African Bicycle Safaris
Much of your African safari is enjoyed from a vehicle so why not diversify your experience by swopping four wheels for two. Bicycle safaris are fast becoming a feature of activities offered across Africa and deliver a different perspective to the environment.
There are African bicycle safaris in the places you might expect – Cape Town’s gentle Winelands region for example – as well as places that you might not, like Zambia’s prime big game destination: the South Luangwa National Park. And a bicycle safari can take you to places you won’t get with a 4X4: hop on a wide-wheeled fat-bike and now you can conquer sand dune landscapes from the Cape coast to the Namib Desert.
Bike safaris are booked in two ways: if you are staying at a safari lodge that offers biking, then it will be an option on your programme of activities along with drives and walks. Then there are bike operators in places like Cape Town and Victoria Falls; these bike safaris are booked separately from your accommodation. Either way, both lodges and operators supply the bike and all your gear. Novice riders or those worried about their fitness can also opt for an e-bike safari – a pedal-assisted bike that takes care of the uphill for you.
Most African bike safaris are aimed at the everyday rider but if you are a keen cyclist then there are mountain bike destinations with single track adventures. Still not enough? For the fit and adventurous there’s a six-day bicycle safari in the Okavango Delta, a brand-new addition to the Botswana safari landscape and designed for small groups of trailblazers.
Let’s look at the best African bicycle safaris available.
MOUNTAIN & SEA – WHALE COAST, SOUTH AFRICA
Set in the mountains overlooking one of the world’s best destinations to see whales, Grootbos is a private reserve with luxurious accommodation and top guiding. Biking is offered along with their immersive activities of walks and drives, absorbing the tastes, smells and sounds of the Cape’s unique fynbos ecosystem. Led by a professional guide, you can choose a leisurely ride on meandering gravel roads or you can pick up the pace on MTB single tracks designed for the more experienced rider.
That’s the mountains taken care of: Grootbos also offers fat-biking on the coastal dunes of blue-water Walker Bay, famous for its springtime whale-watching. Extra-thick tyres means you don’t get stuck in the sand and the safari takes you to vantage points to watch for whales, dolphins and seals. It’s the ideal combination with Cape Town and the Winelands.
BY THE ZAMBEZI – VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
It’s not just the thundering waterfall that is worth visiting at Victoria Falls; this is also a destination of traditional markets, giant baobab trees and river-forest wildlife. Combine all of them on a half-day guided bike safari. Set on easy, mostly flat roads and pathways, Victoria Falls bike safaris are offered all year round – weather permitting – and you can go first thing in the morning, before lunch, or later in the afternoon. Book when you are there after assessing weather conditions – it’s better to go early in the hot summer months but make it an afternoon ride in winter.
There are plenty of views to look forward to – including those of Victoria Falls – and good chances of seeing antelope, baboons and warthogs as you cycle along the Zambezi’s riverside forest. A more surprising sighting may be that of elephants – relatively common along the river – but you are in the safe hands of professional guides.
THE WINELANDS – CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Covering the spectrum of Cape Winelands from Constantia to Stellenbosch and the Overberg, wine and bike safaris have become a popular way to take in the region’s scenery and its food and wine together with a bit of guilt-busting exercise. Booked as a separate activity from your lodge or hotel, a bike and wine safari includes everything you need – transfers, bike and helmet, and guide. Most bike tours are half-day trips in the heart of the wine country – Franschhoek and Stellenbosch – and the going is easy paced on farm tracks and quiet back roads.
If you are keen to make it even more easy-paced then there are e-bike wine tours both in the Winelands and the Constantia region close to Cape Town. Not a wine drinker? No problem, the Cape Winelands is also a local mountain biking hotspot with a variety of MTB trails available.
BIG GAME COUNTRY – SOUTH LUANGWA, ZAMBIA
It’s a land of the biggest of big animals – elephant, giraffe, buffalo, lion – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that four wheels are better than two here. But the South Luangwa is where walking safaris were perfected; this is a destination that immerses you in the bush experience, and cycling is part of that if you choose.
It’s best to cycle in the early afternoon; it’s during the cool mornings and at night when predators are on the prowl here. Led by Zambia’s famously experienced guides, the bike safaris are leisurely paced over easy terrain and you’ll enjoy game viewing as you go. You’ll have the option of beginning in the local community before cycling into big game country, meeting up with your game drive vehicle to switch to four wheels as the sun sinks.
DESERT DUNES – SWAKOPMUND, NAMIBIA
Usually viewed from the air, the rolling sand ocean of the Namib Desert is now accessible by bicycle – or at least fat-bikes. With their oversized tyres, these specially-designed bikes enable you to cycle up and down the dunes, leaving behind no noise or pollution but only shallow tyre tracks that the wind usually covers before the next morning. The views are stark, primal and elemental but there is life to be found: desert plants, flamingo-filled coastal lagoons, endemic birds.
Operating out of Swakopmund, the nearby desert dunes are the main attraction – a half-day tour is the most popular – but this town of Swakopmund is worth a look. There are urban tours too, taking in the surprisingly harmonious influences of both German and African cultures as well as full-day safaris deeper into the desert.
PEDAL INTO THE WILD – OKAVANGO DELTA, BOTSWANA
So you’ll have to bring along your own bike and all your kit but oh my, the places you will go. The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s finest wildlife destination and the air rings with the sound of frogs, birds, elephants and big cats. Accompanied by a pair of guides, you’ll cover between 40 and 70 kilometres a day (25 to 44 miles) on a mix of animal trails and jeep tracks.
It’s serious cycling in serious big game country and the wildlife viewing is on-going as you cycle through the day. It’s a tour for the fit and relatively fearless and there are times you’ll have to porter your bike across shallow-water floodplains; there’s an accompanying back-up vehicle with mechanical support and repair facilities as well as charging stations for e-bikes. At the end of the day you’ll check in at a comfortable tented camp or lodge for stories around the fire and a hearty three-course dinner.