Roads connect people. They allow different communities to link with one another and the rest of the world. Well-designed roads are, first and foremost, safe. Unfortunately, even the most sophisticated passageway can be dangerous especially if Mother Nature enters the picture. Don’t believe us? Well, check out our list of the 10 most dangerous roads in the world and tell us what you think.
1. Fairy Meadows Road in Pakistan
Don’t let this 10-mile stretch of mostly dirt road fool you. It may give you a very stunning view of this side of Pakistan but get your eyes off the road and you’re looking at a drop of a few thousand feet. The Fairy Meadows Road has consistently been named as one of the world’s most dangerous roads. And it is quite easy to see why.
Stretching from the Karakoram Highway, another deadly passageway, running through the heart of the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and terminating in Tato, Fairy Meadows combines the dangers of oxygen-depleted air to breathe in, a completely unmaintained gravel top, and a highly unstable rock face just waiting to cave in.
While there are sections of the ten-mile long death road that are considered to be safe by Pakistani standards, its most treacherous is the 6-mile ascent where vehicles literally crawl at snail’s pace. One wrong move and it’s worse than base jumping off Eiffel Tower. One small twitch of the muscles of the hands can send the vehicle hurtling towards the valley down below. It would have been good if you’d be landing on thick foliage. Sadly, what will greet you are the jagged edges of boulders and rocks bigger than a London double-decker bus.
There are no barriers to halt your dive. There are no lights save for the flicker of distant stars that are often obscured by the clouds in the region. No one dares drive the Fairy Meadows at night. At its widest, only a Jeep Wrangler can easily pass. That is why, as dangerous as it may be, you’d have to respect the drivers that make this their daily toil, except in winter when the road is closed to all traffic.
2. North Yungas Road or El Camino de la Muerte in Bolivia
They call this the Road of Fate or more properly the Death Road. There are plenty of reasons why Bolivia’s North Yungas Road is considered one of the world’s worst. It’s more than 3 times longer than Fairy Meadows at 35 miles and extends from La Paz all the way to Coroico.
It is estimated that between 200 and 300 travelers lose their lives in the infamous road. These are the reportable deaths and the actual toll can actually be greater. If you do get the nerve to traverse this famous pass, you’d see various cross markings on certain sections of the road, marking the spots where cars, trucks, and other vehicles have fallen.
Your first challenge is the 15,260-foot ascent towards La Cumbre Pass. It’s a snail’s climb as the steep grade of the road will usually put a strain even on the meanest engines in the land. Then, it’s a 3,900-foot descent, a favorite section among daredevil cyclists and mountain bikers, towards Coroico.
Don’t dare pass the El Camino de la Muerte during the rainy season. Since the stretch is located high up in the mountains, visibility can be hampered by both rain and fog. The road can get so muddy and slippery that it can become a source of danger in itself. During the summer, vehicle dust and the risk of rock falls are your principal enemies.
3. Zoji La in India
Don’t make the mistake of calling this the Zoji La Pass since it will be more like calling it Zoji Pass Pass since “La” is already the Himalayan equivalent of the word “pass”. It may be just 5.6 miles in length, but the Zoji La can be a very testy road to pass through. Stretching at a height of 11,575 feet above sea level high up in one of the sections of the equally famous Himalayan mountain range, the Zoji Pass connects Amid Leh to Srinagar in the Jammu and Kashmir region of India. Because of this, you can just imagine its economic importance to this area
There is no passing the Zoji La in the winter as it is virtually impassable. Compared to other roads in this list, Zoji La is wider by several inches, although it still requires nerves of steel to drive on. Your confidence in your driving skills is the key to successfully making the pass. Your best vehicle will be a four-wheel drive since there are plenty of uneven surfaces in certain sections of the road. If it rains, the road can be especially treacherous even to 4WD monsters. The drops are rather steep, too, and there are no guardrails to prevent your fall.
Whatever you do, don’t peer out your window as it can be especially disorienting. The view can be so stunning, however. Unfortunately, getting distracted by the amazing views of the highest peaks on earth can see you plunging down the abyss several thousand feet below.
4. Guoliang Tunnel Road in China
If you can ride a helicopter and make a pass opposite the face of the Taihang Mountains in Huixian in China’s province of Henan, you won’t see the Guoliang except perhaps for a few signs of rectangular windows carved on the mountain wall every hundred or so feet. The Guoliang Tunnel Road is only three-quarters of a mile yet is considered the most treacherous three-quarters of a mile you’ll ever drive on.
Guoliang was carved by hand, using only primitive chisels and hammers. Thirteen villagers from the tiny village of Guoliang carved out the tunnel through the side of the Taihang in an effort to connect the village to the rest of the world. Upon completion in 1977, it became an instant hit. It’s not very often that you see a tunnel being carved out in a mountainside using only hand tools. It was 13 feet wide and 16 feet high.
The danger is not necessarily in falling down the rocky face of the Taihang since there are barriers between the road and the sheer abyss. Compare this to a more unforgiving tunnel road, also in China, the mile-long Kunshan, where vehicles are expected to navigate a series of tunnels from a height of 3,200 to 4,200 feet above sea level.
Nevertheless, the Guoliang Tunnel Road remains one of the most dangerous since one small mistake can be disastrous, not only to you, but the throngs of tourists who make it their bucket list to walk through the man-made tunnel.
5. Taroko Gorge Road in Taiwan
If you’ve got vertigo or have a morbid fear of landslides or even the earth above your head caving in on you, then don’t ever dare drive through the Taroko Gorge Road in Taiwan; although you will definitely miss all the picturesque mountain landscape of this area that joins the East and the West coast of the small island nation off the coast of China.
While the road itself is one of engineering ingenuity, having been carved out by the most advanced in tunnel digging technology in this part of the globe especially when compared to the Guoliang Tunnel Road in China, the very nature of the gorge makes it one of the world’s most dangerous. There are barriers along the entire stretch of the Taroko, except that there are also numerous blind curves, narrow paths, and sharp turns that require Zen-like focus in driving if you want to reach either Taiwanese coasts alive.
What makes it quite tricky is that you’ve got buses, cars, scooters, and pedestrians jockeying for position on the narrow road. And if you’re familiar with Taiwan you know that this lies in the path of Asian storm systems. It is also part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an earthquake-prone area that belts the Pacific Ocean. Now, add landslides and rockslides into the fray and you’ll know why this is one of the most treacherous, albeit magnificently built, roads on the planet.
6. Svalvogur Road in Iceland
Also known as Route 622, Svalvogur Road is a 13.6-mile passageway between Lokinhamrar and Pingeyri, providing you a very dramatic view of both Arnarfjordur and Dyrafjordur fjords. Rough gravel provides the path that only 4WD vehicles with exceptionally high ground clearance can pass. You’d have to move into and under magnificent cliffs with their jagged edges mere inches above your head. Reaching the southern portion of the road requires timing since you’d have to go in during the low tide. Wrong calculation of your speed simply means several hours of waiting to see the tide recede from the shore.
Don’t pray for the rain when you try to navigate the Svalvogur as even the most experienced drivers have been tested and many failed. The lowest parts of the road simply vanish from the face of the earth during winter storms. You’d also have to contend with landslides, heavy snowfalls, and avalanches. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. The road itself is unusually narrow, often blanketed with rocks that are as big as the jerry can at the back of your jeep. There are overhanging rocks, too, just waiting for the right trigger before they start falling from their attachments.
But here’s the thing: If you do manage to conquer Svalvogur on your own, you’d really have to give yourself a pat on the back as only the rarest breed of drivers can do so on their first try.
7. Abano Pass in Georgia
How fast can you drive 52-mile stretch of road? In under an hour, right? Well, if you try Abano Pass in Tusheti, Georgia, it would take you 12 hours or perhaps even more. This pass is located right in the heart of the Caucasus at about 9,350 feet above sea level. While it is the most drivable road in this mountain range, only 4×4 vehicles can literally make the pass.
Conditions can change in the blink of an eye, oftentimes very harsh. It links Tusheti in the north and Kakheti in the south. Passing Albano is only allowed during the summer. Even then, frequent changes in the weather can warrant its closure at any time. And if you happen to be driving the stretch when authorities decide to close it down, then sit tight and pray landslides, rockslides, and avalanches won’t be hurtling down your path.
There are sections of the Abano that are quite remote so it’s expected that you gear up. Don’t make the mistake of eating too much prior to the climb, though, as you’ll feel the need to throw up once you snake your way through the circuitous path at high altitudes. Remember, this is one of Europe’s highest roads.
8. Skippers Canyon Road in New Zealand
The Skippers Canyon Road is not only one of the most dangerous roads on the planet, it is also one of the scariest. Imagine driving your car on gravel road with pebbles and stones hitting the underside of your car, bombarding it with so much force that you’ll be thinking you’re receiving a barrage of catapults from the Orcs. Next, you’d have to traverse 16.5 miles of very narrow roads, barely large enough to fit a car, let alone 2 vehicles coming from opposing directions. And if you do meet someone from the other direction, it’s a game of who will be backing up some 1.5 miles just to let the other pass.
Then you realize that the road was actually carved by miners with their bare hands some 140 years ago during the 1880s gold rush. Lastly, don’t look down as the bottom will definitely make you dizzy and feel like throwing up. You’re looking at several hundred feet of sheer verticality. And if that is not enough, the faces of the cliffs are filled with outgrowths that people you love won’t even recognize you should you fall on this part of the South Island of New Zealand.
The views are superb, nevertheless, making the whole journey worth every tension and fear that coursed through your veins.
9. James Dalton Highway in Alaska
There’s a reason why Alaska is known as the United States’ last frontier. Technically, if you can drive the entire 414 miles of the James Dalton Highway without flinching, you can drive anywhere.
Unlike other dangerous roads on the planet, there are no rocky cliffs that can instantly spell your doom in the former Alaska Route 11. There are no rockslides, landslides, and even mudslides. In fact, there are no sheer vertical faces of hard rock staring at you as you drive for hundreds of miles. So what’s the problem, you ask?
Boredom. And the feeling of being so isolated from the rest of the world. This stretch of gravel highway has been dubbed the loneliest road on earth. If you do decide to try the world’s most isolated road, you’ll have to take a crash course in survival since staying on the road with huge trucks lumbering along can definitely test your resolve. The rule of the drive is quite simple: you see a large truck, you give way. Try to break this rule and you’ll find out just how unforgiving the Alaskan frontier is.
10. Karakoram Highway from Pakistan to China
Rounding up our list of the 10 most dangerous roads in the world is the Karakoram Highway. This 800-mile stretch that connects China with Pakistan is known as the planet’s hardest alpine climb. It’s a mixture of paved and unpaved road, with the former only on the Chinese side of the stretch. It follows the spine of the Karakoram Mountain range and passes right through Khunjerab Pass. It took 27 years and 892 worker deaths to complete the road. The Karakoram Highway is also regarded as one of the scariest roads you’ll ever drive on.
The road itself, especially on the 551-mile Pakistani trail, can test your stamina as well as the power and handling of your vehicle. With hundreds of twists and turns, mostly with one or two of your wheels hanging precariously just above the precipice, only the toughest drivers dare take on the mighty Karakoram. There are avalanches, landslides, and heavy snowfalls, too. And since it is located high up in a mountain range, it’s definitely not for folks with intense fear of height or even those with altitude sickness.
On one side of the road is the face of Karakoram, often with razor-sharp rocks jutting out of the rock wall like the metallic studs of some armor plate. On the other side of the road is a sheer vertical drop, often blanketed in low-level clouds. And without the protection of guard rails, your margin of error is pretty slim. Sure, you can be awestruck at the magnificence of the views. But make no mistake, Karakoram kills, especially those who don’t pay attention to its raw features.
These roads are classified as dangerous for a variety of reasons. Only the toughest and mentally fit drivers ever dare tempt fate. But if you decide to steer clear of these passageways, that’s perfectly okay, too.