Running along the shimmering Arctic tundra in Greenland, jogging across the African savannah and racing through the Amazon are some of the exhilarating marathon experiences now on offer around the globe. From coastal routes in Jamaica and California to challenging courses in the blazing Sahara and freezing Polar Circle, a growing number of endurance events provide a dramatic change of scene and pace. Read on for our pick of the world's best marathons.

1. Marathon des Sables, Morocco

Not for the fainthearted, the legendary Marathon des Sables is one of the world’s toughest long-distance races. Laden with backpacks, competitors brave the sweltering Sahara desert during a six-day ultra-marathon that covers 257km of golden dunes and stony plateaus. Over 13,000 runners have taken part in this extreme desert event since 1986 and its popularity endures today.

10 of the world’s most epic marathons:Marathon des Sables traverse a sahara desert dune.The Marathon des Sables races across Morocco's desert sands © James Carnegie/Shutterstock

2. Big Sur International Marathon, USA

An inspiration to writers Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, California’s Big Sur region really delivers on scenery. Now in its 34th year, the Big Sur International Marathon follows a spectacular route along the Pacific coastline between Big Sur Station and Carmel. Starting beneath the shade of Giant Redwoods, competitors race over bridges and through rolling hills. The sparkling ocean and craggy Santa Lucia Mountains are a beautifully distracting backdrop.

Hurricane Point in Big Sur, California.Hurricane Point in Big Sur, California © Chase Dekker/Shutterstock

3. Great Wall Marathon, China

For those who like sightseeing at speed, the Great Wall Marathon is a memorable way to see one of China’s most famous landmarks. Featuring vertiginous climbs up sections of the wall, plus trails through fields and villages, it’s a demanding, mountainous course. But although the steep gradient can reduce runners to clambering up the Great Wall’s ancient steps, the views are magnificent and villagers offer encouragement along the route.

10 of the world's best marathons: Runners conquer the Great of China at the Marathon 2019.© Jana Herzberg/Shutterstock 

4. Lakeland Trails Ultra, UK

London might be one of the world's best marathons, but the Lakeland Trails Ultra is arguably the UK's most scenic. Beginning in Ambleside in the Lake District, the challenging 55 km course meanders through rugged fells and peaceful valleys. Undulating, mountainous terrain means this isn’t the race for marathon PB's, but this stamina-testing event offers a close encounter with one of England’s most wild and beautiful regions. For the truly heroic there is a 100-km course too!

Dawn light over Ullswater and the Helvellyn range in the English Lake District.Dawn light over Ullswater, Lake District © Steward Smith Photography/Shutterstock

5. Bhutan International Marathon, Bhutan

Wedged between India and Tibet, remote Bhutan is home to sacred monasteries, Himalayan peaks and forested valleys. Competitors in the annual Bhutan Marathon cross bridges decked in colourful Buddhist prayer flags, and race through paddy fields and farms: all at high altitude. With the course passing some of the Paro Valley’s greatest sights, including the cliff-hugging Taktsang Monastery, there’s plenty to exercise runners’ eyes and legs.

11 fascinating French châteaux you might never have heard of: Marathon runner in Himalayan mountains, Nepal.A runner navigates the mountains in Bhutan © Ivanovskyy/Shutterstock 

6. Big Five Marathon, South Africa

Billed as ‘the wildest of them all’, the Big Five Marathon offers entrants the chance to spot elephants, rhinos and leopards as they race through the South African savannah. Sandy trails and dirt tracks weave past lakes, grazing wildlife and rocky hills. Part of the course even crosses into lion country, where big cat sightings might persuade some runners to speed up.

Leopard in the Kruger National Park, South Africa © Simone Eeman/Shutterstock

7. Australian Outback Marathon, Australia

Established by experienced runner Mari-Mar Walton in 2010, the Outback Marathon follows private, red-earth trails through the Australian bush, past the looming sandstone monolith of Uluru. Camels and kangaroos gaze on as hundreds of athletes cover a relatively flat loop, experiencing the striking Northern Territory wilderness at an accelerated pace.

The Outback Marathon takes in majestic Uluru © FiledIMAGE/Shutterstock

8. Polar Circle Marathon, Greenland

Kitted out in hats, gloves and windproof sports gear, hardy participants in Greenland’s small-scale Polar Circle Marathon take on sub-zero temperatures and icy surfaces as they run through shimmering Arctic tundra. Bright blue skies and snow-covered trails make for an awe-inspiring marathon-scape, where runners might spot arctic foxes and musk oxen in their natural habitat.

Greenland icefjordA runner contemplates the terrain in Greenland © Maridav/Shutterstock

9. Jungle Marathon, Brazil

When a traditional road marathon no longer cuts it in the adrenaline stakes, Brazil’s gruelling Jungle Marathon awaits. The event organisers call it 'The world's most terrifying adventure.' Still interested? The easiest option in this eco-race through rainforest, swamps and piranha-infested rivers is to choose the one-day marathon, but endurance-distance junkies can go all out with a six-stage, 254km struggle through the Amazon. Competitors catch riverboats to base camp in the Tapajós National Forest and sleep in hammocks strung between trees.

Young man laying down over the roots of "Samauma Vovo" (Granma Samauma), one of the biggest tree of the specie in the National Forest of the Tapajos, in Para, Brazil.An enormous "Samauma Vovo" tree in the Tapajós Forest, Brazil © Mariano Villafane/Shutterstock

10. Reggae Marathon, Jamaica

From its ‘Pasta Party’ to a policy of blaring reggae music along every mile of the race, the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica is a fun-loving affair. Entrants from around the world gather at the starting point in the pre-dawn darkness, setting off along the white-sand coastline by torchlight. Steel bands and cheering onlookers create a party atmosphere throughout the flat, looped route and once runners cross the beachside finish line, they can take a celebratory dip in the Caribbean Sea.

10 of the world's best marathons: Beach, boat, palm trees, ocean, Jamaica.The Reggae Marathon runs alongside some of Jamaica's best beaches © KKulikov/Shutterstock 

Running for good

The team at Rough Guides might not be quite ready to take on any of these races yet, but we’re certainly warming up to them: this year, the Rough Guides' ‘Magnificent Five’ are taking on the London Landmarks Half Marathon on 29th March to raise money for the charity Healing Venezuela. A once thriving country, Venezuela has suffered a precipitous decline over the past two decades and there are drastic shortages of both food and medicines. If you’d like to donate to this amazing charity and help get us across the finish line, visit our JustGiving page.

Header image: Pete Saloutos/Shutterstock 


Book your trip with Rough Guides

Tailor-made travel planned by local experts

At Rough Guides, we understand that experienced travellers want to get truly off-the-beaten-track. That’s why we’ve partnered with local experts to help you plan and book tailor-made trips that are packed with personality and stimulating adventure - at all levels of comfort. If you love planning, but find arranging the logistics exhausting, you’re in the right place.

Learn Morechevron_right

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

chevron_leftPrevious feature
Wildlife Safari in South Africa

Wildlife Safari in South Africa

Next featurechevron_right
50 inspirational travel quotes

50 inspirational travel quotes

Sign up for weekly travel inspiration

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook

Privacy Preference Center


Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.



Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.



Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs