An interview with our local partners in Panama
9th August 2021
When a lot of your trip is on the road, opting to cycle is a brilliant choice for most able-bodied travellers. As with hiking and running, cycling offers the thrill of exploration without any of the carbon-related guilt. There’s a distinct satisfaction in gliding through unfamiliar scenery, outside of a car or bus, with only your leg muscles in charge.
Outside of Europe, urban hubs such as Beijing, Buenos Aires and Cape Town are fast emerging as some of the best cities to explore by bike. While for the hardcore cyclist, there is a myriad of adventure routes which take anything from two weeks to two months - such as Bolivia’s adrenaline-filled ‘Death Road’, or the gruelling, 500 mile ‘Friendship Highway’ between Tibet and Nepal. But for your more leisurely biker, with a simple desire to absorb the world’s iconic sights from the freedom of two wheels, you can always take the scenic route on these seven alternative tours...
Highlights of the North
When it comes to India, one may imagine the frenetic, car and cow-ridden roads of New Delhi and assume it to be the worst place to tackle by bike. You’d be partly right. However, a well-planned cycle tour of the North’s highlights can incorporate unmissable sites such as the Taj Mahal, Udaipur and New Delhi (which are best visited by road vehicle) with cycling excursions through its rural fringes. Pedal from bird-rich Keoladeo National Park to the Krishna temples of Karauli; then past the historic architecture of Bundi into the wild, green countryside of Bijaipur. India’s quaint country roads offer a dream-like experience for any traveller, and cycling is the best way to absorb the eccentric goings-on of north Indian rural life.
Full circuit of Angkor
The ancient pinnacle of Cambodian civilisation, the ruined Kingdom of Angkor needs to be seen to be believed. Unsurprisingly, millions of tourists try to do just that each year; mostly hitting any number of temples on the Small or Grand Circuit from the comfort of a tuk-tuk or taxi. However, putting the ‘circuits’ out of your head, grabbing a map of the temples and cycling your own preferred route can be much more adventurous - and a two or three-day ticket for the whole Archeological Park means you can go at your own pace. Of the multitude of 8th-14th century ruins, the global masterpiece that is Angkor Wat, multi-faced Bayon and atmospheric Ta Prohm are unmissable, but obviously the most crowded. Take the time to discover lesser-known gems and avoid the busiest times of day (eg. sunrise at Angkor Wat and sunset at Pre Rup) for the benefit of peace, better views and fewer visitors. Of course, take a local guide - their navigational know-how and historical insight will be essential to your cycling, tomb-raiding adventure.
Move through some of China’s most quintessential locations at a slower pace, with a hiking-come-cycling tour of Beijing and Guilin. Throngs of locals cycle around Beijing’s packed streets every single day - and visitors with road confidence can join the hordes to get a unique perspective of life in the city. Then, travel north for a two-day hike along the most renowned sections of the Great Wall; treading along ancient history as the route rises and falls over the emerald hills. The cycling portion of the tour takes you to the stunning regions around Guilin, where you can meander among the karst cliffs and crystalline rivers that link the rural towns of Daxu, Xingping and Yangshuo.
Cycling tour of the High Atlas
The High Atlas, stretching clear across Morocco’s landmass, is naturally a draw for serious cyclists wanting to tackle its craggy, Jurassic terrain. For those with more humble fitness levels, however, an amalgamated seven-day tour of Morocco’s cultural hotspots is a lot more tempting. Explore dazzling Marrakech by foot, enjoying aromatic spice stalls and colourful street performances, before heading to stunning Lake Lalla Takerkoust to get on your bike. Throughout the week, pedal through the dramatic scenery of Toubkal National Park, power up the famous Tizi ’n’ Test pass of the High Atlas, and enjoy spectacular views as you stop at Berber villages en route. After descending through oak and juniper forests on the ride home, reward yourself with Moroccan cushions, mint tea and sumptuous North African cuisine in the evenings.
Jutting 100 kilometres into the Japan Sea in northern Ishikawa Prefecture, the Noto Peninsula is an unspoiled and beautiful region offering some exhilarating coastal cycling and excellent cuisine. As public transport is limited, biking is the perfect way to discover this rural and tranquil peninsula dotted with fishing villages and farms. As well as passing by some magical temples and shrines, the route takes you along dramatic stretches of coastline, calm and populous along the section facing the mainland, wilder and more rugged along the sea facing parts. At certain points you can enjoy cycling on the hard packed sand of the beach, at others you will follow minor roads and tracks. Rice terraces hug the coast making for some great scenic photos, and some of the rockier sections have small islands just offshore to admire. Don't miss out on some of the highlights of the area - the authentic family run guesthouses and the exquisite seafood, reputed to be the best in Japan.
Uncover the beautiful rural countryside surrounding Medellin on a cycling tour which takes in the village of Guatapé and Piedra del Peñol. Strike out among the green hills studded with lakes which are home to El Peñón de Guatapé, a monolithic boulder standing 200 metres high. It's a steady climb to the top of the 740 steps to reach the top, but from there the views are stunning - don't forget your camera. Pedalling onwards through the undulating landscape brings you to Guatapé village, famous for its colourfully painted houses, distinctive church and lakefront promenade, from where boat trips on the lake are a possibility. A cycle tour of Medellin is a revealing and enchanting way to get to know the city, and closes the cycling part of the trip. Flying north from Medellin, the remainder of the trip involves an incredible multi-day hike to the Lost City, said to be one of South America's most impressive treks.
Combine hiking, biking and gorilla trekking on this Rwandan adventure which gives you a true insight into this petite East African nation known as the Land of a Thousand Hills. Our local partners are keen to show off some of Rwanda's sustainable tourism successes, including a community who once made their living from poaching, but now show visitors the secrets of their rural life instead. Some of the suggested hiking routes on this itinerary idea are strenuous, but our trips are all customisable so this can be adjusted to suit. As well as the once in a lifetime experience of gorilla trekking in the impressive Virunga Mountains, Rwanda is also home to the Congo Nile Trail, skirting the shores of Lake Kivu for over 200 kilometres of scenic, undulating biking. The trail can be done on foot in 10 days, while by bike you can halve the time required but still see the charming lakeside village life as you go.
Another great biking destination is Panama, where cyclists can enjoy a varied adventure including freewheeling along the coastal Cinta Costera to the heart of the old quarter of Panama City, and exploring the old Plantation Road that takes you to the heart of the Soberania National Park where the bird life is a particular draw. Look out for interesting species such as ray-headed tanagers, spotted and ocellated antbirds, golden-crowned spadebills, white breasted wood-wrens and northern barred and ruddy woodcreepers. The biking tour also includes an opportunity to cycle to Howard, previously a US military airbase located 500 metres from the Pacific coast at the entrance of the Panama Canal, only becoming Panamanian territory in 1999. El Valle is another memorable destination reached by crossing the Bridge of the Americas over the iconic Panama Canal.
Make it happen
These tours can all be adapted to suit various speed preferences and fitness levels, so if you’re ready to hop on a bike and explore one of these destinations at the perfect pace, click on the links above and enquire with our local tour operators about their cycle tours. If you’d prefer to talk to someone at TravelLocal, call our office on +44 (0)117 325 7898.