‘World’s largest amateur rally’ ends with a welcome to Sierra Leone

About 600 participants drove 9,400km through five European and five African countries over 19 days

They drove in four-by-fours, in vintage cars, on motorbikes and even in fire trucks. Some slept in hotels, some in tents. And when the 600 participants of the Budapest to Bamako rally finally made it to their destination, Lumley Beach in Freetown, Sierra Leone, they were greeted by the country’s president, its internal affairs and foreign affairs ministers, the national dance troupe, a live band and local media.

The Budapest to Bamako rally is billed as the “world’s largest amateur rally”. It has been running since 2005, though it no longer ends in Bamako, Mali, because of the volatile security situation there. This time, the route went through five European and five African countries, with participants travelling roughly 9,400km in 19 days.

“The journey was great, the land is beautiful,” said Andras Kupi, a 37-year-old engineer from Hungary. It was his first time taking part in the rally, and he drove it in a Toyota Land Cruiser.

“Morocco is surprising, how similar it is to Europe. Poverty in Mauritania was very hard if you see it [for your] first time. Senegal was my favourite because of the forest and people. Guinea was similar to Senegal but the mentality is a bit harder.” In Sierra Leone, he said, he hadn’t seen much yet except the beach which “could be anywhere, San Tropez, but this country is also beautiful and green”.


The roads were mainly good except in Guinea, he said. “They were the worst roads I’ve ever seen so we can’t say they’re roads.” It took them 17 hours to drive 220km there, he said.

Driving through desert was quite difficult, too, with some vehicles almost getting stuck in sand dunes. “Cities can be shocking because of poverty. For a European guy like me it’s hard to realise.”

Kupi said he’d definitely recommend the rally to potential future participants.

“This was on my bucket list and I’m sure someone else will think the same,” he said. “The main [thing] is you have to release all your expectations and be open for the new.”

“It was so cool,” said Maret Laas, a 50-year-old Estonian woman who works in property. She was in a vehicle with two others. “It was a hard situation, there was some arguing but we are now better friends,” she said.

Their navigation system didn’t always work. “But the nature amazed me. We started from the Sahara [Desert] and now it’s rainforest. The first time we saw rain was Sierra Leone.”

She said the hardest part was Guinea, where there were rough, mountainous roads and two trucks broke down. “I definitely recommend it,” Laas said.

This is the second time the rally has ended in Freetown, West Africa, and local officials were delighted.

“This event is very nice. Sierra Leone is happy. You can see people jubilating, celebrating them,” said Abdul Malik Kamara, a senior tourist officer with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Tourism.

“They are guests, they are tourists and tourists are always looking for a second home ... If somebody chooses your country as an end destination I think you need to embrace that somebody,” he said.

“It’s a big celebration, a big moment for us in Sierra Leone,” said John Shallop, president of the Sierra Leone Hospitality and Tourism Association. “We do definitely need tourism ... whatever little we can do to portray our tourism sector we are there to do that.”

He said the state welcome for rally participants showed the importance that the Government places on boosting tourism.

Some participants will now donate their vehicles to local hospitals or schools, while others were trying to sell them before flying back to Europe.

The next Budapest to Bamako rally will take place in 2024.