This is our original trans-continental journey and flagship expedition. Cross Africa from north to south, covering almost 12,000km in four months. The Tour d’Afrique is a test of mind, body, and bike. Traveling through 10 countries in all, you will cycle along the Nile past ancient temples, through the Sudanese desert, and up and down the biblical landscapes of Ethiopia’s rugged Simian Mountains. After crossing the Equator in Kenya, you will pedal past legendary Mount Kilimanjaro, to Lake Malawi, Victoria Falls, and along the edges of the magnificent Kalahari and Namib deserts, en route to the finish of your epic journey in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa.
For 2014, your trans-Africa odyssey begins at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile in Khartoum, Sudan, a much maligned country whose peoples are among the world’s most friendly. Leaving the Arabic world and the heat of the eastern Sahara desert, the Tour ascends into the spectacular biblical landscapes of the Ethiopian plateau before descending towards the notorious lava road across northern Kenya.
The safari capital, Arusha, Tanzania marks the Tour’s midway point and the chance for riders to explore the legendary landmarks of Mt Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti Plain, and Ngorongoro Crater. Departing East Africa, we descend once again into the Great African Rift Valley and Lake Malawi’s beaches before turning our wheels southwest towards Zambia and the magnificent Victoria Falls.
While each year brings more pavement to the route, the Tour is designed and redesigned to ensure that riders experience every kind of surface imaginable, from the smooth flat tarmac of Botswana alongside which elephants roam, to the corrugated and sandy off-roads that lead to the world’s highest sand dunes and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Finally, the Tour spins into South Africa where we meet the Atlantic Ocean and, with Cape Town and Table Mountain in sight, raise our bikes in celebration of this unique and intrepid journey now completed.
The 2014 Tour d’Afrique route starts in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. After the opening ceremonies at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile we’ll begin with a convoy ride across the Nile, through the commercial centre of Omdurman, and into the eastern reaches of the Sahara desert. Camels and rainbow painted buses will be our companions as we spin past minarets and palm grove villages en route to our first rest day in the friendly oasis of Dongola. We then turn east towards the town of Karima, which is next to Jebel Barkal mountain and the ancient ruins of the Kushite palaces and temples of Napata, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 2 more days in the saddle will bring us to the hub of Atbara, from where we’ll journey to, and be among the very few tourists to visit, the pyramids and archaeological digs of Meroe Royal City, another World Heritage Site, which was the capital of Nubian Kush for more than 1000 years, beginning in the 8th century BC.
After Shendi we leave the pavement behind, and begin to witness the transformation from the Arabic Muslim world of northern Africa to the more tribal and traditional nature of the Horn of Africa, as we traverse a series of dirt tracks through remote villages. From the eastern Sudan city of Gedaref it’s a quick ride to the Ethiopian border town of Metema where warm beer never tasted so good. The last 200 km of this section take us from the lowlands up onto the Ethiopian plateau, including a stage with 2500 meters of climbing, the most of any day on tour, into the historical city of Gondar. There riders will enjoy a double rest day, exploring Fasiledes Castle (another WHS site!), catching up on correspondence, and just kicking back.
This portion of the tour highlights the spectacular biblical landscapes of northern Ethiopia’s tablelands and the country’s principal historical tourist attractions. As such, this section will challenge your body more than any other due to the high altitude riding, while wow-ing your imagination. Moreover while some riders will relish the wonders of Ethiopian cuisine such as injera (flat bread), wat (fiery stews), and kitfo (steak tartare), others’ digestive systems may regret doing so. However no-one can resist the delicious espresso and juice bars found in most of the larger towns.
Leaving Gondar city and its 17th century castles we will skirt the Simien Mountains National Park, home to a number of endangered mammals, and 4600 meter Ras Dashen, the country’s highest point. Our first rest day will be in Axum, center of the Aksumite Kingdom which flourished in the 4th-6th centuries AD. Today its ruins include obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the remnants of ancient castles. Axum is also the site of the cathedrals of St Mary of Zion, and according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of its chapels houses the mystic Ark of the Covenant. However admittance to the chapel is closed to all but the guardian monk.
From Axum it’s a rugged 4 day off road ride to another Ethiopian pilgrimage center, the remote town of Lalibela which is famed for its 11 stunning rock-hewn churches dating from the 13th century Zagwe dynasty. After Lalibela we return to larger roads and the traditional Tour d’Afrique route. Our next rest day is in the cycling friendly city of Bahir Dar from where you can visit the nearby Blue Nile Falls, or better still, take a relaxing boat ride on Lake Tana to island monasteries that house manuscripts and the crowns of former Emperors.
From a cycling standpoint, the highlight of this section will be the Blue Nile Gorge, TdAs equivalent of the Alpe d’Huez, a 1600-meter precipitous descent and ascent on a newly paved road that will test the mettle of cyclists of any caliber. Once you have conquered the Blue Nile Gorge, the beautiful terrain of the central Ethiopian plateau will whiz by as you spin towards the capital city of Addis Ababa. The descent from the eucalyptus forested Entoto Hills that surround Addis into the downtown core is yet another experience you will not soon forget.
South of Addis Ababa, the terrain changes again to rolling countryside interspersed with alkaline lakes. After passing Mount Guraghe and Lake Abaya, riders will arrive in Arba Minch (Forty Springs), which is renowned for its beautiful views, Crocodile farm, and nearby Nechisar National Park. In Yabello, you can visit the wildlife sanctuary where you might catch a glimpse at some of Africa’s rarest birds such as the Prince Ruspoli Turaco. Most of the riding for this stretch is on reasonably good pavement, with one exception – a tough off-road day between Kanso and Yabello through remote villages inhabited by the Borena people.
The crossing from Ethiopia into Kenya at Moyale marks the beginning of the “meltdown” portion of this section. It takes 6 riding days to cross the often unpaved lava expanse of northern Kenya’s Dida Galgalu desert, which for long stretches redefines the words bumpy and corrugated. At the midway point the market town of Marsabit, set on the slopes of an ancient volcano, offers a welcome respite before the “road” descends again into the arid lands that are home to the Samburu people and their herds of camels and cattle. Approaching Isiolo, riders rejoice at the sight of pavement, and the opportunity to have a well deserved beer or ice cream bar. From there, the route ascends and then descends the western slopes of majestic Mount Kenya, before crossing the equator in Nanyuki, which is a short day’s ride from Nairobi, East Africa’s largest city.
The “Meltdown” features some of the most diverse changes in scenery and riding conditions, from plateau to desert to savannah. Cycling the “Meltdown” in its entirety is an impressive accomplishment for any cyclist.
If scenes of Wildebeest migration and big cat kills on the Discovery or National Geographic Channel are your favourite vision of Africa, then this is the section of the Tour d’Afrique for you. One day south of Nairobi, you will arrive at the border of Tanzania and immediately spot the unmistakable Mount Kilimanjaro and its smaller sibling, Mount Meru. From there, it’s a day’s pedal to the rapidly growing and vibrant city of Arusha. As the gateway to such famous attractions as Serengeti National Park, Ngorogoro Crater, and “Kili,” Arusha is East Africa’s safari capital. Here riders are given 3 days off, affording them the opportunities to experience wild Africa at its most spectacular, to shop in the local stores and markets, or simply to rest and replenish their energies.
Heading south from Arusha, the red-cloaked Masai tribesmen will be your constant companions as you spin along roads with relatively little traffic, keeping an eye out for zebra and giraffe. At Lake Manyara you trade the tarmac for several challenging days of ascents and descents – the Masai Steppe – on a rougher gravel road, that can be treacherous in places if the rainy season has arrived. However the friendliness of the villagers, the roadside banana stands, and the sheer beauty of this unique and verdant land ensures that come rain or shine, this stretch is one of the most memorable on Tour.
And in 2011 we have changed the route to make it even more incredible. Riders will now head into western Tanzania, cycling through isolated villages and skirting some of the country’s most unknown game reserves. A highlight will be the last day on the section where cyclists will climb 1300m to the the ‘World’s End’ viewpoint before speeding down 800m into Mbeya.
This entirely paved Tour section highlights the poor but visually stunning country of Malawi. Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawi sits astride and rises away from the huge expanse of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake, which is home to many breeds of aquarium fish.
Once you set out from Mbeya, it will still take another day to get to Malawi. The ride across southern Tanzania is definitely worth it. You will cycle into Tanzania’s breadbasket near Tukuyu, where undulating verdant hills teem with tea plantations and banana and avocado trees. The scenery is breath taking as you start whizzing down the long descent into the Rift Valley, towards the Lake in the distance.
After crossing into Malawi the Tour follows the shoreline past fishing villages to Chitemba Beach, which has been a haven for Africa Overlanders for many years. Malawi is especially well known for its skilled hardwood carvers, and here you’ll find a large crafts market with beautifully made walking sticks, chairs, “trees of life,” and other carvings. Whatever you do – be it swimming, wandering down the beach, socializing in the bar-restaurant, or just reading a book, Chitemba Beach offers a wonderful respite from the journey.
Leaving Lake Malawi you climb up the escarpment into the central plateau en route to the provincial capital of Mzuzu. Don’t be surprised to find yourself pedaling alongside some of Malawi’s many cycling farmers, as they transport chickens, grain, and just about anything between their villages and the nearest market.
After a night at the sleepy town of Kasungu, you arrive at popular Mabuya Camp in the capital city, Lilongwe, which marks a rest day and the end of this section. Here, riders can visit a nearby shopping centre, surf the net, haggle for handicrafts, or just kick back with a few delicious Carlsberg beers or a shot of the more sinister Malawi Gin.
Malawi’s altitude moderates what would otherwise be a tropical climate. Riders can expect high humidity along the lake, and temperate days on the plateau, with a few heavy showers, some lighter rainfall, and periods of intense sunshine. By the time the Tour reaches Lilongwe in early April the rainy season should be almost over.
This section starts in the capital city of Malawi from where it’s a pleasant day’s ride west into Zambia, a country named after the fabled Zambezi River. Presently, Zambia has huge wilderness parks off the beaten track and relatively little tourism. But that won’t last long. If your ideal trip is one with few tourists, fantastic scenery, friendly people, and lots of cycling, then the “Zone” can’t be beat.
Once in Zambia you will ride through thinly populated countrysides, along the Great East Road, passing villages of huts that bespeak the humble subsistence farming existence of the local people. After crossing the Luangwa River bridge, the route takes you along the edge of the Lower Zambezi National Park, which is becoming renowned for its natural splendor and wildlife. A day off awaits in Lusaka, Zambia’s bustling capital city, where one can explore a nearby mall and the national University, or just kick back poolside.
From Lusaka to Livingstone the roads are flatter and fast, passing through several larger towns with well stocked shops. At our campsite in Livingstone, you can arrange your Vic Falls outings, from a basic tour with drenching jaw-dropping viewpoints, to the world’s 3rd highest bungee jump off the Zambezi River bridge, helicopter rides, and white water rafting. The people, the adventures, and the natural wonder of Victoria Falls all await you in the “Zone.”
Victoria Falls marks the beginning of “The Elephant Highway,” perhaps the most popular section of the Tour. After a quick spin to Kazungula, you cross the Zambezi River on a very funky ferry and enter the country of Botswana, whose mineral resources and democratic government have made it one of Africa’s biggest success stories. At our 1st campsite in Kasane, the Chobe River boat cruise – where you slowly coast up and down stream past herds of elephant, crocodiles, hippos and lots of other wildlife – is a must-do.
The next week provides some of the longest and flattest cycling days on the Tour including six centuries (100 miles) in seven days of riding. This is a pure road riding section, and a true test of endurance. Fortunately, you will also be riding through one of the most impressive wildlife habitats on the planet. Botswana is home to some 110,000 elephants that roam through the Kalahari and Chobe National Parks. Don’t be surprised if you have to stop on a highway to allow a family of elephants to cross at a safe distance!
After camping near the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve you arrive at northern Botswana’s largest town, Maun, for a rest day on which you can take a dugout canoe or a small plane ride into the Okavango, the world’s largest inland river delta. The cycling then continues along the Trans-Kalahari Highway towards the border of Namibia, a country whose stunning arid landscapes are one of the world’s best kept secrets.
This section ends in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, a modern, cosmopolitan city that lies in the middle of the country. Here riders can enjoy fabulous beer, great restaurants, a blend of southern African and German cultures, and some amazing shopping, before jumping back on their bikes for the Tour’s home stretch.
Starting from Windhoek, you will cycle southwest on dirt and sand roads, across the central Namibia plateau and then down into the Namib desert. The highlight of this section is bound to be the dawn visit to the world’s highest sand dunes at Sossusvlei, near Sesriem. Departing the dunes, our route turns south and traverses harshly beautiful and thinly populated lands, en route to the Fish River Canyon, another of Namibia’s natural wonders. From there it’s a long day’s pedal to the scenic Senqu (Orange) River and the final border crossing into South Africa. The excitement builds everyday, as full Tour and sectional riders share in the emotional conclusion of this incredible journey.
Late April in Namibia is equivalent to late October in the Northern Hemisphere. Riders can expect perfect sunny days in the low to mid 20ºs C, and cool cloudless nights ranging from 7 to 12ºC.
Few countries can match South Africa’s natural beauty and wealth. Spinning along the quiet highways of Northern Cape Province takes you across the heather strewn hillsides of Namaqualand and past picturesque wine valleys towards the Atlantic Ocean. From Vredendal to Elandsbaai riders tackle the last short stretch of off road corrugation and sand, and revel in the ruggedness of the Coast and its cool, foggy conditions.