Great road trips
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Patagonian Highway (Ruta 40)
National Route 40, RN40, Patagonia
National Route 40, or just Ruta 40, is more than 5000 km long and just one of these classic routes of the Americas. Nowadays a large part of it is paved so the trip might not be as rough and romantic as it once used to be but still, it's a great way to travel from Northern to Southern Patagonia. It gives you a better idea of how vast Patagonia actually is. The classic part of Ruta 40 is between Bariloche and El Chalten, roughly 1300 kilometres long and takes about two days. There is just no end to the infinite sceneries with hills, mountains, lakes and sometimes a farm with sheep or guanacos. The halfway point where many people end up staying overnight is Perito Moreno, an insignificant town not to be confused with the glacier that bears the same name further South.
Amazing road trip
Manigango to Dege, Sichuan Province
The bus journey from Manigango to the Dega, close to the Tibetan border, must rank as one of the most beautiful road trips in the whole of China. Setting out from the small Tibetan wild west town of Manigango, you will first pass the serene mountain lake of Yilhun Lhatso at the foot of Chola Shan (6168 m) and neighbouring snow caped peaks, before slowly ascending the hairpin road to the mountain pass at 5050 m (though our altimeter showed only 4850 m). There are chances to sight both vultures and marmots – and the occasional overturned truck having gone over the edge and crashed down the mountainside. When reaching the pass, locals will (if they are not too carsick) throw colored prayer notes out of the bus windows. From here, the road descends into a beautiful narrow valley carved out by a still flowing river. You will pass by small Tibetan villages, Buddhist stupas and monasteries with prayer flags going in all directions, before arriving (hopefully) safely in Dege.
On the San Gil – Bucaramanga road, route 45A
Colombia's Grand Canyon. A gorgeous canyon with a river cutting through at the bottom almost 2000 meters below. The slopes are steep and covered with wonderfully shaped cactuses. It is now possible to take in the beauty by classy cable car, else the winding road that traverses the canyon will give excellent views from both the summit and bottom. The serious hairpin turns seem never-ending and are either to-die-for for motorcyclists or sickening for those stuck in a bus. It is just one of those splendid routes that Colombia has so many of.
Laguna de Arenal
Close to La Fortuna
Another pretty area in Costa Rica. A beautiful lake with islands and bending shores covered in jungle with patches of ochre red clay. There are plenty of arty shops and accommodation around the northern side of the lake, though a day trip semi circulating the lake will give more views than most can handle. The winding road goes up and down like a roller-coaster ride through dense forest and open pastures, and can be a part of the trip to Monteverde cloud forest from the Volcano Arenal area.
From the Andes to the Amazon
Riobamba - Macas (or reverse), 160km
This piece of road is the hidden gem of road trips in Ecuador. From the soft rolling hills surrounding Riobamba, it will lead you up into the mountains, through patched farmland and rugged villages. When the peaks turn hard and pointy, the road will cling to the mountainside, while winding its way to the pristine alpine lakes of Atillo at 3500 m. From here it rolls down to the Amazon basin through the lush Sangay National Park, with spectacular views over the forest canopy and with waterfalls in the distance. This is the "real shit", so if you thought the touristy trip from Baños to Puyo was pretty, this rough journey will knock your socks off.
Way off the beaten track
Poptun to Lanquin over Fray Bartolome de las Casas (275 km split over two days)
A beautiful trip following the back road that wind its way through the heart of Guatemala. It is not a trip for the faint-hearted, but will reward the brave one with charming small Mayan villages and stunning scenery. When you first leave the sealed road at San Luis, the trail turns to crap. The road zigzags through bubble hills covered in jungle and tall corn fields, while you pass village after village. Gravel, cobblestones and pot holes will be on the menu until Fray, from where the new highway is under construction. After Fray, the road twists its way into the mountains and gets even nastier (which the highway project will eventually put an end to), but will spoil you with jaw-dropping views over the valleys. The journey can of course be done reverse or extended as far west as Huehuetenango. A road trip that is rough, adventurous, and damn amazing.
Bali road trip
South - north - east
South Bali/Ubud - Jatiluwih - Bedugul - Munduk - Lovina - Kubutambahan - Mt. Batur - Bangli - Pura Besakih - Rengan - Amlapura.
With this semi-loop, you will see a lot of great temples, get incredible views of rice terraces, pass rumbling volcanoes and just drive some darn nice winding roads from the hot lowland in the south to the wet and misty mountainous inland back down to humid north coast just to return to the chilled mountains. The first leg to Jatiluwih can even be done on potholed back roads if you really want to experience the calm and tranquil life of the ordinary Balinese people in the countryside. Rent a scooter and off you go, but keep in mind that accommodation outside the tourist areas can be scarce.
As always, the best way to explore any place is with your own set of wheels, and Lombok is no exception. Rent a scooter in Sengigi and take off on the Lombok Loop, that circles the majestic volcano cone of Gunung Rinjani (3726 m). Stop at deserted beaches, hidden waterfalls, small villages and ancient tombs, while driving through an ever changing landscape that passes rice paddy fields, palm groves, jungle and even a mountain pass. You can cut across the island and only do the northern half, or continue south to include the whole of Lombok. The full circuit can be rushed in four days, but deserves more, and can be done like this: Sengigi – Senaru – Pusuk pass (1600 m) – Sapit – Labuhan Haji – Kuta Lombok – Sengigi.
In an effort to make travel easier in the Kurdistan region in early 20th century, the local government wanted a road built. The problem is, the area stretching from the regional capital of Erbil north to the Iranian border is rather remote and very mountainous. The locals simply did not have the expertise to take on such a project themselves. Enter New Zealander A. M. Hamilton. While the techniques and statistics associated with the road (built between 1928 and 1932) are somewhat interesting, it is instead the setting of the road that is of interest to modern day travellers. To use words like spectacular or breathtaking simply do not do it justice. Carving its way through valleys and ravines with the backdrop of waterfalls and snowcapped mountains, the road (known as the Hamilton Road) is without question the most beautiful journey, not only in Iraq, but in the entire region.
Route 13 by moto
Vientiane to Luang Prabang
Travelling the road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang by motorbike is not for the faint of heart. Potholes, landslides in the wet season, vertical drops with no barriers, narrow roads with endless blind corners and drivers happy to go around those blind corners on the wrong side of the road! Despite all the danger, the vivid green rice fields, stunning valleys and friendly locals along the way make it all worth it.
Many of the villages you pass along the way are found way up in the hillside. So the best way to experience the incredible panoramas and people, is to stop off for a warm beer or Pepsi and wait for the village to come out greet their newest guests.