Outdoors

Find a Biker’s Nirvana in the World’s Most Surprising Cycling Vacations

Join a tour and tackle Bolivia’s notorious Death Road. (Photo: Alamy)

When you think of international cycling destinations, you likely imagine the winding routes of the Tour de France. Europe’s varied landscapes, to be sure, are beautiful and fulfilling places to cycle, but they’re far from the most exotic biking destinations in the world.

From the peaks of the Himalayas to the depths of the Dead Sea, the following locales are nothing if not surprising cycling spots.

Bolivia

If you’ve ever been to Bolivia, you know that walking can be considered strenuous exercise here, given the incredible strain the country’s high altitude puts on your body. The good news is that the most incredible cycling experience in Bolivia is all downhill. The bad news? It’s called the “Death Road” — and not without reason.

Specifically, cycling on the Death Road takes you out of sky-high La Paz and down into the country’s temperate jungles via a steep slope with only minimal and occasional barriers between you and, well, death. Not to worry, however. Many guided tours are available, so you won’t face death alone — at least not this time.

Taiwan

cycling vacations
Expect the unexpected in Taipei. (Photo: Alamy)

Taipei, like most Asian cities, has plenty of bicycles mixed in among the hundreds of thousands of vehicles on its roads. What might surprise you, however, as you begin to travel outward into the Taiwanese countryside, is just how great a percentage of the traffic you see on rural roads is also bicycle traffic.

Cycling in Taiwan isn’t always easy, given the often mountainous terrain of the island and beautiful but often nerve-wracking vistas — biking along a coastal cliff is a double-edged sword.

Rent a bike in Taipei and cycle through the hills and valleys of Yangmingshan National Park, or start instead in Kaohsiung or head southeast to adjacent Kenting National Park and its outstanding beaches.

Otherwise, do as many visiting cyclists to Taiwan do: Travel with your own bike (so you’re not constrained by a rental) and explore as much of the island as your heart desires.

Tibet and Nepal

The road that runs from Tibet down into Nepal is colloquially known as the “longest downhill road in the world.” It’s hard to imagine much effort went into quantifying this, however, since despite how amazing it is to cycle in the Himalayas, it’s far from a mainstream activity. This means that even the most intrepid cyclists join a tour, such as the “Lhasa to Kathmandu” tour offered by Shangrila Adventure.

Indeed, while you obviously don’t bike down from (or up to!) Mount Everest, the road from Tibet to Nepal, which loosely follows the “Friendship Highway” between the two countries, passes several sky-scraping reference points. You’ll journey past Yamdrok Lake in Tibet, both of the country’s Everest Base Camps, and Tengboche Monastery in Nepal. If you do cycle here, make sure you have tires with a lot of tread: The path is often just unpacked dirt.

Israel

Cycling can be an extreme sport, so what better way to follow up cycling at the top of the world than with cycling at the bottom? When you cycle along the Dead Sea, which sprawls more than 1,000 feet below sea level between Israel and Jordan, you are literally riding your bike through the lowest point on Earth.

Start your ride from the resort town of Ein Bokek, where you’ll also find the most cycle-friendly terrain.

Of course, the Dead Sea isn’t the only place to cycle in Israel. The country’s Mediterranean coast, for example, provides beautiful cycling vistas, whether you stick to the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa or cycle between them.

Likewise, the green Galilee region around the city of Nazareth is fertile cycling ground, or you can bike through the Negev desert down to the Red Sea port of Eilat.

South Africa

Every year dozens (sometimes hundreds) of cyclists embark on the “Big Africa Cycle,” which takes them more than 20,000 miles from the United Kingdom to Cape Town, South Africa, to raise money for charity. While this would definitely constitute an epic opportunity to cycle in Africa, you needn’t devote months of your life to have an amazing Africa cycling adventure.

A more manageable way to enjoy one of the world’s most surprising cycling spots is to begin your cycling trip in Cape Town and then head east along the country’s stunning “Garden Route,” a 133-mile length of highway N2 named for the lush vegetation and pristine coastal views you take in as you drive it.

Start in Mossel Bay. Then stop in Hermanus to see humpback whales jumping out of the sea and Knysna to slurp down some of South Africa’s best oysters before finishing up in Storms River to partake in even more adventure, including one of the world’s best bungees.