By Jordan Rane 15 November, 2012
Oh, what a feeling!
What makes a great journey? A guaranteed transporting experience, first and foremost. But after that it all depends on how you define “journey.”
If your version is restricted to a paved surface, at least two wheels and an engine, with a clear point A and B (and let’s not forget the cupholders), this list may not be for you.
Or maybe it is — if you’re flexible enough to allow an elevator shaft in Taipei or a flight of stairs on a remote island in the South Atlantic to also qualify.
And a reindeer sled or a pair of ice skates or a Ferrari-styled roller coaster car to constitute a fair SMT (Suggested Mode of Transport).
What makes these 49 trips (listed in no particular order) the “best” ones out there? Ruthless subjectivity and provocative resolve to hear back from you about the 500 better ones we overlooked.
Some of these journeys can (or must) be done in a matter of minutes. Others may require at least one lifetime.
All of them are moving adventures worthy of true road warrior spirit — in the broadest sense — and solid proof that “moving about” is humanity’s greatest obsession.
1. Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia
Lake Baikal — Russia’s way of saying: “Look at me.”
Board the Trans-Siberian Express in Moscow and rumble east into Russia’s interminable backcountry where the (relatively momentary) appearance of Lake Baikal reminds you you’re not on Jupiter.
Pull into the port of Vladivostok, 9,300 kilometers, seven days and eight time zones later. Yep, you’ve just clickety-clacked across a quarter of the earth’s circumference.
2. Sydney to several remote pubs, Australia
The world’s only helicopter pub crawl we know of departs from Sydney, soaring above the city’s famed harbor and touching down at several historic drinking holes spread across the beautiful (but curiously out-of-focus by mid-afternoon) New South Wales countryside.
3. Inca Trail, Peru
The groundwork for South America’s legendary cloud-forest, Andes-hugging, thin-air trek to Machu Picchu was laid over 500 years ago.
And the payoff at the end of your four-day, 43-kilometer hike — gazing upon the legendary “Lost City of the Incas” with your own eyes — remains as life-enhancing today as it was for pre-Columbian royalty.
4. Cape Town to Cairo, Africa
SMT: Your wits and 10 weeks minimum
Cape-to-Cairo. It just rolls off the tongue. Launching an independent road trip the length of Africa, on the other hand — 17,000 kilometers and 11 countries (or so), featuring Victoria Falls, Mt. Kilimanjaro, lion and Whirling Dervish encounters, etc. — is a different story.
We can’t wait to hear about it.
5. Adelaide to Darwin, Australia
SMT: Greyhound Bus
It’s been called “the longest bus ride in the world” — a debatable factoid you won’t bother disputing after rolling for at least 42 hours (plus a six-hour layover in Alice Springs) along the planet’s most desolate, Greyhound-friendly continental midsection.
The draw: spectacular side trip opportunities en route, from spectacular Katherine Gorge and Ayers Rock to an underground bunker hotel room in Coober Pedy. All cheaply chauffeured by a trusty Greyhound driver who has to stay awake for you.
6. 0 to 240 km/hr, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Please try to keep your arms, legs and internal organs inside the car.SMT: Ferrari Formula One-Styled Roller Coaster Car
Q: Does riding a roller coaster count as a “journey?”
A: On the world’s fastest one, a Grand Prix-themed beast with Ferrari-styled cars that accelerates to 240 kilometers per hour in four seconds, hits 4.8Gs and requires the use of goggles — yes.
7. Amritsar, India to ‘Shangri-La’
SMT: Royal Enfield
What’s really stopping you from touring India’s Himalayan foothills to the border of Tibet on a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet? … Maps? A guide and team of on-call mechanics? A Royal Enfield motorcycle?
All of that’s included in TransIndus’s 15-day Trans-Himalayan Odyssey — hairpinning through mountain passes, sweeping valleys and some of the most stunning alpine scenery you’ll ever witness astride India’s version of a Harley.
8. Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, United States
SMT: Cable car
Buy your US$5 ticket at the Market St. turntable and line up with all the other tourists. Board either the Powell-Mason or Powell-Hyde line.
Roll north past Union Square, along the edge of Chinatown, up and over Nob & Russian Hills, and down to Fisherman’s Wharf, clanging all the way.
Check it off the list. You can bike across the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow.
9. Ground floor to 89th floor, Taipei 101, Taiwan
We love the vertigo-inducing, glass-fronted ride up Toronto’s CN Tower too. But for the sheer pleasure of blasting above the stifling masses in a steel box that “pushes the limits of people-mover technology,” according to Popular Mechanics, nothing quite matches an elevator trip up Taiwan’s Taipei 101.
No longer the world’s tallest building and fastest elevator, it remains the greatest vertical road to instant urban tranquility. One way ticket to the 89th-floor observation deck, please.
10. C2C Trail, England
SMT: Hiking boot and walking stick (Optional: Flock of Sheep and Border Collie)
Northern England’s Coast-To-Coast Trail (a.k.a. the “C2C”) stretches 192 miles from the Irish Sea at St. Bee’s to the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay, rambling through England’s famed Lake District and other picturesque settings with kindly folk and pubs.
Yes, you’ll be walking across an entire country. No, it shouldn’t wreck your knees or take more than a couple of weeks.
More on CNN: 10 top road trip apps
11. South Rim to Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, United States
Four legs good — so much better than four wheels.SMT: Mule
Hoofing down Grand Canyon National Park’s main artery, Bright Angel Trail, into the world’s most famous cleft is just easier and more sure-footed on a set of four hooves.
Book your mule at least a year in advance for the “Overnight Ride,” which includes a night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at historic Phantom Ranch.
12. Khan Khentii, Mongolia
There’s only one place in the world to experience a Mongolian Yak Safari — and we all know where that is.
Peregrine’s 14-day intro to Mongolia starts in Ulaanbaatar and features a three-day trek into the vast Khan Kentii wilderness with nothing but a yak-driven support vehicle, some local herdsman and your emerging ancient nomadic spirit.
13. Reykjavik to … Reykjavik, Iceland
SMT: Rental car
Iceland’s definitive 1,339-kilometer loop around the country along Route 1 (or The Ring Road) winds past remote glacial plains and weathered lava lands, over narrow wooden bridges, along steep sea-cliff-lined switchbacks, past endearing towns with unpronounceable names (Kirkjubæjarklaustur anyone?), and so on.
In the summer, you get to drive it in uninterrupted daylight.
14. Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada
SMT: Ice skates
Come winter, Canada’s most famous recreational waterway (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) turns into a skateway — and the world’s largest ice rink.
Hardy Canadian locals commute to work this way, along a maintained section that runs for nearly eight miles through downtown Ottawa. Yes, you can rent skates at the canal, hold a black briefcase and pretend you’re doing the same.
15. Amsterdam, Netherlands to Istanbul, Turkey (or equivalent)
SMT: Anything on the ground. Nothing in the air
It really doesn’t matter how you do it, or which pair of polar European cities you start and finish from — as long as they’re about a dozen countries apart and you don’t cave and fly anywhere.
Mile-per-mile, overlanding across Europe remains the most definitive cross-cultural voyage anywhere.
More on CNN: Cycling routes that’ll take your breath away
16. Naples to Amalfi, Italy
Great roads are even better if someone else is doing the driving.
Why deal with Italian traffic while trying to sneak breathtaking seaside views along the Amalfi Coast when you can just hop into the back of a taxi driven by an experienced local who can handle this winding, precipitous road while yelling at his wife on the phone while playing tour guide and gazing admiringly out at Capri himself?
17. Milford Track, New Zealand
“The finest walk in the world.” A few hikes around the globe have been granted this status, including New Zealand’s signature 53.5-kilometer foot path through the heart of Fiordland National Park — which might just get the nod for its spectacular South Island imagery and trekker-friendly lodging along the 5-day route.
Guided tours can be booked through the Milford Track’s licensed operator, Ultimate Hikes.
18. Deadwood to Custer State Park, South Dakota, United States
SMT: Harley Davidson
Home to the famous annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, South Dakota’s signature rider rite of passage is the Black Hills Run (a.k.a. “the steeplechase for bikes”) — a rolling, winding, wildly scenic journey from the former gold boomtown of Deadwood to the bison-rich fields of Custer State Park, with a pullout at Mount Rushmore.
19. Tashkent Metro, Uzbekistan
SMT: Subway train
The Moscow and Paris subways get plenty of attention. May we now acquaint you with Uzbekistan’s pin-up subterranean rapid transit system?
The Tashkent Metro is one of only two subways in Central Asia. This one’s not just nicer than Kazakhstan’s, but is one of the world’s most unsung, ornate subways — featuring 29 uniquely-designed stations of glass, granite, marble and carved alabaster, designed by prominent artists and architects.
There’s no red, blue or green line quite like it.
20. Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Canada
SMT: Car with good brakes and Gordon Lightfoot CD set
If there’s a bucket list drive in the Canadian Maritimes, it’s this 298-kilometer loop around the top of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island — featuring stunning Atlantic Coast scenery, numerous small-town seafood stops, whale sightings and superb day-trip hikes in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
More on CNN: 15 literary travel quotes
21. Lapland, Sweden
And you thought they only worked one day a year.
SMT: Reindeer sled
In the Swedish Arctic, you don’t have to be Santa to get pulled by a team of reindeer through the pristine Scandinavian tundra.
Sign up for a four-day, deer sledding expedition guided by local Sámi herdsmen with Nature Travels, and it’s like Christmas came early in Lapland.
22. Esquel to Ingeniero Jacobacci, Patagonia, Chile
Calling any 1930s-era steam locomotive that maxes out at about 45 kilometers per hour on even older narrow-gauge track an express may be a stretch.
Board La Trochita (a.k.a. The Patagonian Express) and the thinking is, why would you want to go any faster through 400 kilometers of haunting scenery at the bottom of the world in an old, rattling wooden train car?
23. Grenada to Cape Vincent, Caribbean
SMT: Foot, taxi, ferry, mailboat
Grab a taxi in Grenada, board the Osprey Express for the 90-minute ferry to Carriacou. Run to the mailboat docks parked at the Government Dock in Hillsborough to get you across the border to Union island.
From there, catch an early morning ferry to Bequia and then board the Bequia Express to St. Vincent.
Who’d have thought the best inter-island road trip in the outer-Caribbean would be this easy?
24. Big Sur and the rest of California Highway 1, United States
California’s most magnificent patch of coast, Big Sur, winds for 93 gorgeous, perilous miles between San Simeon (Hearst Castle) and Carmel — summoning great waves of joy, awe and car-sickness all in one movable sitting.
Getting above it all in a motor home lets you make use of over a dozen federal, state and private campgrounds hiding along the Big Sur coast and experience the rest of California’s spectacular, paved edge along Highway 1.
25. Athens to Marathon, Greece
SMT: Jogging shoes
More than 550 official marathon races in 69 countries on all seven continents are held annually around the world — but the first one was run 2,500 years ago by a single Greek herald named Pheidippides who, legend has it, raced from Marathon to Athens (roughly 26 miles) in 490 BC to announce victory over Persia before dying on the spot.
Train responsibly and you’ll fare better on this hilly route that attracts thousands of bibbed heralds running from Marathonas to Athens’ Panathinaikon Stadium in the annual Athens Classic Marathon — held every fall.
26. Turbo, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina
One road, a few wheels, a million memories.
SMT: Reliable car with easily replaceable parts
If there’s an easy way to drive the length of South America, it’s along the Pan-American Highway — a.k.a. “the world’s longest motorable road” (which, technically, begins in Alaska).
Skipping the North and Central America part should make journeying through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina a relative breeze. If you’re in Suriname, you made a wrong turn.
27. Calgary to Banff, Alberta, Canada
The straightest shot from Calgary to Banff National Park is along the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). But this is a road trip, right?
Opting for the alternate, two-lane route, Highway 1A, a picture-perfect, two-laner snaking along the quiet Bow river leads to the same pinch-me Canadian Rocky Mountain scenery at a far more enjoyable pace with some quaint small towns thrown in and a drive-by past the very spot where “Legends of the Fall” was filmed.
The moral of this story: wherever you are, don’t snub that “A” route.
28. Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
SMT: Reliable car with Mexican auto insurance
Driving 1,700 kilometers of Highway 1 in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula at 80 kilometers per hour from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas will take you 21.25 hours if you don’t stop.
But you will stop. Possibly to change a tire or placate a bored 18-year-old Federale at a checkpoint in the middle of nowhere.
Or, mainly, just to marvel upon one of the wildest desert-meets-seascapes on earth. Just don’t forget that insurance.
29. Oslo to Bergen, Norway
SMT: Train or mountain bike — or both
Northern Europe’s most gorgeous mountain- and fjord-fringed terrain sits between Norway’s capital and the west coast city of Bergen. The easy way to see it: on the 290-mile-long Bergen railway.
The harder way: on mountain bike along dirt service roads following the tracks. The happy medium: On the train to the top of the pass and downhill to Bergen on a mountain bike.
30. Anywhere on Antarctica
SMT: Double-hulled ship, Zodiac boat and (important) foot
Reaching the huge tabular icebergs, frenzies of wild penguins and bleached, otherworldly shores of Antarctica may be the best approximation to interplanetary travel on earth — but it ain’t a real journey unless you actually set foot on the place.
The majority of cruise ship visitors admire the White Continent from a distance without ever leaving their ship.
For an up-close, intimate journey that lets you actually stand on Antarctica instead of squint at it from the Lido Deck, sign on with an IAATO-member vessel specializing in leading smaller groups and offering multiple shore excursions.
More on CNN: World’s 10 ultimate drives
31. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Hippos, zebras and just out of sight a bunch of mesmerized tourists.
Witnessing Africa’s animals in a Land Rover is thrilling. Interacting with them on horseback — galloping alongside zebra, giraffe and antelope — on a riding safari with moving camps and local Masai tribesmen in the mix is a whole other deal.
Equitours’ flagship tour, traversing Kenya’s wildlife-rich Masai Mara National Reserve, features 11 days of basically playing Hemingway without the gun.
32. Coast to coast, Corsica, France
SMT: Renault Clio
There are many places to go for a white-knuckle test drive in a small European car, but none as simultaneously scenic, charming and full of random goat herds as Corsica.
Test your skills on the west coast’s D-81 above Piana, Cap Corse’s D-80, and the interior’s D-623 near Restonica Gorge. D = Dramatic on any of them.
Train travel on the single-track Trinighellu (“Trembler”) line is a scenic alternative, carving across the island’s mountainous center.
33. Campbell River, Vancouver Island, Canada
SMT: Snorkel and fins
Every year, thousands of salmon complete their own incredible road trip up Vancouver Island’s Campbell River, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most populated spawning grounds.
A three-hour “Snorkel with the Salmon” tour is on offer from Destiny River Adventures with their final leg floating down a not-so-lazy river with a mask and snorkel.
Best salmon run viewing is between late August and mid-September when all five native Pacific species (pink, coho, chinook, sockeye and chum) are present.
34. Chiang Mai Hill Country, Thailand
Thailand’s estimated 2,000 domestic elephants have (at least officially) retired from logging duties and in the best cases found a more sustainable life in the tourism industry.
Your first job before climbing aboard one: finding a company with a humane track record.
Elephant “treks” range from short guided walks in Phuket to longer expeditions in Northern Thailand’s Hill Country — including a three-day tromp through the Baan Na Kled Hoi jungle near Chiang Mai, interacting with Thai hill tribes and an amazing creature you can’t quite believe you’re sitting on.
35. Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado, United States
SMT: Narrow gauge train
Between late September and early October, the best fall-color experience on steam-powered wheels is chugging between Chama, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado on the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
Board at either end for a full- or half-day chug through Carson and Rio Grande National Forests, old sheep ranches and ghost towns lit up with autumn leaves.
Along the way, you’ll push beyond 10,000 feet at Cumbres Pass — the highest pass reached by rail in the country.
More on CNN: The old road: How to cycle around Beijing
36. Somewhere to wherever you end up, Dhaka, Bangladesh
And all for less than the cost of your coffee at the end of the journey.
It’s the journey, not the destination. We’ve all heard that old road trip adage — which has a special meaning while riding in the back of a brightly-adorned rickshaw in Dhaka, the unofficial “Rickshaw Capital of the World.”
Weaving through ridiculous traffic in one of 400,000 cycle-rickshaws at last count, who really cares where you’re actually going? Just savor the ride.
37. Jamestown to Halfmoon Hollow, Saint Helena, United Kingdom
SMT: Quads, glutes and calves
Napoleon, died eight years before “Jacob’s Ladder” was built on St. Helena to transport goods from Jamestown to the top of Ladder Hill.
That means climbing the vertiginous stone stairway’s 699 steps from sea level to 600 feet puts you in an elite group that even an exiled French emperor isn’t part of. Don’t forget to buy your souvenir “completion” certificate at the nearby museum.
38. Sunrise at Mt. Batur, Bali, Indonesia
SMT: Shuttle van, foot
Get picked up from your hotel in the wee hours and ascend the forested, volcanic flanks of central Bali’s, 5,633-foot Mt. Batur at pre-dawn.
Atop the crater rim at sunrise you can gaze out while your guide cooks eggs on steaming hot rocks before hustling back down the live volcano.
Contact Bali Sunrise Trekking Tours or numerous other companies offering this trip, or book your own guide independently with the Association of Mount Batur Trekking Guides.
39. Lukla to Everest Base Camp, Nepal
SMT: Feet and Lungs
Hop a quick flight from Katmandu to Lukla — home of the world’s most hair-raising landing strip. Then start walking.
At least a week is recommended for the 62-kilometer trek up to Everest Base Camp, winding through Himalayan imagery and mountain villages colored in prayer flags en route to the gates of the world’s highest peak.
Before turning around, wish all those mid-May crazies luck who call this oddly crowded spot just the beginning of their upward journey.
40. Denali Highway, Alaska, United States
You don’t need to be an Iditarod athlete to experience authentic dog travel in the Alaskan wilderness — but you will need to go to mushing school.
Fairbanks-based Paws for Adventure runs half- and full-day mushing classes and dogsledding overnights for the rest of us who won’t be racing 1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome this year.
Their signature Alaskan Range Expedition is five nights of dogsled travel up and around the Denali Highway and McClaren Glacier. Not a sound but falling snow and jingling collars.
More on CNN: World’s 10 dangerous roads
41. Merzouga to Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Great journeys aren’t always comfortable.
Anyone drawn to the romance of camel travel probably hasn’t ridden one lately — but is there a more primal place on earth to experience it than in the world’s largest desert?
The massive dunes of Erg Chebbi in southeastern Morocco are your portal into the Sahara from the tiny camel-trekking-serviced village of Merzouga. Yeah, you’re out there.
42. Cape Town to Hermanus or further, South Africa
The most relentlessly pleasant drive on the bottom of the world starts in Cape Town and skirts east along the Western Cape past charming seaside villages, vineyards, beaches and marine mammal overlooks to Hermanus — “South Africa’s Whale Town.”
That’s the quick 120-kilometer version. Add a zero and you can continue this South African coastal odyssey all the way to Durban.
43. The Great Wall, China
China’s Great Wall sees about 20,000 daily tourists in its busiest section near Beijing. But that just leaves other magnificent parts of this 21,000-kilometer, two-millennia-in-the-making, not-so-modest masonry project foot-traffic free.
For example, sign up for ICA’s WildWall Extreme trek-a five-day camping trip along 40 kilometers of remote Great Wall in neighboring Hebei Province, and the world’s most wondrous wall was built just for you this week.
44. New Delhi to Agra, India
SMT: Tour bus
Define “tour bus” anyway you like, but the roads out of Delhi are so much nicer when someone else has to drive them.
A mere 200 kilometers southeast of this madness takes you to Agra and that checklist-notching date with the Taj Mahal.
45. Scotsdale to Upper Sonoran Desert, Arizona, United States
In Greater Phoenix, one can admire only so much saguaro and roadkill from behind the wheel of a white rented Neon.
The cure: offroading deep into the area’s rugged outback, the Sonoran Desert, at night with an ITT GEN 3 Night Vision Scope when the temperature’s dipped below 120 and the tarantulas, scorpions, wild pigs and Gila Monsters are just waking up.
More on CNN: Asia’s 10 greatest street food cities
46. Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland
Who said skiing was all downhill?
SMT: Skis and crampons
The Haute Route (High Route), Europe’s most famous backcountry ski tour, traverses 120 kilometers of glaciated terrain from Chamonix to Zermatt and has been called the “the hut-to-hut tour to end all hut-to-hut tours” and the “the lifelong dream of fanatical off-piste skiers everywhere.”
Mountain Tracks offers a nine-day, all-inclusive journey along a select route tailored to avoid over-trafficked areas.
47. Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
SMT: Car or foot
Even if you don’t know the Dingle Peninsula yet, you already kind of do. Tucked away on Ireland’s southwest coast in ultra-scenic County Kerry, it packs scores of classic Irish images.
Craggy mountains swaddled in mist. Tilted green hills matted with yellow gorse and lined with old stone walls. Sawtoothed, frothy Atlantic shorelines. An old fellow squinting at you by the side of a quaint back road in a gray tweed cap with his ten million sheep.
The Dingle Peninsula is a microcosm of the Irish coast in one ruggedly stunning package that you can loop around by car in a single day. But make it at least two-or three.
Or over a week, if you have the time and quad muscles to hoof around the peninsula on the 179-kilometer Dingle Way, one of the country’s most spectacular long-distance walking trails.
48. Guadalajara to Amititán, Mexico
SMT: “Tequila Express” train
Most classic weekend road trips are much happier on the way there than back. The Tequila Express is one notable exception.
You can board in Guadalajara at 10:30am, roll past agave covered hillsides into the village of Amititán (a.k.a. the birthplace of tequila) where you’ll visit some of the world’s oldest tequila distilleries — before returning in a raucous train car full of passengers loaded on tequila, conga-lining to a mariachi band. Salud!
49. Pitesti to Cartisoara, Romania
SMT: Car, motorcycle or (gasp) bicycle
A couple seasons ago, “Top Gear” host Jeremy Clarkson put South-Central European scenic mountain driving on the map by exclaiming, “This is the best road in the world,” while touring Romania’s national route 7C (a.k.a. the Transfagarasan Highway) with an Aston Martin, Ferrari and a Lamborghini.
That’s in spite of the potholes, crumbly hairpins and tempestuous conditions that make this secluded, serpentining 90-kilometer, former military route through gorgeous Carpathian mountainscapes (and right past Vlad the Impaler’s old hilltop digs) undriveable between mid-fall and late spring.
So come in the summer.