At one time or another, most drivers encounter unsafe road conditions. Hazards can appear in many different forms; for instance, poor weather, drunk drivers, and simple human error can all complicate an otherwise uneventful journey. On the other hand, sometimes the condition of the road itself can put your life in jeopardy.
Some of the following roads appear normal, but actually have high death rates. Others just look outrageously insane. And, of course, some roads fall into both categories.
This list is dedicated to all the white-knuckled, terrified drivers who are forced to brave dangerous roads – and to all the crazies who navigate them for fun.
10. Grand Trunk Road (India)
Constructed by the Pashtun emperor Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century, India’s Grand Trunk Road (also known as GT) spans more than 1,500 miles from Bangladesh in the east to Pakistan in the west, serving as one of the main thoroughfares across the Indian subcontinent. Over the years, it has functioned both as a major trade route and as a convenient right-of-way for invading armies.
GT is considered dangerous not because of risky heights or disheartening road conditions, but because of the traffic congestion. Trucks, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and animals have turned parts of this heavily-used road into a major headache. If you’re planning to drive here, you’ll want to be as alert as possible. Photo: by Beardy Git
9. San Isidro de General – Cartago (Costa Rica)
The Pan-American Highway has plenty of dangerous stretches, but the old road that passes through the Costa Rican mountains to link San Isidro de General and Cartago is especially hazardous.
The high point in the pass is known as Cerro de la Muerte, or Mountain of Death – not technically because of the road, but because people traveling through the pass before the road existed often didn’t survive the cold journey. However, the name happens to be an apt descriptor for the road itself, which tests drivers with excessive potholes, steep, narrow curves, and plenty of fog. The road’s height (13,000 feet) can also cause altitude sickness, further impairing drivers.
In addition to these perils, you can also expect to deal with the imprudent habits of local bus and truck drivers, who tend to drive very aggressively and irresponsibly despite the unsafe conditions. Fortunately, a new paved road between Quepos and Dominical has recently been completed, which will give travelers an alternative to the Mountain of Death route.
8. Sichuan – Tibet Highway (China)
China’s high-altitude Sichuan – Tibet Highway covers about 1,500 miles between Chengdu in the east and Lhasa (Tibet) in the west, offering the choice between the northern or southern route. Both options boast beautiful scenery, enormous mountain peaks, various cultural and historical attractions, and many famous rivers. Que’er Mountain pass, the highest point on the route, rises to over 20,000 feet.
Like many other roads that cut through mountains, the Sichuan – Tibet Highway is prone to landslides, falling rocks, and extreme weather conditions that can close roads for a month at a time. Add avalanches and altitude sickness to the lineup, and you could find yourself in rather unsafe driving conditions. It’s certainly a great route for sightseeing, but keep in mind that it will also add a good dose of intensity to your driving adventures.
7. Skippers Road (New Zealand)
In 1862, a couple of shepherds discovered gold in the Shotover River near Queenstown, New Zealand, prompting an immediate gold rush. This in turn necessitated the creation of an access route, and the result was Skippers Road, a narrow, winding, and exhilaratingly treacherous pathway that twists and turns for about 16 ½ miles through Skippers Canyon.
Carved and blasted right out of the solid rock by Chinese laborers, Skippers Road took 22 years to complete, and it doesn’t look much different today than when it was first created. In most places it’s too narrow for vehicles to pass each other, there are no guardrails, and the drop-offs leave absolutely no room for error.
Beautiful, yes, but also risky. Unless you’re a thrill seeker, leave the driving to the tour guides, and keep in mind that car rental companies probably won’t allow you to explore Skippers Road with their vehicles.
6. Halsema Highway (Philippines)
Located on the island of Luzon, the Halsema Highway runs through the Central Cordillera Valley in the Philippines from Baguio to Bontoc and farther on toward Tabuk and Tuguegarao. Landslides and rock falls are common, often stranding motorists for long periods of time. Many portions of the road are still unpaved, although work is supposedly in progress to bring about some improvements, and there are plenty of drop-offs that are steep enough to kill you.
Foggy conditions paired with the lack of much-needed guardrails in certain areas only complicate the Halsema Highway’s already dangerous conditions. Local accounts also indicate that buses traversing this route are less than considerate when it comes to road rules, so watch your step. Photo: http://www.dirjournal.com
5. Patiopoulo – Perdikaki Road (Greece)
In the mountainous Agrafa region of Greece, the route connecting Patiopoulo and Perdikaki is an unnerving example of roads that require constant attentiveness and care from their travelers. Potholes and loose, slippery gravel weaken a driver’s control while distractions from heavy traffic, pedestrians, and livestock create additional hazards. Many sections are very steep and narrow, demanding the utmost of caution.
But there’s more madness involved here – the road apparently includes sharp drop-offs on not just one, but on both sides. And there aren’t any barriers. Strictly for your driving pleasure, of course.
4. Luxor – al – Hurghada Road (Egypt)
The road connecting Luxor (the site of the ancient city of Thebes) with the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Hurghada is paved, marked, and appears to be relatively safe. However, bandits, terrorist attempts to undermine the tourism industry, and frightened drivers have all combined to turn this route into a major nightmare.
The violent attacks along this road are dangerous enough by themselves, but what sometimes makes it even worse is the fact that most people who drive at night don’t use headlights for fear of announcing their approach. Yes, it could be a great way to avoid unseen enemies, but it also invites other disasters in the form of head-on collisions.
Invisibility might save you from one threat, but there’s a good chance it will deliver you into the hands of another. Consider buying some of those night vision goggles if you plan to drive this road after dark.
3. Fairy Meadows Road (Pakistan)
Situated at the base of Pakistan’s 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat, Fairy Meadows is a picturesque destination for backpackers, photographers, and mountain climbers who want to get closer to the enormous peak and enjoy the scenery. Getting to Fairy Meadows, however, is not such an attractive experience. Part of the trip involves surviving a 6-mile, hour-long drive on an unstable gravel road hacked out of the barren hills.
From Raikot Bridge to the village of Tato, this ‘road’ offers the motorist all the insane features of your typical mountainside dirt trail. It’s narrow, unpaved, steep, and of course there aren’t any guardrails to prevent your Jeep from rolling down into the gorge. You can’t even drive it all the way to Fairy Meadows; the last section has to be covered by bicycle or on foot.
A great road for adventurers, Fairy Meadows Road is definitely not for the faint of heart.
2. Nairobi – Nakuru – Eldoret Highway (Kenya)
As anyone who’s ever driven a car before knows, a road can qualify as dangerous without having muddy, hairpin turns thousands of feet in the air. People die on roads around the world because of other irresponsible drivers, and that’s why this road in Kenya made it onto the list. It looks like a decent place to drive, but speeding, unsafe passing attempts, and drunk driving have inflated the death toll to over 300 every year.
In other words, you might actually have a better chance of surviving on one of those precarious mountain roads.
1. Old Yungas Road (Bolivia)
According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, the title for World’s Most Dangerous Road goes to Bolivia’s old Yungas Road, which twists and turns for about 40 miles between the capital city of La Paz and the town of Coroico in the Yungas jungle region. If other roads seem risky, the old Yungas Road is nothing less than a suicide mission.
Built in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners of war, the Yungas Road was until recently the main route from La Paz to Bolivia’s northern Amazon rainforest region. Dropping nearly 12,000 feet in overall elevation, the road is extremely narrow, subject to frequent landslides and fog, and offers no protection from the sheer cliffs that drop straight down for a couple thousand feet. Before a modernized and safer route was completed in 2006, somewhere between 100-200 fatalities occurred every year, and the roadside is presently littered with crosses and memorials. For obvious reasons, locals have given it a simple yet somber nickname – Death Road.
By the way, there are quite a few companies in La Paz that offer extreme bike tours of the Yungas Road for adventure seekers. If you like teasing death, then this is the road for you.
Many more examples could probably be added to this list, but the ten included here should be enough to keep most people’s eyes glued to the road – or, in some cases, whatever’s in front of you that looks like it might be passable.