If you’re into overlanding, you have several different options to choose from in terms of how you can organize your trip. You can be spontaneous, pack a few bags and cases and head for the wilderness for a weekend. Or you can spend a few exciting months organizing a transcontinental overland adventure and be an independent explorer. A third option to consider is signing up for an organized overland tour or amateur off-road rally, such as the Budapest Bamako Rally.
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The history of the Budapest Bamako Rally goes back to the mid-2000s and is growing more popular every year, with participants signing up from all corners of the world! There have been a growing number of participants every year since.
Each year, a different off-road itinerary is announced and finalized by a scout team. Months are spent by the organizers to end up with scenic and challenging itineraries. North-Western Africa is a great place for such routes.
About the Budapest Rally
Over the years, the finish line was usually in Mali’s capital city, Bamako. However, due to security concerns, in 2018 the finish line had been moved to Banjul for the second time in the rally’s history.
Two-thirds of the Teams who sign up are from all over the world, including the U.S, while one-third of the folks are from the rally’s home country, Hungary.
Is the Budapest Bamako Rally a Race?
Don’t get misled by the word ‘rally’; this isn’t actually a race, it is an overland adventure. There are a few categories to choose from, including:
- The Spirit,
- 4×4 Tour
- Race -the Race category being a competition with different navigational tasks to complete.
What is the Overlanding Route from Budapest?
The start of the rally is in the heart of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, and the finish line is in West Africa. Although the exact location of the finish line has varied over the last 15 years due to security concerns and difficulties in dealing with local authorities.
The Spirit and the Tour categories can be completed with any vehicle, as the route is organized using more or less main roads.
The Spirit is for people who see a challenge in getting from A to B with a vehicle not fit for that purpose. In this category, you can enter any old banger. For a number of years, there has been a team who enter the rally with their Trabant. If you don’t know this East German car brand, Trabant used to make vehicles made out of cardboard, with engines more suitable for coffee grinders than cars. Yet year after year, this team takes on the Sahara Desert and successfully completes the Budapest-Bamako Rally.
The Tour Category
The tour category is for vehicles and teams that don’t want to or cannot drive on the difficult offroad stages, but still want to drive over 5,000 miles and experience amazing places in West Africa. It’s like a great organized road trip!
The 4X4 Tour and Race
However, the 4×4 Tour and Race categories are given GPS coordinates every morning to follow. The provided itinerary is quite often very challenging for drivers, navigators and machines alike. Due to these demanding stages, there is a list of mandatory equipment you need to have if you want to enter the Rally in these categories.
The list of mandatory equipment for both the 4×4 Tour and Race categories in 2018 were:
- Heavy duty tow rope
- Traction mats
- Fire extinguisher
- Basic vehicle repair tools
- First aid kit
- 2 jerry cans
- 2 reflective roadside safety triangles
- 4-wheel drive
We in the Overlandsite Team entered the 4×4 Tour category. We’ve done great long overland trips before, but this was our first African adventure. We wanted to meet fellow overlanders during the rally, and also wanted the additional fun and safety that comes with driving in a small convoy.
Why do the Budapest Bamako Rally?
We also signed up due to other factors. In late August 2017, we were on our way back home from an amazing North European overland trip. We traveled through 12 different countries and discovered parts of the continent we’d never been before. We already had a vague plan to drive from Europe to Southeast Asia in 2018, but since that was only going to be from the beginning of the summer, we realized that we’d have about 10 months to wait until our next major overland adventure.
We brainstormed some ideas on what to do in between, and that’s when we stumbled upon an ad for the Budapest-Bamako Rally starting in January 2018. It fit our plans perfectly. It involved off-road stages and remote areas so we could test our vehicle and equipment. Time-wise, it was halfway between our North European trip and our big adventure to Southeast Asia, and we’d both been keen for a while to travel to Africa. We signed up the next day.
What You Need to Know to Overland Africa
What you also need to know about the Budapest-Bamako Rally is that the trip is organized in only one way. From the start to the finish line you will know exactly what the itinerary is going to be, but it is up to you how you want to arrange your trip back home afterward. You need to decide whether to ship your vehicle to your home country and fly back, drive back to your vehicle, or perhaps sell or donate it.
Teams that sell their rigs at the finish line have to find a balance between equipping their car with the necessary upgrades to be able to complete the difficult stages, and what makes sense financially. If you install the latest lift kits and overland camping accessories in your truck, chances are, you won’t be able to recover your investments when you’re selling everything at the finish line.
Best Overland Vehicles for Budapest Rally
A plain stock Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol or similar 4×4 should be able to complete all off-road stages without any issues. Having said that, some stages are truly challenging.
The Rally Route:
The 5400 miles the Rally covered in 2018 started as usual in Budapest. The start date was on January 12th, and teams had to start with a marathon stage by driving through the whole of Europe to southern Spain, taking the ferry over to Morocco, and meeting everyone again 3 days later in Midelt.
The European stage was basically a task that needed to be done in order for the real adventure to start. However, there was the option to take a ferry from Italy all the way to Morocco if you didn’t want to drive on the boring European motorways.
The very cold, snowy town of Midelt was the start of the real challenges. The stage from here traversed through the most spectacular tracks and mountain passes in the Atlas. Heading south towards Western Sahara, the scenery changed on a daily basis, and Morocco doesn’t disappoint any overlander when it comes to spectacular views.
The snowy and rocky mountain region slowly changed to a flat, desert environment when the rally entered Western Sahara. This country is one of the most controversial areas in the world; it’s occupied by Morocco, who treats it as their southern province but is considered a completely separate country by the rest of the world.
Is it Safe?
While perfectly safe in general, it wouldn’t be advisable to explore the region too far off the main roads, as there are still thousands of land mines hidden under the sand due to the long civil war in the 1970s and 80s. In reality, the only part of Western Sahara that was able to keep its independence is reduced to a small, narrow area in the desert that hasn’t got much hope for a better future.
Leaving Western Sahara, the Rally entered Mauritania, one of the poorest countries in the world. This is where teams faced the most challenging stages of the Rally. The itinerary traversed right through the Sahara desert, far from any main roads and with some shockingly poor villages yet astonishingly beautiful sand dunes.
Since the route took participants close to the western parts of the country, the Mauritanian army was escorting the Rally as well as guarding the overnight camps. Some areas of this country are actually dangerous, with terrorist groups and other criminal organizations working in the area. However, we didn’t experience any real danger and the army’s presence was probably only a precaution.
Senegal was quite a relieving change after Mauritania for many reasons. The country is much more developed, and after days of sand, wind and scorching desert sun, teams could finally relax under some palm trees with cold beers in their hands. Driving on the savanna was great fun, with winding and dusty tracks snaking between remote villages in the countryside.
Gambia – The Finish Line
After 3 days of great fun in Senegal, the Rally finally entered The Gambia, where this year’s finish line was located. Dusty tracks, ferry river crossings, countless checkpoints and eventually smooth roads lead to the finish line just outside the capital city of Banjul.
The organizers created a great atmosphere with a Gambian folk dance and music band, and in general there was a great sense of achievement after some quite hard days with 12-14 hour off-road drives.
Challenges of Borders and Bureaucracy
It wasn’t only the physical challenges of the itinerary and the distance that gave us plenty of satisfaction, but also the fact that we successfully completed 4 major border crossings with all their bureaucracy – another challenging task in its own right. Obtaining the necessary visas were an essential part of the preparations, but when we arrived at each border, we faced the issue of figuring out the local processes in order to cross.
Entering Morocco involved filling in two different forms; a personal one as well as a form for the vehicle. The customs form for the vehicle (called D16-TER) actually has 3 copies (either filled in online in advance or at the time of the border crossing), and you keep two of them that you can’t lose until you leave Morocco.
Similar forms need to be filled in when entering Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia, but with little difference between them. The processes may seem complicated at first, but once you’re at the border, it’s not that difficult to figure out. There are self-appointed helpers at each border, but their service really isn’t necessary once you overcome your first impressions of a busy and perhaps intimidating African border crossing.
The Finish Line of the Budapest Bamako Rally
The arrival of the Rally on January 28th was advertised on billboards all around town, and so spectators, as well as local used car salesmen, welcomed the teams as they crossed the finish line. Some vehicles such as Land Cruisers and Land Rovers were easier to sell than other, not as common models like a Porsche Cayenne.
Finishing the Rally meant only that the organized part of our trip ended, however – this was only the first part of our plans. We also wanted to experience West Africa independently while driving back to Europe at a much slower pace. Our main focus was going to be Morocco, which may be one of the best countries to discover with an overland rig. It provides adventurers with options to discover beaches, deserts, mountains and ancient towns. The opportunities are endless.
Preparing for Overlanding from Budapest to Gambia
Preparing for this trip took several months. This included the paperwork, insurance, visas, and vaccinations, but also preparing our overland vehicle.
We had to obtain visas to Mauritania and The Gambia. The Gambian visa was arranged through the rally organizers, but the visa to Mauritania was a different story. After entering the country, we were asked to go straight to our camp, which was basically a wild camping between two sand dunes. It was here, between the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, where the Mauritanian authorities set up visa issuing tents with an internet connection, ID photo taking and visa printing facilities. It made the border crossing and the visa processing much easier, but also much costlier. Other than this, accessing the West African countries with most European or American passports is fairly easy in terms of visas.
With respect to our vehicle and equipment, since we didn’t plan to sell our Toyota Land Cruiser (we have the 120 series, a.k.a Prado or Lexus GX470) and because we have other plans for great long trips, we installed a number of modifications and overland gear.
We took the truck to one of the best workshops in Austria, Off-Road Hesch, in order to install the following:
- 2’’ lift with TJM shock absorbers and springs
- Bravo raised air intake
- BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires
- Front Runner roof-rack
- Asfir underguards
We thought this was the absolute bare minimum we would need. We could’ve gone for a lot more upgrades and modifications but taking additional weight and expense into consideration, we ended up with the mentioned upgrades only.
Apart from camping essentials, in terms of overland gear, we were using a soft fabric rooftop tent, an Engel 12 volt fridge-freezer, and an Arkpak power device so that we would have electricity overnight.
One of the best parts of the preparation for an overland adventure is when you can build something yourself. We considered drawer systems from many manufacturers but ended up building one ourselves, which not only means we have something custom-built but also that we got to have a lot of fun building it!
Our equipment served us well during our trip to Africa, although we naturally discovered areas where we want some improvements before embarking on our independent Budapest to Singapore adventure starting in mid-June this year.
Meeting Like-Minded People
An organized overland tour like the Budapest-Bamako Rally is a great way to meet like-minded people and to collect memories you’ll never forget. The fact that it takes only a bit longer than two weeks if you choose not to drive back to your home country means that it can be done during your yearly vacation – but it would be quite an active vacation rather than a relaxing one! You may feel much energized after such an adventure, though!
Ferenc took part in the 2018 Budapest-Bamako Rally and has no plans on slowing down. On June 18 he begins his journey Overlanding to China. Follow along here
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