Our original trans-continental journey and flagship expedition crossing Africa from north to south, covering almost 12,000 km in four months. This will be the 17th edition of the Tour d’Afrique – a test of mind, body, and bicycle. 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.
The trans-African crossing from Cairo to Cape Town has been one of the world’s epic journeys ever since Cecil Rhodes’ 19th century dream of connecting South Africa and Egypt by rail. Since then, the route has become an iconic goal for global adventurers. Over the years individuals have attempted to complete the route using every kind of transport imaginable, with many forced to abandon their quest due to physical challenges and geopolitical complications. In 2003, the inaugural Tour d’Afrique succeeded in cycling the entire 12,000 km distance and in the process established the Guinness World Record for the fastest human powered crossing of Africa.
Starting at the Pyramids, under the watchful eyes of the immortal Sphinx, the cyclists will head south along the Red Sea and the Nile River in Egypt, visiting the famous sites of Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel, before entering Sudan via a new land crossing. After enjoying the desert climes and warm hospitality of the Sudanese people, the tour climbs up into Ethiopia which is renowned for its rugged, almost biblical, landscapes, its unique culture and cuisine, and it’s fast growing economy.
Having conquered the challenges of Ethiopia, the tour then enters more westernized Kenya, crossing the remote Dida Galgalu desert en route to Nairobi. With Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the distance, you’ll then ride into the verdant and wildlife rich country of Tanzania, and enjoy a triple rest day in the safari capital of Arusha. The tour then descends into less known Malawi, the “Warm Heart of Africa,” where the riders will savour the shore and surf of Lake Malawi and ride alongside some of that nation’s many cycling farmers. After crossing Zambia from east to west we arrive at the Zambezi river and stand in awe at the world famous Victoria Falls.
The final month of our trans-Africa expedition begins in pancake flat Botswana where you are bound to encounter elephants along the road. From there the tour spins into Namibia, one of Africa’s hidden gems, and across its harsh but stunning desert landscapes. After crossing the Senqu (Orange) river the tour enters its 10th and final country, South Africa, a land of beauty, contrast and rich history. As the tour comes to an end at Cape Town’s picturesque South Atlantic ocean harbor, in the shadow of majestic Table Mountain, we’ll look back at our amazing journey and celebrate it’s completion with lifelong friends.
The Tour d’Afrique starts on the outskirts of Cairo at the legendary Pyramids of Giza, one of the original 7 Wonders of The World. After the opening ceremony with the enigmatic Sphinx looking on, your intrepid journey begins outside Cairo in the Eastern desert.
Turning south at the Red Sea you follow the coastal highway to Safaga, before climbing inland to meet the Nile River at Qena. In Luxor, the opportunity to explore several of the most magnificent archeological sites in the world should not be missed, including the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. From there, the route continues south along the banks of the mother Nile towards Aswan and Nubian Egypt.
South of Aswan you’ll cycle along the fringes of the Sahara en route to Abu Simbel, home to the famed Nubian monuments built by Ramses II. After a quick ferry ride across Lake Nasser, you enter Sudan along a new road and recently opened border crossing.
Sudan is one of the world’s most remote and least visited countries. Do not presume what you read in the western press is true for once there you will discover that the Sudanese are among the world’s friendliest people.
For many riders this is where the “real” Africa begins. With the Nile River as companion, you will spin past minarets and through palm grove villages that have hardly changed in hundreds of years. “Progress” however has come as the sandy tracks that the tour used to traverse the Nubian Desert on have been replaced by smooth Chinese funded tarmac. After leaving the provincial town of Dongola in the dust, we cycle a new route this year via the Pyramids of Gebel Barkal – UNESCO-recognized artifacts of the kingdom of Kush. This section ends with a convoy ride into the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, which sits at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers. After the heat and dust of the desert, Khartoum seems to be part oasis and part mirage.
The “Pharaoh’s Delight” is for those who want to feel the desert wind on their face and experience the romance of biking along one of the great rivers of the world, through the lands of the Pharaohs and the Nubian Kingdom of Cush. At times you will feel like you are one of the first travellers to come upon these forgotten lands. And on a bicycle, that’s pretty much the truth.
Heading south from Khartoum, the tour passes through the Gezira region – the “bread basket” of Sudan. As the tour approaches Ethiopia the countryside gradually transforms from the Arabic Muslim world of northern Africa to the more tribal and traditional nature of the Horn of Africa.
Once in Ethiopia, the ride of your life begins. Ethiopia contains some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world as well as one of its most unique and ancient cultures. The challenge begins as soon as you cross the border, with two days of climbing up to Gondar and our destination the Goha Hotel which overlooks the city. The day into Gondar features 2500 meters of climbing – the most of any stage on the tour.
The Ethiopian Highlands offer several fascinating stops including the World Heritage sites of the Fasil Gebbi castles in Gondar and and the ancient monasteries near Bahir Dar on the islands in Lake Tana – the source of the Blue Nile. Rests days also offer the opportunity to sample Ethiopia’s unique and often fiery cuisine including injera (flat bread made from teff), shuro wat (chick pea stew), and kitfo (steak tartare). Though some riders may hesitate to indulge in these delicacies, no-one can resist the espresso and juice bars which can be found throughout Ethiopia.
From a cycling standpoint, the highlight of this section will be the Blue Nile Gorge, a 1360 meter precipitous descent and ascent on a paved road that tests 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 hills that surround Addis and the breakfast buffet at the 5 star Sheraton Hotel downtown on the rest day that follows are experiences you will not soon forget.
South of Addis Ababa, the terrain changes again to rolling countryside interspersed with alkaline lakes – including Lake Koka and Ziway. Near Lake Langano you’ll have the chance to cavort with ostriches at the Rift Lakes National Park. Riders now pedal onto Yabello, from where they can visit the wildlife sanctuary and catch a glimpse at some of Africa’s rarest birds.
The crossing from Ethiopia into Kenya at Moyale marks the beginning of Kenya’s Dida Galgalu lava rock desert. The scenery is as desolate as it gets. At the midway point the market town of Marsabit, set on the slopes of an ancient volcano, offers a welcome respite before the route 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 opportunity to have a well deserved beer or ice cream bar. From there, the route traverses 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 section features some of the most diverse changes in scenery and riding conditions, from plateau to desert to savannah. After meeting the Borana and Samburu peoples in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya respectively, the Tribal Lands section finishes in modern Nairobi.
If scenes of Wildebeest migration and big cat kills on the Discovery or National Geographic Channel are your African fantasy, then this is the section of the Tour d’Afrique for you. South of Nairobi, you’ll spot the unmistakable Mount Kilimanjaro and its smaller sibling, Mount Meru, en route to Namanga and the border crossing into Tanzania. 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 Babati you trade the tarmac for several challenging days of ascents and descents – the Masai Steppe – mostly on rougher gravel and sandy roads, 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 will be one of the most memorable on tour. Two of highlights will be cycling alongside the Rungwa Game Reserve and then climbing 1300 meters to the ‘World’s End’ viewpoint on Tanzania’s highest trunk road before the speedy 800 m drop into the section ending town of 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, home to many breeds of aquarium fish.
Once you set out from Mbeya, 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 Lake Malawi 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 at the end of March the end of the rainy season should be near.
This section starts in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe 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. 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 across 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 tour heads for Lusaka, Zambia’s bustling capital city, where one can explore a nearby mall and the National University, or just kick back and relax.
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 make for an amazing conclusion to and experience in the “Zone.”
Victoria Falls marks the beginning of “The Elephant Highway,” perhaps the most popular section of the tour, and the first half of the classic Victoria Falls to Cape Town cycling route. 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 features 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 or a solitary male Bull Elephant 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 when 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, including “the Longest day” at 208 km, 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.
Starting from Windhoek, experience the 2nd half of the classic Victoria Falls to Cape Town cycling route. 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, and the wildlife buffet at the hotel next to our campsite. 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. Along the west coast riders tackle the last short stretch of off road corrugation, and revel in the ruggedness of the coast and its cool, foggy conditions. Soon we reach our final destination in the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town where joy and celebration will unfold in the shadow of iconic Table Mountain.