Having your vehicle break down at the side of the road is traumatic enough as it is. Making sure you can pull off far enough, hoping to have enough juice left in your phone to call a tow truck and frustration over potentially missing an appointment all add to the stress.
But things can get a whole lot worse if your car gives out in the wrong place. Even the most remote highways look like a walk in park compared to this list of terrible car trouble locations: a group of so-called roads where injuries, kidnapping and death are real threats.
Any place that’s dubbed the “Road of Death” ranks high on this list. The North Yungas Road in Bolivia was famously recognised as the worst road in the world in 1995 by the Inter-American Development Bank. Stretching 60-odd kilometres from the capital city of La Paz to Coroico, the road, in a terrible state of disrepair, winds along the mountains. The elevation is nearly 3,600 metres with hairpin turns galore, and no form of barrier between you and the near kilometre-long drop to the bottom.
Narrowing to only five or six feet in certain areas with a total elevation drop of 3000m in only 80km, Death Road has certainly earned its reputation. The road is frighteningly tight, slippery and extremely bumpy thanks to a scattering of rocks on its surface. Despite all of the danger, the scenery is breathtaking. Surprisingly, the majority of the traffic fatalities are a result of head-on collisions rather than falls. At the height of its infamy, ‘Road of Death’ averaged 400 deaths per year.
Canadians and Russians do more than chase each other in their airspaces over the Arctic – they also bitterly complain about the cold, and claim they own the coldest places on Earth (outside Antarctica). The wilds of Northern Manitoba may or may not be more pleasant than the Siberian plains, but at least Canadians don’t have to deal with such a nasty road.
The Russian highway system that links Moscow and Yakutsk, called the Lena Highway, is usually covered in snow and ice, which doesn’t prove to be terribly challenging. But during the two brief months of summer, adding rain to the unpaved roads mean hip-deep mud, weeklong traffic jams and the unholy mess of trying to extricate thousands of vehicles stuck – quite literally – in the middle of nowhere.
Although China is fast improving its infrastructure – sometimes with alarming consequences – most of its interior is still wild country. The Sichuan-Tibet Highway, a single-track road linking Chengdu and Tibet, is one of the most notorious thanks to its harsh topography and remote location.
Stretching more than 2,400 km, the highway traverses 14 mountains, crosses wide rivers, and passes through some of the world’s most hostile terrain. Definitely not the place you want your vehicle to break down if you don’t want to be stranded for days.
The 200-km Halsema Highway is one of the most dangerous places to be in a vehicle. Long stretches of this unpaved roadway are lined with huge open cliffs – without guardrails. And forget about travelling during the rainy season where rock and mud-slides can block large portions of the road. Perhaps the biggest danger to motorists is the local buses that treat the Halsema like a rally stage. In addition to the fast-moving buses, overturned vehicles and other crashed cars are a regular sight.
Built and maintained by the Indian Army, the Leh-Manali Highway is like many others on this list – open only for a limited time each year. Heavy snowfall renders the highway unusable, and avalanches typically block the road as it winds through some of the highest mountain passes in the world, including Lachulung La, which is more than 5,000 metres. The unpredictable route is also jammed with large trucks that crawl, crash and flip along the narrow path.
The highest paved road in the world is also the top route for tourists to get close to the world’s largest mountain, K2. It took 20 years to build and claimed nearly 1,000 lives in the process, twisting and turning along some of the old paths from the Silk Route. The highway is currently closed because a rockslide in January created a new 22-km-long lake that gobbled up parts of the road. It is estimated to take two years before the mess is cleaned up.
New Zealand is well-known for is spectacular vistas, and one of the most beautiful is Skippers Canyon, located near Queenstown. The unpaved road to get to the canyon is only 22-km long, but it’s carved straight out of the natural schist rock. It was built in the 1890s to provide better access to the area for miners, and hasn’t been improved since. In fact, the road is so dangerous that rental car companies have banned use of their vehicles on it. However, there are a number of rafting and boat tours that use the road, but local knowledge is essential to navigating it safely.
Most drivers will agree with this logical statement: Sun goes down, headlights come on. Apparently not the many Egyptian drivers who travel the Luxor-al-Ghurdaqah Road, which winds down to the Red Sea. To them, it’s perfectly natural to drive without the aid of lights, which obviously creates a challenge when meeting another car in the middle of the desert. During daylight hours, it’s no more enjoyable when local bandits seek out fresh tourists.