Cycling around the world often seems reserved to professional cyclists who set a goal to circumnavigate the Earth. We believe the contrary. That long-distance cycling is a fun and realist challenge for most biking enthusiasts. You just need to find the courage and time to train before a major adventure.
On this note, here are four of the most spectacular and in the same time challenging cycling routes in the world. These routes (each with more than 1,000 km in length) are memorable journeys through mountains, sacred places, isolated communities and cultures. They are stories that must be lived and told.
1#. Carretera Austral, Chile
Distance: 1,200 km from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, all along through rural Patagonia.
Best time: November to March
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time needed: 3-5 weeks depending on how you schedule your trip.
Highlights: Fly fishing, easy camping, many cyclists, amazing scenery.
Road surface: 40% paved / 60% unpaved (though they are currently paving this route and within the next few years it will be completely paved).
The Carretera Austral stretches through spectacular rural and wild scenery in the Patagonia region of Southern Chile. The cycling difficulty is easy to moderate; the route seems to have more cyclists than cars along it. For those who like to fish, they are some remarkable spots for that along the way.
Cycling through Patagonia offers breathtaking views, along with stopping in some places that are completely off the beaten track. If you plan on biking the entire Carretera Austral, the expedition might take you around 40 days.
The Southern half of the route is the most wild. The road meanders across remote landscapes, passes fjords, countless lakes and mountain peaks. Along the route you will take ferries and circle through temperate rain forests and national reserves.
2#. The Friendship Highway: Tibet to Nepal
Distance: 1.100 km
Best time: May to October
Time needed: around 24 days
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Highlights: one of the most strenuous bike trips in the world with 5 passes exceeding 4,500 meters and encounters with one of the world’s most fascinating cultures
Road surface: 80% tarmac road and 20% non-technical off-road
The Friendship Highway is a popular bike route between Lhasa in Tibet and Kathmandu in Nepal, probably the highest altitude cycling adventure you will ever live. Starting in Lhasa at 3,650m, the road traverses around 1,100 km over mountain passes exceeding 4,500m, finishing in the Kathmandu Valley where the oxygen is rich and the lands fertile.
The downside to this route is a condition called ‘high altitude sickness’, which occurs in places lacking enough oxygen, The bikers are advised to acclimatize in Lhasa for a couple of days and test their endurance at altitudes of 4,000 meters. During this time, they can visit the Potala Palace, Jokhang temple, Drepung monastery and other famous spiritual places.
Cycling along the Friendship Highway will immerse you in fascinating lands, a journey that can reveal a better understanding of the deep connections between Tibetan culture, religion and the mountains.
3#. Cycle along Vietnam between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
Distance: 1,710 km
Best time: December to June
Time needed: around 25 days
Highlights: Ride your bike past rice fields, visit local ethnic villages and explore imperial cities.
Road surface: paved
As the majority of the population gets around on two wheels (bikes or motorbikes), cycling around Vietnam could be an excellent way to get closer to the people and see places that are way off the beaten path. Bicycles can be rented cheap in many cities and are often a great way of covering larger distances. Good spots for cycling are Dalat, Hoi An, Hue and Ninh Binh.
The long trip between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) can be a bit difficult in some points, especially when you get on the highways. Although it might take longer to complete the itinerary between Hanoi and Saigon, the best choice is to go on back roads along the coast. This way you will have less traffic and you will be able to admire beautiful ocean views.
If you prefer to travel in a group lead by a guide rather than on your own, there are several adventure travel tours in Hanoi that provide package tours with equipment, accommodation and food included.
Begin your trip by heading to Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam, 170 km away from Hanoi. It is an area enriched by nature-sculpted elements, with magnificent limestone pillars and the most extensive marine-invaded tower karst in the world.
Keep riding onward through fishing villages, traditional architecture, authentic houses and the ancient city of Hue (a place with a cultural history, home to the last Vietnamese kings). Near Hue, there is one of the nicest old seacoast towns in Vietnam called Hoi An.
The central Vietnam is mainly covered by lush forest-covered hills featuring small villages and the occasional elephant. With the trip on the final section, the south reveals the influence of the biggest city in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). End your tour with the little-visited Mekong Delta, the so called “rice basket of Vietnam”.
4#. Ring Road, Iceland
Distance: 1,332 km
Best time: May to September
Time needed: around 3 weeks
Highlights: Dramatic fjords, glaciers, colorful mountains, volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, glaciers lagoons.
Road surface: paved
When it comes to memorable cycling routes, we can not avoid the land of the Elves. Even if everyone agrees that Iceland is not the friendliest environment for road cycling (mountain biking is more popular among Icelanders), there will always be some crazy travelers that will challenge their mind and body to conquer this unworldly land. So if you want to dive yourself into this idea, be prepared to encounter the worse weather possible.
Please be advised that Iceland has unpredictable weather conditions, so you should start your packing with waterproof and warm clothes. A tent might be mandatory if you want to go off-road and avoid spending a huge amount of money for accommodation. Also, try to be very organized regarding the food supply because the distances between towns can be more than 100 km. Water should not be a problem, as springs and mountain river are all along the way.
For a complete tour of the country, the only option is to go on Road 1 (or Ring Road) that starts just outside the capital Reykjavik. If you choose to start through the west part of Iceland, be sure not to miss the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and then the West Fjords. This will be a long detour from the main road, but the unspoiled scenery will pay off.
If you cycled on one of these routes or you have other similar suggestions, please leave us a comment regarding your story and we will share it with our readers.