Africa is a place that can appear both exciting and slightly intimidating for cyclists planning a bike tour. Alongside amazing cultures and landscapes is a fear of the unknown. Not nearly as much information is out there for Africa, compared with more popular biking destinations like Asia or Europe.
-- Friedel Grant 10 Questions: Cycling in Africa
Friedel penned that some 5 years ago, yet it still holds true today.
Hopefully, this updated list of Africa blogs and resources will help future cyclists who wish to travel the continent. The information has been painstakingly researched and curated by Grace Johnson of Impressions from Bicycle Travels.
Crazy Guy on a Bike contains numerous journals from people who have pedaled through Africa.
International Bicycle Fund has country by country resources.
The Big Africa Cycle Peter Gostelow pedals from Morocco to Capetown via West, Central and Eastern Africa.
Transgloabalist Jim Bennett is on a 2-year, solo cycling circumnavigation of Africa.
Nicolas Marino Photography Nico travels the circumference of Africa, including detours through Central Africa.
Road to Capetown Stijn Van Parys and friends cycle through West Africa. Then via East Africa, they head down to Capetown.
Sweden to Africa Carl-David Granbäck rode the Western route all the way down to South Africa, including a detour through the DRC and CAR.
Impressions from Bicycle Travels Paul Jeurissen & Grace Johnson cycle a loop through East Africa.
Free Wheely Jean-Baptiste cycled from Switzerland to South Africa via West Africa and has a detailed page on how much his trip cost.
Daves Travel Pages Dave Briggs took the Eastern route down to South Africa.
Take on Africa Helen Lloyd zigzags her way (via Western and Eastern Africa) all the way down to Capetown.
Cycling the 6 Steve Fabes heads to Capetown via the Eastern side.
Bikepacking Logan Watts and Virgina Krabill pedal through East and Southern Africa.
Grind im Wind Nino Trunz rides the length of Africa via the Eastern side.
Cycling for Rangers Charlie Rose, Will Johnston, Theo Bromfield, & Will Addison rode from Johannesburg to Nairobi.
2 island travellers Mayu & Elliot Rowe pedal through East and South Africa.
Rock, Road & Rhino Tanya Edwards and Simon Bihr are heading down to South Africa via the Eastern route.
Cycling the Globe Thomas Andersen pedaled the length of Africa via the Eastern route.
Cycle 2 Kenya Mat Smith and Tim Simpson ride a tandem from the U.K. to Kenya.
On the road with a toad Matt and Debs rode from the U.K. to South Africa via East Africa.
Permacyclists Anna and Dave Meyer head down to Capetown via the Eastern route.
No hanging around cycle-across-Africa/ Derek Cullen takes the Eastern route from Capetown to Egypt.
Ernest on bike Ernest Markwood pedaled the Eastern route.
Leana Niemand Leana took the Eastern route including Namibia down to South Africa.
Cycling around the world Paul van Roekel & Anja de Graaf rode through various African countries on their yearly vacation.
The Universe with me Solo female cyclist Jin pedals the Eastern route from Egypt to Capetown.
The Bike Ramble Fredrika Ek travels through Western Africa.
Skalatitude Solo cyclist Loretta Henderson heads from Egypt down to Capetown via East Africa.
Long Bike Ride Gary heads through West Africa. Then after flying to Nairobi, he heads on down to South Africa.
Cairo 2 Capetown Andy and Dee head cycle the length (eastern side) of Africa in search of art and architecture.
Resources on Worldbiking.info
Please note that the country information is based on Amaya and Eric's travels between 2006-2009. We discovered that even though prices have risen since then, many of the comparisons made between countries still hold true. For example in 2009 the price of camping in Namibia was more than two times as expensive as a cheap guesthouse in Tanzania. When my husband Paul and I pedaled there in 2013, that was still the case.
East or West? What's best?
Cycling through Africa is a challenge whichever route you take. Most cyclists who traverse the continent from north to south, or vise versa, tend to follow variations of the 'Cairo-Cape Town' East Africa route. This involves cycling through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa, with the option to include Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho within the tour.
The advantages of an East African tour are that most visas are relatively easy to obtain, with the exception of Ethiopia and Sudan, which will require a little forward planning as visas are not available at the border. If you want to experience wildlife, with the option to cycle through National Parks alongside elephants, giraffes and other African game, then it is also East Africa that you must go. Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya all provide opportunities for encountering large wildlife from the road, at a relatively safe distance... National Parks where there are large lion populations and a greater risk of wild animals generally don't allow cyclists to ride through.
Geographically, East Africa also boasts the Rift Valley, which brings with it challenging and varied topography. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of Tanzania and Kenya have plenty of lung-bursting climbs and dramatic views as a reward. Those with less time and inclination to explore minor routes can also almost cycle the length of the continent on paved surfaces, and there is more in the way of accommodation catering to the larger number of people who visit countries in East Africa.
Travelling through West Africa, on the other hand, is arguably more challenging. Visas cost more and require forward planning, and a number of countries in recent years have witnessed internal conflicts that leave the tourist infrastructure basic and non-existent in places, and require travellers to be aware of issues that could affect security out on the road. There are also far fewer National Parks containing the density of wildlife that exists in the east. What West Africa offers is more of a raw challenge and experience; villages and towns where tourists are non-existent, yet smiling faces and a welcoming reception defy how places like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria have often been portrayed in the media.
Travelling through countries with a mix of British, French and Portuguese colonial history also brings linguistic challenges, (East Africa has a stronger British colonial influence and therefore more English speakers) but diversity as well. I always loved buying fresh baguettes in Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea, and deplored the terrible white bread in Ghana and Nigeria!
While a tour of East Africa that runs the length of the continent could take anything from a speedy 3 months through as little as 8 countries, to a year or more through up to 15, traversing West Africa from north to south is likely to involve crossing through 20+ countries and therefore arguably take more time and money. Of course for those with plenty of time and a love for the continent, there is always the option to cycle down one side and come back up the other, or even cross through the center. Now that's another challenge!
-- Peter Gostelow The Big Africa Cycle
Comparing bike touring in Africa with the Americas
Having completed long-distance bicycle tours on both continents, I’m often asked which one I preferred or found more difficult. Certainly, in many people’s minds, cycling in Africa is often considered to be more difficult. I didn’t really find that to be the case though, as each trip had its ‘moments’ so to speak!
After some thought, I believe the main differences between the two trips are landscape and wildlife. The landscape in Central and South America is a lot more varied than East Africa, whereas the wildlife (particularly in Tanzania and Botswana) is far superior to the Americas.
If asked to sum up the two trips, my most fond memories are of cycling up and over the Andes in the Americas and riding past giraffes and elephants in Africa. Is one better than the other? Not at all! They are both unique experiences, easily achievable by anyone with a bike and the desire to go out and ride it. Happy tailwinds!
-- Dave Briggs Daves Travel Pages, Cycling the Americas & Pedaling Africa Instagram
Before and after Africa
I considered myself an experienced traveller after having pedalled several years across Asia. But that didn’t mentally prepare me for Africa. Even after reading some travelogues, I still didn’t know what to expect. I also didn’t realize the profound impact that the following two and a half years would have on my life.
Western media portrays Africa as a continent torn apart by famines, disease, extreme poverty and terrorism. Or they show us images of majestic animals roaming picture-perfect landscapes and tribal people who still live as their ancient ancestors did. So many Westerners think that it’s a dangerous place. That you will either be robbed and killed by desperate people, catch a life-threatening disease or be eaten alive by a pride of starving lions.
What I learned while cycling up and down the continent was that yes, Africa does have problems. And some great wildlife. But that’s just a small part of it. The vast majority of my memories have to do with how loving and caring Africans are.
I received so many lessons in generosity. Many Africans are materially poor, but there’s no limit when it comes to sharing whatever little they have with you. They treated me as family, offering food and shelter. Some of them wouldn’t even let me cook my own meal because I was their guest. This was not mere hospitality like in so many parts of the world. In Africa, I felt they had a deep sense of care and concern for me. People were happy to take the time to talk, listen, and share.
Their ability to smile and laugh during serious adversity was admirable. Time and time again, it seemed as if they had no problems. As one Nigerian in a shit situation put it; “Problems? In Africa we don’t have problems, we have challenges!” he remarked with a big grin on his face.
I found their willingness to share what little they have deeply moving. I found their warmth and care for me, arriving as a total stranger, and all the effort they put in making sure that I would be taken care of properly, to be extremely humbling.
Yes, there were some bad times and places, but those account for little compared to the overwhelming love and affection I received. I’d rather leave negativity to the Media. They excel at misrepresenting countries and cultures. Africans aren’t perfect, but who is? I don’t want to romanticise poverty and affliction, but in an already imperfect world, I prefer places where basic human values prevail. In Africa, I felt truly loved.
When I think of Africa now, I think of dignity, resilience, love, smiles. I look up to Africans with respect to their wealth, their human wealth. They taught me to appreciate what truly matters in life: love, kindness, generosity, altruism, simplicity, patience. For that and so much more I will be eternally grateful to them. My life will never be the same again.
--Nicolás Marino Nicolas Marino Photography
African wildlife can be dangerous but it’s the white Land Rover that Western cyclists need to watch out for. A Canadian couple (who wish to remain anonymous) shares their experience of sudden transformation into Walking Wallets:
“Give me money, Give me money!”
Suddenly we were surrounded by a gaggle of school kids demanding cold hard cash. Not just one or two youngsters yanking at our bikes, there must have been at least twenty!
We’d read about cyclists in Africa been surrounded by swarms of begging kids but had brushed off these accounts as hyperbolic blogging. Quickly we realized that our fellow bicycle travelers hadn’t been exaggerating. If anything, they’d glossed over reality.
During our first 3 months of bike touring in East Africa, we’d been hit up for the odd pen here and there and occasionally kids had asked for sweets. By Western standards, most folks were poor. But they didn’t beg. Locals were warm and welcoming, treating us as honored guests in their humble homes.
Now, without warning, we were being regarded as walking wallets. Riding along the shores of Lake Malawi, the pestering for handouts rarely let up. One day we counted over 80 requests for money.
My girlfriend and I were really perplexed. We’d already biked through a number of African nations, most just as poor as Malawi, and experienced nothing like this.
It took us a while to figure out what had triggered our transformation into walking wallets.
The road we were riding was now teeming with white Land Rovers packed with Mzungus (white people). By accident, we’d landed on an East Africa tourist route.
Many of the Mzungus were elderly and they played ‘Santa Clause’ with the local kids – handing out treats, pens and coins as if they were their own grandchildren.
White Land Rovers are the preferred vehicle of Mzungu tourists and aid workers. Even though these robust machines are equipped with 4-wheel drive, we rarely came across them on dirt roads. They generally stick to paved highways where they can roar down the road at top speed.
The White Land Rover’s preferred habitat is in, around and on the roads leading to National Parks. So if you cycle near the vicinity of a well-known Park on the East Africa tourist trail, or on the Cairo to Capetown tourist route alongside the shore of Lake Malawi, expect to be treated as a two-wheeled cash machine.
Our advice to you: stick to the back roads and experience the real Africa—a place filled with kind and generous people who don’t see visitors as walking wallets.
About the Author
Grace Johnson is editor and publisher of Bicycle Traveler magazine and undertook her first tour across America way back in 1981. She met Paul Jeurissen on that trip and since then they cycle the world together. You can follow their travels (including East Africa) at Impressions from Bicycle Travels