The Budapest-Bamako Rally

When: January 17, 2010

Where: Budapest-Bamako

After the country’s only commercial jet crashed, Hungarian born internet entrepreneur Andrew G. Szabo found himself stuck in the Guinean capital, Conakry, on a hot August morning.

It’s not the most pleasant of places to be stranded, not even by African standards. He had to make his way to Mali’s capital Bamako some 1200 miles away.  So, he found a half decent Suzuki Samurai with a local driver and embarked on a life changing journey across the African bush.

Andrew G. Szabo

Halfway through the most amazing road trip of his life Andrew made a firm decision to enter the famous Dakar Rally to experience an extreme endurance rally from Europe to Africa. “After coming home I realized that the costs were outrageously high and the goal of the organization was to eliminate the novice drivers early on in the race”, said Mr. Szabo. “I also felt that the Dakar’s spirit of adventure was replaced by corporate greed and marketing objectives”.

Not wanting to be anyone’s profit margin, Szabo decided to launch his own rally with lower costs, more liberal rules, but the full experience of a trans-Saharan, Epic African Adventure – and that’s how the Budapest-Bamako was born.

The Great African Run

On December 26th 2005 42 vehicles lined up in Budapest to embark on a marathon rally from Budapest to the Bamako. The hundred participants at the time didn’t know that they would be paving the way for one of the most unique motorsport events in the world.

Cars, bikes and trucks can enter in the competitive racing category or the less demanding adventure category. Unlike the Dakar Rally, you don’t need a million dollar vehicle to compete. One of the goals of Budapest-Bamako is to promote the use of inexpensive, disposable cars.  Szabo’s first car for the inaugural run was a beat up Lada Niva, which cost him less than $1500.

One of the problems with typical off road races is that you never really get to experience the exotic surroundings in which the event is held – the goal is to drive from point A to point B as fast as possible, and usually all you see of the host country is a big cloud of dust.  The Budapest-Bamako solves this problem brilliantly.

A New Kind of Rally

The Budapest-Bamako is more like a cross between orienteering, geo-caching and off-road driving than a regular rally.  It’s a point race where teams collect valuable points for completing daily stages on time and finding various geo-caches or geo checkpoints along the way.

Budapest to Bamako Rally

A typical day consists of 400-600 kilometers (250-375miles) of driving on harsh off-road terrain and completing 8-10 geo challenges.  These challenges can be completed by finding painted signs given by simple GPS coordinates, but some of them are more complex and demanding, they may require finding various clues along the way.

Some of the difficult challenges may involve finding local people in remote areas and getting help from them. On the 2009 rally teams had to drive to a mountain village on a narrow rocky track in Morocco’s Jebel Bani mountain range.

After finding the village they had to find Mohamed, the teacher, who in return for school supplies would give them the missing coordinates to the entrance of a cave.

From the entrance of the cave teams had to climb to a waterfall where a painted sign was hidden. They could only reach the sign after driving, trekking and swimming under the waterfall.

“Geo-caching gives participants a chance to get out of the car, experience Africa, local cultures and see some breathtaking locations”, says Andrew.

The rally is 9000 kilometers long and travels through some the hard desert tracks and beautiful casbah towns of Morocco before entering the politically sensitive and sometimes heavily mined area of Western Sahara.  This is the least densely populated country on Earth.  There are military checkpoints everywhere.

In Mauritania teams have to tackle sand dunes, heat and the occasional sand storm. The long drive, the difficult roads and the blowing sands usually begin to take their toll on the participants in Mauritania. This is where most people give up or lose valuable time by getting their cars fixed.

In 2008 members of the British K-Team gave up on their 300 Euro Polish mini car in the Mauritanian town of Aleg. They hitched a ride with another team to the finish line. After reaching the Southern end of the Sahara teams turn toward the Malian capital for some backbreaking driving on African dirt roads dotted with mud mosques, clay huts, cheering children and regal baobab trees.

The Budapest-Bamako is also a charity event. Every team is encouraged to bring school supplies, medicines, tools or medical equipment to impoverished African communities. Last year close to a million dollars worth of donations were distributed.

Over the years the popularity of the Budapest-Bamako grew exponentially. In 2009 the once fledgling rally became bigger than the Dakar. In four short years the B2B became the largest trans-Saharan rally and the largest charity rally in Africa. It accounts for 5% of the annual tourism of Mauritania.

Over 600 people and 250 vehicles entered the rally in 2009. The Budapest-Bamako has turned into a complex cultural phenomenon. Some teams come for the competition, some come for the journey others for the famous desert parties, but the common denominator is always the quest for adventure.

In 2010 the Budapest-Bamako adventure will last even longer. Szabo recently announced The Capetown Challenge in which teams have four weeks to drive from Northern Morocco to South Africa.

The 2010 Budapest-Bamako

The rally starts form the Hungarian capital on January 17, 2010. The two categories travel on two different routes.  Here are the stages of next year’s run. For more information visit

Racing Category


  • Budapest – Brescia 858 km
  • Brescia – Perpignan 877 km
  • Perpignan – Almeria 990 km
  • Nador – Tinerhir 692 km
  • Tinerhir – Mhamid 370 km
  • Mhamid – Assa 520 km
  • Assa – Laayoune 550 km
  • Laayoune – Dakhla (TOC) 539 km
  • Dakhla (TOC) – Bou Lanouar 380 km
  • Bou Lanouar – B2 Beach 280 km
  • B2 Beach – Nbeika 516 km
  • Nbeika – Kiffa 442 km
  • Kiffa – Kiffa pihenőnap/szerelő nap
  • Kiffa – Ayoun el Atrous 280 km
  • Ayoun el Atrous – Sokolo 510 km
  • Sokolo – Katiena 380 km
  • Katiena – Bamako 322 km

Adventure Category


  • Budapest – Brescia 858 km
  • Brescia – Perpignan 877 km
  • Perpignan – Almeria 990 km
  • Nador – Merzouga 701 km
  • Merzouga – Zagora 329 km
  • Zagora – Tata 276 km
  • Tata – Tatouine 481 km
  • Tatouine – Laayoune 538 km
  • Laayoune – Dakhla (TOC) 539 km
  • Dakhla (TOC) – Nouadhibou 375 km
  • Naouadhibou – B2 Beach 315 km
  • B2 Beach – Nouakchott 150 km
  • Nouakchott – Kiffa 607 km
  • Kiffa – Gouray 200 km
  • Gouray – Kayes 320 km
  • Kayes – Diema 384 km
  • Diema – Bamako 343 km

About the Author

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
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