into Utah. The deserts of Utah rank high on our list of favorite US touring locations. Surreal landscapes, jaw-dropping sunrises and wide open roads make the land of Brigham Young well worth a visit. Utah, where the license plates boast of 'the best snow on earth,' rivals Colorado for mountain landscapes, so don't neglect this western gem when planning your bike tour across America.
Idaho's motto 'famous potatoes' doesn't do much to draw tourists, which means fewer RVs plying the roads in this beautiful state. Stark wilderness, fast-flowing rivers and pastoral farmland as well as 80 mountain ranges can all be found within Idaho's boundaries.
One last push over Lost Trail Pass and we said good-bye to Idaho and free-wheeled it down the mountain into Montana's Bitterroot Valley. Then it was on to my hometown, Missoula, and a month of rest. Missoula is home of the Adventure Cycling Association where passing cyclists can drop by for free ice cream and sodas. Don't miss it. Check out Missoula's Saturday market if you're in town on the weekend, have a stroll down Higgins Avenue, pop into one of the many coffee shops and enjoy a cold beer on the terrace of the local micro-brewery.
A combination of Mom's home cooking and a stationary lifestyle meant we put on a few pounds (good for Eric, less so for me) and it was time to hit the road again in mid-September. A short trek through Western Montana and over Lolo Pass brought us back to Idaho and a glorious ride through some of America's remotest terrain as we followed in the tracks of Lewis and Clark. Heavily-wooded forests eventually gave way to desertic Eastern Washington and Oregon as we snaked our way towards the Pacific Northwest. The wind howled, but we pushed on into the thick forests surrounding the Columbia Gorge which carves its way through the Cascade Mountains. Surrounded by dramatic scenery of waterfalls spilling down over sheer rock faces and panoramic views over the gorge, we sped into Portland for a rest in one of America's premier cycling cities.
From Portland, we headed to the Oregon Coast and biked south into the stunning Redwood forests of Northern California. Scenic Highway snakes its way along the coast and offers some of the best biking in the country. Coupled with the convenience of the many hiker-biker campgrounds dotting the coast, this is perfect cycling country.
South of San Luis Obispo begins the snarl of Southern California, so we headed inland through California's agricultural heartland, the Central Valley. We were back to wide open spaces and simple farming towns. From Bakersfield, we continued into the Mojave Desert where temperatures soared and the wind howled. The wacky landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park soon gave way to the flat and featureless desert of Arizona.
After a long, hot slog to Phoenix we gained altitude and cooled off in the mountains of New Mexico, stopping off in Silver City as we biked through the stunning Gila Mountains. Back on the flat lands we headed for Las Cruces and then onto El Paso. With all the talk of drug-related violence in El Paso, we postponed crossing the border into Mexico and continued on through the beautiful vast open spaces of West Texas, cycling through through the small communities of Alpine and Sanderson.
Mexico ╗ Belize ╗ Guatemala ╗ El Salvador ╗ Honduras ╗ Nicaragua ╗ Costa Rica ╗ Panama ╗
At Eagle Pass, we finally hopped the border and discovered that Mexico was not, as we'd been warned on numerous occasions, over-run with thugs and drug lords. Baja California is by far the most popular route for cyclists, but wanting to experience a less-visited part of Mexico, we chose to cycle Mexico's Atlantic Coast and Yucatan Peninsula. After following the Rio Grande past the cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, we cycled south passing through Tampico, Veracruz, Coatzacoalcoas Villahermosa and Chetumal. Highways were often crowded with double trailer semi's and navigating cities with a million+ in population left us exhausted and longing for some quiet backroads.
Biking Belize, with its un-crowded roads and laid-back villages, was a blessing after all the hustle and bustle of Mexico. We skipped the beaches and biked inland through Orange Walk, Rockville and on to San Ignacio before pedaling across yet another border into Guatemala.
Cycling Guatemala was tough! In the Highlands, we encountered some of the most grueling climbs of the entire bike expedition. We began our bike trip through Guatemala at the border town of Ciudad Melchor, visited the remote ruins at Yaxha, cycled on to El Remate and followed some rough back roads around Lake Peten Itza to San Andreas, where we picked up a paved road to Sayaxche and continued on through the Highlands to the coffee-growing center of Coban. Our next stop was the small Highland village of Chicaman, before continuing on through the steep mountain roads to Lake Atitlan, where we relaxed at San Pedro. A steep climb out of San Pedro around the back side of the lake and soon we were flying down from the Highlands to the sweltering lowlands of Guatemala.
At La Hachadura, we crossed the border into heavily populated El Salvador. We rode through village after village full of friendly locals who were all up for a chat. Roads were mercifully flat until we hit the coast and the hills began again. After a couple of relaxing days at El Sunzal, a surfer's hangout, we pushed on towards La Libertad where the road again flattened out.
After spending just one night in Honduras, we rolled into Nicaragua, known as one of Central America's safest countries. On perfectly smooth roads (thanks to funding from the EU) we pedaled through cattle country, volcanoes looming in the distance. Our first stop was the colonial city of Leon, known for its numerous churches and vibrant markets. Masaya was our next stop, another friendly city surrounded by beautiful countryside.
A short ride away lay Costa Rica, Central America's most visited destination. After crossing the border at Pe˝a Blanca, we relaxed in Liberia for a couple of days. Then it was back to the narrow, busy and dangerous road to the coast. Near Puntaarenas the road vastly improved, and we could take advantage of some nice coastal riding past bustling towns and beach resorts.
At Capacho, we left Costa RIca and entered Panama. The Pan-American Highway, varying from hellishly bumpy to perfectly smooth, took us all the way to Panama City: the end of the road for our Central American cycling adventures.
Colombia ╗ Venezuela ╗ Guyana ╗ Suriname ╗ French Guyana ╗ Brazil ╗ Bolivia ╗ Paraguay ╗ Uruguay ╗ Argentina ╗ Chile ╗ Bolivia ╗ Peru ╗ Ecuador ╗ Colombia
A short flight brought us to Colombia, once off-limits for tourists due to safety concerns, but now an ever more popular destination on the South American circuit. From Cartagena, one of our favorite cities on the planet, we cycled north towards the coastal city of Santa Marta, and on to the dry Riohacha Peninsula, crossing the border into Venezuela at the grotty border town of Maicao.
Initially, we'd planned to follow the coast from Maracaibo, taking in Coro and other popular tourist destinations. But the heat was stifling--unbearable even--so we headed cycled up to the Andes to cool off. We biked up to the Andean towns of Trujillo and Bocono and then back down to the plains of Los Llanos, passing near Guanare, then on to Barinas before heading into the heartland of the cattle grazing country and the small settlements of Bruzual, Mantecal, Achaguas and finally San Fernando de Apure. From that point we had to make a detour of sorts, since there's no direct road through the Amazonas region. We cycled all the way south to Puerto Paez, right on the Colombian border, and then back north through some remote country dotted with Amerindian villages. At the junction with highway 19, we again headed east towards Ciudad Bolivar. Then it was a straight shot to Brazil, passing through the beautiful Gran Sabana region, the highlight of bicycle touring in Venezuela.
We left Venezuela behind at the tidy border town of Santa Elena and headed into a sparsely populated part of Brazil settled mostly by Amerindians. In Boa Vista, the region's major city, we stocked up with provisions for the rough ride through Guyana.
The muddy track (we biked here in May, the beginning of the rainy season) from Linden to Georgetown, Guyana's capital, is one of the more challenging roads in South America. It's a long slog through some sparsely inhabited areas, but the beautiful landscapes--from wide open savanna to dense tropical forest---take some of the pain out of the ride. Back on paved roads, we blazed through Guyana and onto Suriname, crossing the border via the daily ferry across the Corentyne River.
In Suriname we met some of the friendliest folks of the trip, as we pedaled through mosquito-infested tropical forests, passing cheerful-looking villages with brightly-painted homes on stilts and tidy farms growing rice and vegetables. After a long rest in the lively capital, Paramaribo, we continued our bicycle tour south towards French Guiana.
It was a strange sensation to be back on French soil, munching on crunchy baguettes and shopping at the well-stocked Super U, filling the cart with products shipped all the way from metropolitan France. Viewing the giant sea turtles laying their eggs on Awala beach was a definite highlight, as was visiting the European Space Center at Kourou. Dealing with dengue fever, on the other hand, was the low point of the visit. After a ten-day recovery period, Eric felt strong enough to continue the South America leg of our bicycle tour and we loaded up the bikes and pedaled towards Brazil. French Guiana south of Cayenne is home to some agonizing hills, but fortunately the road has finally been paved all the way to the border crossing at St. Georges.
Here we hopped on a speed boat across the river to Oiapoque, in remote northern Brazil. After 50 kilometers the paved road came to a brutal halt and we were faced with yet another long slog through mud and muck. Horrendous road conditions coupled with some of the steepest hills of our world bicycle tour made for some tough cycling. Fortunately, the Brazilians have been on a recent paving spree, and the asphalt returned at the busy town of Calcoene, after a mere 160 kilometers of mud. What a relief!
After some relatively easy riding through vast open spaces, we made it to Macapa, and the end of the road. Here we jumped on an Amazon riverboat, the Bom Jesus, for a ride to busy Belem. Back on the bikes, we suffered from heavy traffic, narrow roads and crazy drivers as we made our way south on highway BR 010.
More Bicycle Touring Resources:
>>Detailed country by country bicycle touring information
>>Travel tales from our World Bicycle Tour
>>Bicycle Touring Basics
>>Bicycle Touring Videos
|Get World Biking Newsletter|
|Visit this group|