No matter where in the world you go, a marathon is 42.2 kilometers or 26.2 miles. What does change is the experience you have while running those miles. Depending on which marathon you run, you’ll have different crowd support, views, scenery and settings, and organization.
If you’ve run the Berlin, London, or New York Marathon and want to add a bit of adventure to your running experience, you should consider moving out of the mainstream US, UK, or Europe races. That’s exactly why we’re looking at some of the best marathons you’ll find in Africa.
So, if you’d like to jump into a fun, exciting, sometimes rugged marathon, check out the African marathons we found below. Lace up; let’s go!
What Are The Best Marathons in Africa?
Don’t forget to check our similar guides to the top marathons in Asia, UK, Australia, the US and Canada!
1. Lagos Marathon
Where: Lagos, Nigeria
This annual silver label marathon has been run every February since 1983. It starts at the National Stadium and finishes at Eko Atlantic. The best part of this marathon is running roughly a quarter of the distance along the Third Mainland Bridge over the Lagos Lagoon to Lagos Island.
The route is undulating, with 98 meters (322 feet) of elevation gain, but it still allows for fairly fast running. The Lagos Marathon male record was set by David Barmasai in 2020 with a time of 2:10:23. The fastest female time was recorded by Sharon Cherop, also in 2020, with a blistering time of 2:31:40.
2. Uganda Marathon
Where: Masaka, Uganda
Worldwide competitors, rugged hills, incredible views, and dirt roads – this is what you’ll get at the Uganda Marathon. This race has only been going for three years, but it’s managed well. Your lodging is included in the signup fee, and the money goes to local charities working on women’s empowerment, children’s education, and medical care for locals.
The Uganda Marathon is a race with a difference; it’s a 7-day-long adventure race in Masaka, which is Uganda’s heart and pulse. You’ll run up hills, through rural villages, along Pine Ridge, and beside Lake Victoria. You can get your whole family involved, too, as there are 10k, half marathon, and full marathon options.
3. Lewa Safari Marathon
Where: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
This running event has a half and full marathon component and is held annually at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The race is sponsored by Safaricom, and the proceeds are used to improve local community development and in efforts for wildlife conservation, especially rhinos. The race is 1,676 meters above sea level and is a double loop through the conservancy.
The race started in 2000 and has a harsh climate, inclement weather, and challenging terrain that will test the skills of even the most technical runners. You catch glimpses of wildlife, including wildebeest, rhinos, and giraffes, as you run along river banks, through woodland, and across savannahs. Runner’s World Magazine called this marathon “one of the top races to run in your life.”
4. Cape Town Marathon
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
No matter where you’re from, most people can agree that Cape Town is one of the most breathtaking cities in the world. It’s nestled between the appropriately-named Table Mountain and the sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean. And this is what runners get to see as they run the well-organized Cape Town Marathon.
The marathon route meanders around the Table Mountain Nature Reserve and into the city. Only 8,000 runners are allowed entry to this popular race, so ensure you register early. The race has a cutoff time of 7 hours, attracting elite, regular, and social runners alike. The fairly flat route allows you to push for a new PB while taking in the views.
5. Kenya Wildlife Marathon
Where: Taita Hills Private Wildlife Sanctuary, Kenya
Described as “running in paradise“, the Kenya Wildlife Marathon began in 2016 and has increased in popularity year on year. The race course runs through the beautiful wilderness of Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. You run among the sanctuary’s wildlife and are spoiled with overwhelming Tsavo West National Park views.
Runners are also treated to a view of the Uluguru and Pare mountains and Kilimanjaro covered in snow, as they make their way around the course. The race is a week-long package that includes all accommodations, meals, cultural experiences, game drives, race entry, transportation, and engagement with the locals.
6. Nairobi Marathon
Where: Nairobi, Kenya
If you love big-city marathons and want that in Africa, the Nairobi Marathon is worth a look. This marathon sees around 20,000 runners participating yearly, and entrants range from international tourists to local farmers to elites running for new records. Nairobi is Kenya’s capital city, home to over 3 million people.
When you see the wildlife preserve and stunning skyline within the city, it’s easy to see why this race is so well-supported. The best part about this marathon is the experience you get to have once the race is done – go on a wildlife safari, explore the city, or take a bus ride to Rift Valley (the birthplace of humanity).
7. Running the Rift Marathon
Where: Fort Portal, Uganda
This running event has three distance options – 10k, half marathon, and full marathon. The route is entirely on the trail and wanders through beautiful scenery where the Rwenzori Mountains meet the Congo Basin and Great Rift Valley. The local children will cheer for you as you run through the rolling hills.
The run is a not-for-profit event, and the proceeds go to a local charity supporting disabled children. The race is a 6-day enveloping experience; the cost of the event includes your transport, transfers, accommodation, food, race entry, a t-shirt and medal, the after party, and a fun-filled itinerary in the awe-inspiring wilderness.
8. Sierra Leone Marathon
Where: Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone Marathon is often called the world’s most worthwhile race, and those who’ve done it will tell you this is absolutely true. The route covers some of the most beautiful scenery in Africa, and the atmosphere is unique to the country – loud and proud. This marathon won the “Best International Event” at the Running Awards 2017, promising an unforgettable African adventure.
This marathon is organized by Street Child, and participants can see the incredible work this charity does pre-race. All proceeds go to this charity, which is uncommon with marathons. The Sierra Leone Marathon occurs in Makeni, the country’s third-largest city. The race has four running events – 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon. Most of the route is on hard-packed mud roads, but there’s a bit of tarmac as runners pass through remote forests and villages.
9. Mauritius Marathon
Where: Saint Felix, Mauritius
The Mauritius Marathon is an exotic event that’s been gaining popularity as the most beautiful marathon. Runners meander along crystal-clear lagoons and through Creolan villages from Saint Felix Beach. You run through Riambel and Le Morne Village along stunning coastal roads.
The event has three distance options – 10k, half marathon, and full marathon. This marathon is a picturesque coastal race, starting and ending on Saint Felix Beach. It includes varied scenery as the route moves through inland areas on the island’s western side.
10. Marathon of Marrakech
Where: Marrakech, Morocco
The Marathon of Marrakech is under the patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, which can only mean one thing – you’re in for something unique. Marrakech is almost 1,000 years old and hosts this special marathon that hosts around 8,000 entrants yearly. Plus, the course is fast and flat, and it’s run in January when the weather is cool and mild.
Because the race isn’t on the radar of many travel agencies, this race is quieter and more local, allowing you to have an authentic cultural running experience among the mosques, historic walls, and souks as you make your way along the dusty roads among the bright colors.
11. Victoria Falls Marathon
Where: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
What do you get when you combine a marathon and one of the world’s most beautiful wonders? The Victoria Falls Marathon. Honestly, there aren’t many settings more wonderous for a marathon than this. It’s a fairly fast and flat course with many water stations and cooling areas along the way. There are four events – 7.5k, half marathon relay, half marathon, and marathon.
The route crosses the Victoria Falls Bridge, where you’ll enter Zambia from Zimbabwe, making this race the only one in Africa to cross an international border. Runners are treated to gorgeous African scenery as they run through the Zambezi National Park. This includes glimpses of wildlife, the local town, and the Zambezi River. This race started in 2006 and is small and intimate, attracting around 2,500 runners yearly.
12. Kilimanjaro Marathon
Where: Moshi, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
The “Kili” marathon has been run yearly since 2002, but it started as a random chat over cold Kilimanjaro Lagers. Now, it’s a large race held in Moshi on a 6.5-mile loop that must be run four times. Several hundred runners visit Tanzania from around the world to complete this marathon, but there’s also a fun run and half marathon event. This race doesn’t allow any elites or professionals, allowing amateurs to battle it out on the course.
The race is held in Mount Kilimanjaro’s foothills and gives you a front-row seat to the snow-capped peaks of the highest mountain on the continent. Forbes names the Kilimanjaro Marathon the 4th Best International Adventure Marathon. This race is a qualifier for South Africa’s Comrades Marathon (it’s actually an 89-kilometer ultra-marathon). After crossing the finish line, you can enjoy a Kilimanjaro Lager to refresh.
Honorable Mention: The Great Ethiopian Run
Where: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
This race isn’t a marathon, but it’s well worth a look if you want a big, vibey race while in Africa. More than 40,000 runners participate in the 10k race that loops through the streets of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. The city is located 8,000 feet above sea level, and you’ll feel this elevation as you make your way through the run.
This run is on the home turf of many of the world’s best distance runners, including Haile Gebreselassie, who’s held the 5k, 10k, and marathon world records and Olympic gold medals. The Great Ethiopian Run is the biggest race in Africa and a must-do for any runner.