Discovering Road Trips in Unexpected Places

by Itamar Danison

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Although the most popular and well-known road trip routes are in America and through various countries in Europe, you can ditch the long airport lines and go for a scenic drive on every continent around the globe. A road trip might not be the first thing you think of while visiting South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia, but there are some amazing drives in each destination that allow you to experience local landscapes and culture like never before. So keep these lesser-known road trip ideas in mind as you’re globe-trotting to far-away lands and immerse yourself in the spirit of adventure.

Garden Route: South Africa

Many travelers’ idea of a drive through Africa involves tourists hanging out of a chartered Jeep to snap photos of elephants and zebras in the distance. For an entirely different African experience, take a drive on South Africa’s Garden Route, a 150-mile stretch of forests, mountain peaks, sandy beaches, and peaceful lagoons. This road runs along the Indian Ocean and is known for its eclectic mix of wildlife, modern golf courses and malls, and secluded communities of artists and retirees. Make sure to stop in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world, the Bramon Wine Farm near Plettenberg Bay, and the Garden Route National Park to experience the surprising diversity of this part of Africa.

Garden Route, South-Africa (R44)
Photo credit: Christopher Griner via Flickr

Great Ocean Road: Southeastern Coast of Australia

While driving the Great Ocean Road, also known as the Great Southern Touring Route along the coast of Australia, you can experience a whole new side of beach culture. Pass by the iconic surfing destinations of Torquay and Bells Beach, the vacation destination of Twelve Apostles, and the waterfalls of Otway National Park. This is a wonderful route if you enjoy spending time in quaint seaside towns, learning about Aboriginal history, and watching whales in the distance. Most road trippers begin and end their journey in Melbourne, taking at least four days to stop in Lorne, Port Fairy, and Halls Gap.

Trans-Andean Highway: Chile, Argentina

There are many ways to experience the authenticity of South America, but by far, one of the best is driving the Trans-Andean Highway. This highway stretches from Mendoza, Argentina across the Andes mountain range to Valparaiso, Chile, and it’s not for the faint of heart! Although the elevation and hairpin turns are intense, the amazing scenery makes this highway the adventure of a lifetime. Expect to see plenty of snow-capped rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and flowing rivers. On a clear day, you can even spot Cerro Aconcagua, the southern hemisphere’s highest peak. Although you can drive this route in about five hours, allow time for the occasional truck traffic, border crossings, and inspection stations.

Guoliang Tunnel Road: China

China’s Guoliang Tunnel Road made Travel & Leisure magazine’s list of world’s scariest roads. If that doesn’t faze you, head to China’s Taihang Mountains to drive this unforgettable route. The mountaintop village of Guoliang was once completely isolated from the rest of the world, but in 1972, villagers carved a tunnel through the mountain to improve access. This road is just 12 feet wide and 15 feet high, making it a tight squeeze that doesn’t leave much room for error. Unlike many tunnels, this one has frequent windows so you can peer out over the edge to see the steep slope below. To reach this remote driving route, start in Xinxiang, a city in the Henan province and head north.

Ticlio Pass: Peru

And if you’re into extreme road trips, Peru’s Ticlio Pass should be next on your travel bucket list! Ticlio is the mountain pass of the Corillera Central in the Peruvian Andes mountain range, and it reaches an elevation of 15,807 feet above sea level. It is one of the highest paved roads in all of South America, and snow chains and tires are often required throughout the year.  If you start in Lima, this route could take about 10 hours to complete, so make sure to depart very early in the morning.

Leh-Manali Highway: India

India - Leh Manali Highway
Photo credit: Elroy Serrao via Flickr

Another road trip with an intense elevation climb is the Leh-Manali Highway in India. This drive spans 298 miles along the Himalaya mountain range and goes through some of the highest passes in the world. Travelers are best suited for this drive in a Jeep and can expect to spend about a full day on the road when going between Manali to Leh. Much of this route is dirt and gravel, and the safest time to drive is during the summer months. The highest elevation along Leh-Manali Highway is 17,480 feet, and slow-moving trucks and buses can cause major congestion during busy times.

Jalan Gunung Raya: Langkawi, Malaysia

One of the best ways to get an all-around perspective of the authentic island villages of Langkawi is by going for a drive. You can rent a car in Langkawi to explore the island’s pristine beaches, wild jungles, and tranquil getaway spots at your own pace. The most spectacular drive in the area is the Jalan Gunung Raya, which is hauntingly beautiful and best traveled on a sunny. Roll the windows down and drive slowly to catch glimpses of rare wildlife species, like the great hornbill, dusky-leaf monkey, and wild dogs. Although this drive has been compared to a meditative experience, it isn’t without its dangers. The road is narrow and full of hairpin turns blind corners. Make sure that your rental car has good tires and breaks before setting out on this road trip!

No matter where you decide to take your next road trip, the same basic principles apply to long drives and exploring new places at your own pace. Check out our Introduction to Road Trips around the World and Road Trip Planner and Driving Trips to get prepared for wherever the road takes you next. 

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