The Best Ultra Marathons In Africa For 2021

Written By Jasper Johnson

Jasper is a new member of the Ultra X team. A keen middle distance runner who is looking to up the distance to an ultra marathon, Jasper enjoys writing about all things running.

9 November 2020


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Ultra marathon running is not a mainstream sport in Europe or North America just yet, however there are a huge number of events now and even more popping up all the time. Across most of Africa the sport is even more niche (despite it being home to some of the world’s greatest money runners, however, there are some huge events out there, ranging from the well-known Marathon Des Sables to some lesser known gems.

Let’s have a look.

Marathon des Sables

Arguably the most famous ultra marathon in the world and reported the hardest (although there are many that dispute this), this race has certainly garnered some serious attention over the years.

Started in 1986 by French concert promoter Patrick Bauer. Patrick walked the route 2 years earlier which had a profound effect on him, leading him to invite 186 competitors to share his experience in the 1st edition of the Marathon de Sable.

Now in its 35th year the race is hugely oversubscribed, coupled with a costly price tag of over £4000 this is not an easy race to get into. We recommend going for one of the many charity places to book your place on this desert adventure.

This is a self-supported race so you will have to plan your equipment and food as much as your training to ensure you make it through the 30-degree heat. Not to worry though, you will have almost 1000 fellow competitors to get you over the finish line.

This is a bucket list race for most ultra runners and certainly has a wow factor when you explain what you did to your non running friends.

Where: Morocco 
When: 2-12 April 2021
Distance: 251km (6 days)
Elevation Gain: 9,643 metres
Terrain: Desert
Difficulty Level: Intermediate 
Entry Price: £4195


Ultra-Trail Cape Town (UTCT)

This 100km Ultra marathon is a front loaded route with two major climbs up Table Mountain and then in Karbonkelberg within the first 50km.  The second half is a bit more forgiving with the elevation spread out if you make it that far!

UTCT takes runners around iconic natural world heritage sites and one of the new natural seven wonders of the world Don’t let these fantastic sight seeing opportunities slow you down too much, as a tight 17 hour cut off will force you to keep going in even the toughest of sections

As the final event on the Ultra-Trail World Tour calendar this is a must do event in a must-see city. Get booking.

Where: South Africa
When: TBC 2021
Distance: 100km
Elevation Gain: 4,300m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £225

The Munga

400km in 5 days and over 2000m of elevation. This one’s probably not for first timers. This multi stage race has a slight twist to it…

The race is non stop, semi supported with 5 race village along the route to stock up on some much needed food. You decide: how far you go each day and when you rest. How you do it is up to you. This certainly changes the tactics for some runners, making this a bit of a survival race.

This is another race claiming to be ‘the toughest in the world’ but to be fair they may have some justification in using it.

Where: South Africa
When: TBC 2021
Distance: 400km (5 days)
Elevation Gain: 9260m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Brutal
Entry Price: £950

Grand Raid de la Réunion

An island race, set off the coast of Madagascar Grand Raid de la Réunion, also called La Diagonale des Fous (The Madmen Diagonal) is a mountain ultramarathon on Réunion Island.

The 162km circular our takes you around the circumference of the island and over its challenging 9643m of elevation. The race was first started in 1989 with a 125km roue at first, now turned into a tougher 162km race. Runners can expect incredible views of volcanoes, waterfalls, lush green forests, and tropical beaches as Reunion Island is like a small continent with highly diverse landscapes and weather conditions offering an amazing life changing experience.

You might have to be a madman to complete this race. However, you will get some serious bragging rights

Is it worth it?

Only one way to find out!

Where: Reunion Island
When: TBC 2021
Distance: 162km
Elevation Gain: 9643m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £150


Another island race, this time the island of Gran Canaria. Runner set off from the north side and finish on the southern side. This race certainly provides a whistle stop tour of the islands most spectacular views. Just make sure you make it from point A to B in under 30 hours.

The race started in 2003 with just 65 competitors it has grown substantially to include over 3000 racers from 70 counties, now forming part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour Circuit. Expect some razzmatazz and excitement at this race.

Where: Gran Canaria
When: 24-28 February  2021
Distance: 128km
Elevation Gain: 7,500m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £160

Global Limits São Tomé

Since 2012, Global Limits have been organizing multi-stage races all around the world. There latest venture takes you to São Tomé. This race was started last year and was initially made to be a one-off event. However, given how successful it was year Global limits have confirmed the 2nd edition of the race will be 11-20 February 2021.

Runners start in the largest plantation in São Tomé – Roca Agostinho Neto and finishes as close to the equator as is humanly possible. São Tomé is the closest country on earth to the coordinates 0°N 0°E!

Continuing the Global limits format this is a 6-day race covering 200km. Looks like a fun addition to the Global Limits series. If your calendar isn’t already packed with Ultra X events this is worth checking out…

Where: Sao Tome (The gulf of guinea)
When: 11-20 February 2021
Distance: 200km (6 days)
Elevation Gain: 6000m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Hard
Entry Price: £1,900

Salt Pans Ultra Marathon

The Salt Pans Ultra Trail Marathon was founded in 2019 and is a 3-day trail run on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans of Botswana.

On the face of it this is probably the best value for money ultra out there, costing only £320. However, getting to the start line isn’t the easiest in the world. Race instructions tell of a 6.5 hour drive through the rural countryside with not much in the way of road markers. Following on from that – the race itself is unmarked, making a GPS watch a necessity. Be sure to prepare for the logistics of the event as well as the training.

Do not let this put you off though. You will have the privilege of exploring some of the few relatively untouched areas of the world, traversing the largest salt flats in the world alongside Africa’s only breeding ground of the Greater Flamingo and the location of Wilbur Smith’s famous novel, The Sunbird.

To take on this race be prepared for everything!

Where: Botswana
When: TBC 2021
Distance: 100km (3 days)
Elevation Gain: 1000m
Terrain: salt pans
Difficulty Level: Beginner/Intermediate 
Entry Price: £320

Namib Race

Part of Racing the Planet’s series the Namib race takes competitors through the Namibian desert. 7 days and 250km allows the racers to experience some of the most stunning and iconic desert landscape. Runners pass scattered mountain tops, through sand red plains while the Atlantic waves crash against the desert shoreline.

Originally situated in the Sahara Desert the race has moved to multiple desert locations such as Wadi Rum in Jordan and Egypt, finally settling in Namibia in 2016. This forms part of RacingThePlanet’s 4 Deserts Series. In a Similar in format to the MDS, yet with a smaller field of around 150 competitors per year.

This is a fantastic race for sand lovers in a slightly different location that runners may have been to before.

Where: Namibia
When: 25 April – 1 May 2021
Distance: 250km (7 days)
Elevation Gain: 2,200m
Terrain: Road
Difficulty Level: Intermediate 
Entry Price: £3,800

For Rangers

Another Beyond the Ultimate race, taking runners through Kenya’s savannah and under the shadow of Mount Kenya. Rangers takes competitors over 230km across five wildlife conservancies, providing ample opportunity to spot some of east Africa’s unique wildlife.

Proceeds from the race go towards supporting the 2,500 rangers who maintain the area, preventing poachers and others who may harm the wildlife.

This is a self-reliant race, requiring competitors to carry all their kit. This could be the ultimate alternative to doing a normal safari, something to tell your friends about at the end.

If I haven’t persuaded you yet, they’ve even had the fastest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, at the finish line handing out medals in previous races.

Where: Kenya
When: 22 September 2021
Distance: 230km (6 days)
Elevation Gain: 2000m
Terrain: Desert
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Entry Price: £2,750km

Kilimanjaro Ultra Marathon Stage Run

While this isn’t strictly speaking a race the Kilimanjaro Ultra Marathon Stage Run is more of an adventure run. Runners get to circumnavigate Mount Kilimanjaro, exploring the non touristy trails giving a unique experience to those who take part.

The perfect option for those in search of an adventure without the nerves that come with a race.

Where: Tanzania
When: 15-25 August 2021
Distance: 260km (8 days)
Elevation Gain: 7000m
Terrain: Trail
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Entry Price: $2,315


Want to see more incredible ultra marathons from every continent?


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