Switchback Central: 15 of the World’s Most Dizzying and Dangerous Drives

The world is full of epic road trip opportunities. Want to discover some of the most insane? Here are 15 infamous roads around the world.

Scattered across the planet, there are epic drives through spectacular landscapes that have more twists, turns, and hairpin bends than you can shake a stick at.

These roads are tailor-made for adventurous spirits, and some should satisfy even the most eager thrill seekers. Expect endless switchbacks up steep mountain faces, gravel roads chiseled into cliffsides with deadly drop-offs, and views to die for every wheel rotation of the way.

If you’re looking for an adventure on wheels in breathtaking places, you should enjoy the coming list. Read on to discover 15 of the world’s most delightfully dizzying drives.

1. Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road, China

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Winding through China’s immense Tianmen Mountain National Park is a paved 6.8-mile-long (11 km) road with an incredible 99 steep turns.

Beginning at 200 meters above sea level and ending at 1,300 meters, the Big Gate Road resembles a giant grey worm slithering its way up the mountainside. At the top, you’ll arrive at a staircase with 999 steps, which lead up to a vast rock archway called Heaven’s Gate (Tianmen Mountain).

2. Trollstigen, Norway

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The entire country of Norway is a gift for road trippers. You drive alongside mighty lakes and fjords, past raging waterfalls, through unbelievable tunnels, and along stunning stretches of coast.

However, few Norwegian roads are as famous or scenic as Trollstigen. This impressive pass has 11 sweeping switchbacks that weave up a mountain in the Romsdalen valley. Don’t miss the viewpoint at the top!

3. Stelvio Pass, Italy/Switzerland

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Welcome to the second-highest paved mountain pass in the Alps and the highest in Italy. Stelvio Pass is almost 30 miles long (47 km), has 60 hairpin bends, and takes drivers over 2,750 meters above sea level.

As you can tell from the photo, it’s a marvel of engineering in epic terrain that offers unparalleled views around every one of its many turns.

4. Three-Level Zigzag Road, Himalayas

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This aptly named road in the Himalayas is often described as one of the world’s most dizzying roads. And it’s easy to see why! Not one for people who get motion sick, the 18.6-mile (30 km) road winds its way up a mountain via more than 100 hairpin bends.

At its peak, you’re driving at a whopping 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level. I’ve seen pictures of people literally driving above the clouds, like they’re on a real-life highway to heaven.

5. Gotthard Pass, Switzerland

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Just like Italy and other Alpine regions, Switzerland is inundated with awe-inspiring mountains – and epic roads running through them. The Gotthard Pass (also called the Passo del San Gottardo) is one of the country’s most notorious scenic drives.

Located in the south, it’s over 2,100 meters above sea level (almost 7,000 feet), stretches for 40 miles (64 km), and has 24 hairpin bends. If you want to drive the Gotthard Pass, make sure you time it right. The route’s open from around the end of May until the end of October – snowfall dependent.

6. North Yungas Road, Bolivia

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This road in Bolivia is not for the fainthearted. Featuring regularly on lists of the most dangerous roads on Earth, it’s a 22.5 mile (roughly 36 km) stretch of gravel that’s been hewn from the cliffside between La Paz and Coroico.

It’s a thin and exposed track high up a mountain with sheer drops, zero protection, and limited visibility, factors that combine to make it insanely precarious. Apparently, a new highway has diverted most traffic away from the road now. Even so, hundreds of people die driving it every year, earning it the morbid nickname, the “Road of Death.”

7. Cotahuasi Canyon Road, Peru

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Located near the city of Arequipa in Peru, Cotahuasi Canyon is one of the world’s deepest canyons. At its peak, the cliffs descend over 3,350 meters to the river below, making it around twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Traversing this mighty natural landmark is a 22-mile (35 km) section of unpaved “road” that weaves its way between Cotahuasi and Quechualla. It’s exposed, narrow, dusty, remote, and incredibly dangerous. However, the views (and thrills) you’d get from driving it would be hard to beat.

8. Transfagarasan Pass, Romania

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Located in the heart of Transylvania, Romania, the Transfagarasan Pass is almost 56 miles long (90 km), includes 80 hairpin bends, and has hundreds of small bridges. Its maximum elevation is over 2040 meters. The ascent is so dramatic that some people call it the road to the sky/clouds.

Fun fact: They built the Transfagarasan Pass for military purposes. That’s why it has so many hairpins. They prevent the gradient from ever getting too steep, making it more accessible to heavy military vehicles.

9. Sichuan-Tibet Highway, China

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China must have a knack for constructing switchback-laden roads in remote, high-altitude locations. The Sichuan-Tibet Highway is one of the highest-elevation roads on earth. It runs for 1,330 miles (over 2,100 km) from Chengdu to Lhasa through striking natural landscapes.

I’ve read that you reach altitudes surpassing 4,000 meters several times on this drive and pass mountains over 6,000 meters tall. In one 24-mile section (38 km), you’ll descend almost 1,200 meters via 99 switchbacks.

10. Road to Fairy Meadows, Pakistan

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Love a thrill? Don’t miss Pakistan’s answer to Bolivia’s Road of Death. Nestled in North Pakistan are the stunning green plateaus of Fairy Meadows, where the towering figure of Nanga Parbat (the ninth tallest mountain on the planet) looms large in the background.

Unfortunately, getting to this heavenly place involves traversing an extremely hazardous gravel “road” that might be the world’s most dangerous. With its high altitude and vertical and unprotected drops, you’d be brave to walk along it, let alone drive a vehicle there.

11. Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, Chile/Argentina

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One way to cross between Chile and Argentina is via the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. Surrounded by Andean peaks, this paved, highly trafficked road cuts and weaves through mountainous terrain to a tunnel that acts as the border between these two countries.

On the Chilean side, there’s a section known locally as Los Caracoles, which means “the Snails.” With 20 steep hairpin bends, it resembles some sort of giant concrete set of intestines, where you drive at a snail’s pace behind trucks navigating the crossing.

12. Jacob’s Ladder, Australia

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Zig-zagging its way to the summit of Ben Lomond Mountain in Tasmania, Australia, is a road famous for its series of six sharp switchbacks. Known as Jacob’s Ladder, it’s steep, precarious, and unpaved – but the views from the top are spectacular.

The total ascent is 11 miles (almost 18 km) long in total and takes you up to 1,100 meters above sea level. Some sections have a gradient of 13%. You’re best off doing this drive in a 4 x 4 – and don’t forget your snow chains if you’re going up in winter.

13. Sani Pass, South Africa

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This twisting, turning, sweeping, and snaking gravel road in South Africa takes drivers steeply and sharply up a narrow mountain pass. This is one of the highest mountain ranges in the country, and you climb up to 2,876 meters (9,435 feet) above sea level.

Some sources call Sani Pass the most dangerous road in South Africa. Even in good conditions with a 4×4, the drive can prove tricky. But it can be undoable in inclement weather, which is common here.

14. Kotor Serpentine, Montenegro

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The R-1 regional road in Montenegro goes between Kotor (one of the country’s most famous and picturesque medieval destinations) and Cetinje. Otherwise known as the Cetinje to Kotor Panoramic Road, it’s a 22.5-mile (36 km) paved route famous for having dozens of hairpin bends.

One section, known as the Kotor Serpentine, climbs hundreds of meters in a relatively short distance, zigzagging up via 25 numbered hairpins. Expect spectacular views from start to finish.

15. Gata Loops, Ladakh, India

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The Leh – Manali Highway in the Western Himalayas is another route of epic proportions. One relatively short section of it is called the Gata Loops. It comprises 21 sweeping hairpin bends that take up a high-altitude mountain pass called Nakee La.

If the switchbacks don’t scare you, maybe stories of the Gata Loops ghost will. This route is said to be haunted by the spirit of a trucker who died here years ago. After numerous drivers reported seeing a mysterious apparition begging for water, locals set up a shrine full of water bottles to appease it.



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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including MSN.com and news sites across the US.