Motorcycle touring in Africa is guaranteed to be a life-changing and memorable experience, and the recollections of the sights you see and challenges you’ll face on this vast continent are guaranteed to stay with you until the end of your days. Africa is the second largest continent in the world, and in geographical terms offers some of the most spectacular and varied terrain to ride through, as well as boasting some of the wildest areas of the planet, not to mention its plethora of nations, cultures and wildlife. From sandy desert to humid rainforests, from open savannah to craggy mountain peaks, Africa has it all. From riding some of the best tarred roads in the world just outside an ultramodern city like Cape Town, South Africa, with sweeping corners and spectacular scenery at every turn, to fighting through waist-deep mud in jungles hundreds of kilometres from civilisation, riding a motorcycle through Africa can cater to the most casual and inexperienced of motorcycle riders to challenging the very limits of the most hardcore offroad enthusiasts. The very extremes of all of human experience can be found on this continent – it is up to you to discover it.
Top Routes/Destinations for Motorcycle Touring in Africa
Because Africa is a continent of such a vast geographical size, with such an immense variety of countries, cultures and terrain, we’ve had to narrow down the scope of our focus to a few of the more popular routes and destinations to travel to.
Western Cape, South Africa, Route 62
If you are only able to visit one country in Africa, and you want to try to see a bit of everything, South Africa is the place to visit. You’ll be riding on tar roads here, and the most popular road for motorcyclists is Route 62 which will, depending how far you follow it, take you from the winding passes and ocean scenery of the Cape region through the semi-arid Karoo desert all the way to the green, hilly beauty of the Wild Coast and the lush subtropical province of KwaZulu-Natal.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and Lesotho, Sani Pass Road
KwaZulu-Natal is an equal to the Western Cape in terms of natural beauty and features the vast Drakensberg mountain range, golden sand beaches on the Indian Ocean coast and large wildlife preserves, but it has a wilder feel to it. The roads in the province range from tar to rutted dirt, but touring here on the main routes will mainly be on tar. The road up from Underberg to Mokhotlong in the small landlocked country of Lesotho, via the infamous Sani Pass dirt road, an extremely challenging and steep uphill track with plenty of hairpins.
Namibia features a well-maintained network of tarred roads, but also has thousands of km of gravel, dirt and sand roads for the adventure rider. From travelling through the Kalahari desert with its red dunes to the wild scrub and vast tracts of uninhabited veld of Botswana, you’ll see breathtaking scenery and plenty of wild animals. The roads can be dangerous because of wild and domestic animals wandering onto them, so it’s best to stick to speed limits.
Alongside South Africa and Egypt, Kenya is one of the most well-known and popular tourist destinations in Africa. Like South Africa, Kenya features a great variety of terrain, but the roads are of a far inferior quality to South African roads, and you can expect to do a lot of riding on loose gravel, sand and rutted dirt tracks, so offroad skills are needed, as is a motorcycle capable of handling such surfaces safely. It’s worth it not only for the fun and challenge of the ride, but for the spectacular scenery, the cultural heritage (think Masai warriors) and the array of breathtaking wildlife.
Morocco is a great destination for motorcyclists from Europe because of its close proximity to Spain. It is a land of ancient history and varied terrain, from vast desert valleys to the Atlas Mountains. Many of the roads are tarred, such as the main N8 road which will take you on a route featuring breathtaking scenery, although the condition of the asphalt does vary greatly. The famous, or, as some would say, infamous Tizi n’Test pass through the Atlas Mountains features hairpin bends strewn with sand and gravel and sheer drops from the sides of the road – a fantastic challenge for any adventure riding enthusiast.
As mentioned earlier, Africa is a vast continent with a huge array of countries – indeed, it contains the most countries of any continent on earth – and all of these have different visa regulations. That said, many of the countries you’d most likely want to visit for motorcycle touring rely on tourism as a major driver of their economies, and are thus likely to make it easy for foreign tourists to visit. In South Africa, for example, visitors from most first world countries (Canada, Australia, UK, EU and USA) don’t need visas to enter for trips of 90 days or less. This goes for South Africa’s neighbours as well – Namibia and Botswana do not require citizens of these countries to acquire visas. Other countries in the region might, however; Kenya requires visitors from all the countries mentioned above to get a visitor visa, which costs 50 US$ and must be applied for from your country’s Kenyan embassy. If you’re planning on doing a large, multi-country trip, you’ll need to do some research beforehand as visa situations and requirements do change frequently in Africa.
Bike Permits/Carnets for Motorcycle Touring in Africa
Many African countries do not require CDP when travelling on your own motorcycle from the UK/Can/Aus/USA/EU, but Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Senegal do require them. In many other African countries they can be used to assist with the temporary importation of a vehicle, so they are useful to have.
While you may feel particularly keen on riding your own motorcycle, many African countries do have motorcycle touring businesses who rent out motorcycles specific to the terrain that one will be covering, from scooters and Harleys on the smooth, first world asphalt of South Africa’s Western Cape province to BMW GS adventure bikes in South Africa and Namibia, to DRZs and XRs for the rutted dirt tracks of Kenya. Rental rates are usually quite competitive, especially for visitors from the first world, whose strong currencies go a long way in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, insurance will be taken care of by the rental company, and there’s no need to worry about crating and shipping a motorcycle.
Also, unlike in many other countries, second hand or new motorcycles can also be purchased and licenced with relative ease by foreigners in South Africa. Therefore, buying a bike when you arrive and selling it when you leave the region (South African vehicles don’t need paperwork to cross national borders) might well be the most economical option.
Don’t forget your international motorcycle driver’s licence!
In most of the countries mentioned here, comprehensive insurance is not legally required for driving a vehicle, but it is nonetheless recommended. However, if you’re a foreigner bringing a vehicle from another country, local insurance agents may be reluctant to sell you insurance for short periods. If you’re renting bikes, however, you should be relatively safe in that regard. In all other cases, however, it might be best to buy comprehensive travel insurance in your home country before departure.
Access To Money
If you’re in South Africa, generally you’ll be safe with a credit card, but in many other African countries you may need to carry cash with you. Even in South Africa, in smaller towns or more rural areas, cards might not be accepted. Of course, it is risky carrying large amounts of cash, especially in certain areas of African countries where poverty and crime are rife, so carrying small amounts in your wallet while hiding the larger amounts in money belts or on your motorcycle may be the safest bet.
Generally petrol in South Africa and its neighbouring countries is widely available and of high quality in urban and semi-urban areas, but once you start moving out into rural areas and the bush it becomes increasingly difficult to find petrol stations, and fuel sold in jerry cans in rural areas can be of dubious quality. You’ll want to fit a long-range tank to your bike if you’re heading off the beaten track, and perhaps carry a jerry can or two as well.
The condition of roads in Sub-Saharan Africa varies considerably from country to country. In developed, well-governed countries like Namibia, Botswana and South Africa there are large networks of paved, well-maintained asphalt roads, but off the beaten track there are also plenty of gravel roads and rutted dirt tracks. In less developed nations gravel roads, heavily-potholed, are prevalent, along with the ubiquitous rutted dirt tracks. Be aware that if you’re really going out into the bush in any of these countries, heavier adventure bikes (900cc and up) may have a pretty hard time handling the terrain safely, and you may want to opt for something lighter and easier to pick up when it inevitably falls over.
Best Time of the Year for Motorcycle Touring in Africa
While cold and snow are not generally going to be factors to consider in most places in Africa, in South Africa winters do get very cold and snow falls in higher elevations. That said, winter can be a great time to tour because the days at least are usually sunny and rain free. The closer to the equator you get the hotter the weather is year-round. Also, bear in mind that in summer, in most African countries the daytime temperatures can be extreme (up to and over 40 degrees Celsius), and when you’re suited up in all your gear on your bike, you may have a very uncomfortable time riding and suffer from dehydration and heat exhaustion. There are also violent thunder, lighting and hail storms in summer in South Africa and its neighbouring countries. Generally speaking, spring or autumn are the best times, weather-wise, to visit.
Other Tips for Motorcycle Touring in Africa
Despite its awe-inspiring natural beauty and spectacular wildlife and scenery, what Africa is most well-known for, sadly, is its prevalence of wars, poverty, crime, political instability and poor governance, and if you’re planning on touring Africa, you need to be aware of these things. You may need to carry extra cash on you specifically for bribes; as odious as this sounds, it is often a given and expected of you when interacting with police officials and border officials who will pull you over for “speeding” or other such made-up offences. This is not so much the case in relatively well-governed countries like South Africa or Botswana, but is certainly the way things work in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola and most poorly-governed African nations.
Also, violent crime is, sadly, a factor to consider, especially in countries who have suffered through civil wars and political unrest in recent decades, with poverty and illegal firearms melded together in a deadly combination. Make sure you plan your routes carefully and avoid dangerous areas. Generally, on a motorcycle you won’t be at risk for violent car-jackings, which usually target luxury vehicles of the four-wheeled variety, but be aware that motorcycle theft is on the rise, especially in South Africa, and adventure bikes are targeted as frequently as superbikes and cruisers. Usually the bikes are quietly lifted up at night and loaded into a truck, so park your bike securely overnight.