The world's 10 most terrifying roads

Think a busy commute down a packed main road is unpleasant? Try these roads on for size…

North Yungas Road, Bolivia

Linking La Paz with Corioco, this horror show of a road has earned the nickname 'the Road of Death'. You don't get a moniker like that for being an easy drive. Shoddy road conditions, narrow tracks and limited overtaking space are bad enough, but the road also hugs steep mountainsides, with the added "fun" of dismal, cloud-covered visibility and the odd waterfall.

The Guoliang Tunnel, China

When the Chinese government refused to build an access road to the isolated village of Guoliang, villagers took matters into their own hands and built one themselves. This meant carving a tunnel through the mountainside, often with just a roughly hewn pillar preventing cars plunging to their doom. Given none of the villagers were engineers, it's fair to say safety standards might not come up to scratch, but the road has become a tourist attraction anyway.

The Halsema Highway, Philippines

Driving standards in the Philippines, to put it charitably, are not the greatest. That means most roads can be a hairy experience. But the 150km long Halsema Highway across the Cordillera Central mountain range is a nightmare. Part of it is asphalted – which can become very slippery during the wet season – and part of it isn't. That bit gets very, very pot-holey, even before you factor in the regular landslides.

The Karakoram Highway, Pakistan

Mountain roads can be dicey due to conditions anywhere, but the Karakoram Highway ramps that up to hardcore levels by threading 1300km through the Himalayas between Pakistan and China. It's remote, it climbs to 4700 metres above sea level and, while the surface is much better than dangerous roads elsewhere, the risk of rockfalls and avalanches is scarily high.

Skippers Canyon Road, New Zealand

Now hugely popular with four-wheel-drive tours from Queenstown, the Skippers Canyon Road was carved out of the cliffs by 19th century gold miners. It clambers down towards the Shotover River for about 22 kilometres, with some fairly hairy unprotected corners. Try doing it yourself in a rental car and you're likely to be uninsured – most rental companies make a specific point about excluding it in contracts.

The Arnhem Highway, Northern Territory

There are tougher, rougher roads in Australia – and plenty with creeks that need crossing with the utmost care and attention. But one river crossing makes the Arnhem Highway particularly notorious. Cahill's Crossing involves ploughing through the East Alligator River from Kakadu National Park into Arnhem Land. It is closed entirely in the wet season, and only opens once water levels are below a certain maximum. But the sight of wrecked 4WDs in the river, and the knowledge there are LOTS of big crocs about, doesn't fill drivers with confidence.

The Dalton Highway, Alaska

Running 666km from Fairbanks to the far north of Alaska, this arduous, mostly gravel drive was originally designed as a pipeline supply road, and used only by truckers. Now it's open to all, and has all manner of unusual hazards to go along with often dangerously cold weather. These include rapidly melting ice, and wandering polar bears.

BR-116, Brazil

Running parallel to the Brazilian coast for just under 4500km, this major trunk road is colloquially known as the "Rodovia da Morte", or Highway of Death. That's partly because of the weather-related accidents that frequently occur, but not all the safety concerns are natural. Light patrolling means it's a favourite spot for bandits to strike. It is particularly dangerous at night.

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The Sani Pass, South Africa

Planned road improvements are likely to knock the Sani Pass off the most dangerous list soon, but for now it's still a spectacularly terrifying climb from South Africa into Lesotho. The gravel road, with numerous switchbacks, has gradients of 1:3 in places and climbs over 1000m between border posts. It's officially 4WD-only, but tell that to the crowded buses fighting for road space on the way down from Lesotho.

The Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Connecting Wiluna in the mid-west with Halls Creek in the Kimberley via a whole lot of nothing, the rumpled, dune-laced Canning Stock Route was originally designed for cattle drovers, and is now largely the preserve of 4WDers wanting a real challenge. From October to April, floods and extreme temperatures make it unmanageable. For the rest of the year, permits are required, travelling in convoy is a necessity. Self-sufficiency in food and water is required, and the same applies for fuel unless you arrange fuel dumps in advance.

See also: Sixteen weird road signs you could only see in Australia

See also: Podcast: The secret to a great road trip

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