The US is renowned the world over for its awesome road trips. Whether you want to rip up Route 66 on a Harley or cruise the Pacific Coast Highway in an open-top convertible (something I did in a used BMW), there’s something for everyone. However, what happens when you cross the border into Central and South America? Are the roads expansive and the scenery stunning or are they all single-lane dust tracks? Thankfully, it’s the former and here are 5 of the best for you to try in your gap year.
Argentina has an abundance of breathtaking scenery, particularly the northern highlands, which have some great roads and scenic towns and villages all within a relatively short distance of one another. South of the city of Salta, along Ruta 68, are the imposing Quebrada de Cafayate, a fabulous range of red mountains and rock formations. The scenery shifts again as you enter Argentina’s wine-growing region and then visit the remote, pre-Inca ruins of Quilmes. This road trip is best tackled in an all-terrain vehicle that can comfortably handle the country’s many gravelled, unfinished roads.
At the heart of the continent lies Bolivia, a country that borders five other South American nations and offers one of the world’s most notorious road trips, known as ‘Death Road’. The 35-mile stretch between La Paz and Coroico quickly ascends into dense rainforest and has some extreme drop-offs and precarious single-lane roads that can be made even more hazardous by rain and fog. Although a truly awesome road it should be treated with extreme caution as it is estimated that between 200 and 300 travellers are killed each year on this road.
If mountain roads, deadly or otherwise, aren’t your thing, it may be worth considering a trip along some of Brazil’s magnificent coastal roads. There is almost 1,400 miles of coastline between Sao Luis to Rio de Janeiro, much of it littered with small, secluded beaches as well as all of the other natural and cultural highlights the country has to offer. Anyone wanting to take this road trip needs to consider that there is a lot of driving to do with some huge distances between towns, so top up with gas at every opportunity.
The altiplano area of northern Chile highlights all of the natural wonders this country has to offer, from snow-capped volcanoes to desert mountains via pre-Inca ruins and adobe villages built into cliff sides – you get the lot. This trip will take you across some rugged roads so it is best that you hire a vehicle with 4-wheel drive and be sure to stock up on fuel as petrol stations are few and far between.
Colombia has coastlines on both the North Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea and its flat coastal lowlands and tropical climate make it perfect for a coastal road trip. Alternatively, you can travel further inland and experience the spectacular countryside of the central highlands and Andes Mountains. One word of warning about Colombia, however. It appears to be home to the world’s worst and least considerate drivers and is definitely not one for the inexperienced driver.