Be it Guatemala or Japan, Sarah Elliott takes a look at some of the top cycling holidays that you shouldn’t miss out on
From Hanoi to Havana, Delhi to Dakar, bicycles rule the roads.
Environmentally friendly? Tick. Cost effective? Tick. And not only do they keep you fit, but they also help you fit in. Across Asia, Africa and beyond, it’s the way the locals get around. Whether you’re haggling over the handlebars or racing children home from school, you’ll be experiencing the real destination – at ground level.
Nothing beats that feeling of freewheeling the last big downhill of the day, thighs tingling, lungs bulging, wind in your hair (and flies up your nose). But best of all, cycling means you can sample the region’s delectable delicacies without a twinge of guilt.
While buses and trains hurtle from city to town and back again, bikes open up the world in between. Travel at your own pace, pause for a picnic or take an impromptu swim as you stumble upon hidden spots. Biking offers hands-on, independent adventure. Whether your idea of bike bliss is a gentle morning pootle followed by a bottle of burgundy, or a bone-rattling marathon of mighty peaks, we’ve picked our favourite trips to suit every fitness level, pocket and persuasion.
You might feel safer in a 4WD while you’re gazing at big game, but getting to those wildlife wonderlands by bike is an exhilarating alternative. From the base of Kilimanjaro, pedal across the baobab-studded steppes of the Great Rift Valley, dipping into village life and camping under the starry African sky. From Lake Manyara, climb the rift escarpment to Lake Eyasi and the Ngorongoro Crater, packed with Africa’s Big Five. You won’t be able to cycle here, so give your legs a rest and let a good guide drive you past the lions and rhinos.
The wide roads of New Zealand lure cyclists from around the planet, and it’s easy to see why – the jaw-dropping scenery, top-notch pit stops and absence of traffic make for some of the best cycling in the world.
As well as the glaciers, geysers, rainforests and wineries, New Zealand has also mastered the art of service. Your bags can be transported between comfy lodges and rustic farmstays, leaving you free to pedal on and enjoy the scenery. For a great South Island overview, ride a spectacular swoosh from Christchurch to the raw grandeur of Milford Sound.
Tackling Central America on two wheels offers a different perspective on the jungle landscapes, Mayan ruins and bubbling volcanoes. Antigua is the best launching point, with plenty of agencies offering equipment, maps and a variety of tours. Freewheel through the Guatemalan highlands, passing colourful market towns and coffee plantations on the way to Lake Atitlán, a tranquil spot overlooked by three towering volcanoes. From here you can head north to the remote Cuchumatanes mountains to rub shoulders with the local Amerindians, or strike out to Tikal National Park, where quetzals trill from the undergrowth and a trek through this pre-Hispanic world of Mayan temples, engulfed by rainforest, makes a magical departure from dirt roads.
Why take a car when you could tackle wine country on two wheels? Cycle the scenic route from Cape Town to Stellenbosch to sample the region’s finest drops, pottering lazily among vineyards, enjoying bibulous picnics between neat rows of juicy grapes. Once you’ve drunk your fill, head east on peaceful roads to explore the interior’s national parks before hitting the coast, rounding Cape Agulhas – Africa’s southernmost point – and spotting whales and penguins all the way back to Table Mountain. www.ctc.org.uk), which has useful information on cycling in this challenging but immensely rewarding region.
Delve into the delights of old Japan, snaking around the coast of little-visited Shikoku, with sea views and Shinto temples to adorn your ride. This volcanic region makes for challenging ascents, but road surfaces are good and the rewards fantastic – volcanic spring water is tamed at onsens (communal baths) where you can scrub, soak and steam your aching muscles. Cross to neighbouring Kyushu for the big push up brooding Aso-san, the world’s largest active caldera, before gliding down to the Pacific Coast, pausing for breath at tiny fishing villages and sampling real Japanese living in a traditional ryokan (inn). Check out the Kan-cycling website (www.bicycling.com and