If you think slow-moving traffic, double-lane roundabouts and non-marked roads are a driver’s worst nightmare, you obviously haven’t seen it all. Imagine winding, narrow roads set in the hazardous slopes of hills and mountains, throw in a steep-angled drop and a lack of side railings and you have the following frightening list of the world’s scariest roads.
Stretching about 65km long, in the mountains that connect La Paz to Coroico in Bolivia, the Death Road runs across a steep, gravelly hillside that is wonderfully prone to erosion.
It is globally famous, having been featured on the BBC’s Top Gear Bolivia special where Jeremy Clarkson almost met his own death when the edge of the road, on a narrow bend he shared with another car, began to crumble beneath his wheels. It’s estimated that more than 200 travellers are killed along the road yearly and the route bears many markings in memory of the (literally) fallen ones.
This European Alpine route is a section of the Monte Carlo Rally featured in the World Rally Championships, where drivers tear down the road at up to 170km/h – at night! Although the German automobile racer Walter Rohrl made the sharp turns and winding long roads bordered by ice and snow seem so easy during the 10th series of Top Gear, other’s weren’t so lucky. Racers Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg both skidded on the snow and crashed during the 2005 rally.
In this case, crashing would be considered to be “fortunate,” since the alternative would be flying off the road and diving into the valley below.
The beautiful scenery that surrounds the Guoliang Tunnel Road may only minimally lessen the terror of this narrow thoroughfare, which literally winds through the Taihang Mountains and is just wide enough for two lanes. Expect constant shifts in brightness and darkness here, as the road’s only light sources are the two ends of the 1.2km-long tunnel and the 30 “windows” hand-chiselled into the outer walls, all of which showcase the 90-foot drop outside.
Construction started in 1972 with 13 humble Guoliang villagers and a couple of steel tools, and took 5 years to finish. Originally intended to be a pathway between villages, it’s at least a step up from the unsecured ‘sky ladder’ stairs previously used to climb up the mountain.
The 1,900km-long Kolyma Highway was built during the Stalin Era, and took 22 years to complete. Even in spring, the “hottest” day in the area is a frigid -46o C. It was constructed to link Russia’s far east to the rest of the country and upon completion, it was nicknamed the ‘Road of Bones,’ thanks to the many workers who died while building it. Actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman crossed this highway during their Long Way Round round-the-world motorcycle tour in 2004.
However, due to the weather and the dilapidated road conditions, they had to tag along with a Russian freight convoy instead.
When the gold rush hit the Australasian region, Shotover River in Skipper’s Canyon, Queenstown, became one of the “hot spots” of 1862. And when the call to bring heavy gold mining machinery to the river was made, Skipper’s Road was constructed. The 26km narrow, one-way road took 7 years for the hired Chinese laborers to complete.
There are no guardrails, and many sections of the road have not been modified from the time it was first blasted and etched into steep slopes of the mountain. If you decide to brave this road, choose wisely; it is impossible to make a U-turn within the first 6km and rental car insurance is not honored here.
Good luck – and happy driving!