Epic Road Trips You Should Go On

International Travel

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” He knew there should always an element of ‘getting lost’ if you want to claim your road tripping credentials.

“I’m a big fan of local road trips like Route 62 and let’s not forget the Vaalie trek every December to Durbs. However, with the world being a much smaller place than it used to be, it’s much easier for South Africans to tackle the world’s most beautiful highways and byways,” says Nicky Potgieter, Flight Centre Leisure Marketing Leader.

Potgieter offers her tried-and-tested tips for three of the world’s most epic road trips:

In appreciation of the beautiful planet we live on and the prospect of future adventures, prep your playlist for an epic road trip through the windswept landscapes of Iceland, sun-kissed California or a journey to the ends of the earth…

Ruta del fin del Mundo – Chile and Argentina

You’ll feel like a pioneer when you travel to “the end of the world”. Epitomising the mantra of “not for sissies”, the combination of Chile’s Carretera Austral and Argentina’s Ruta 40 promises road trippers some of the most extraordinary landscapes on earth.

From magnificent fjords and glaciers to ancient forests and snow-capped peaks, nature takes centre stage on this 5 500km route which winds from Santiago, Chile’s energetic capital, to Punta Arenas in the remote wilderness of Patagonia.

Highlights along the journey

Bariloche

A little Switzerland in South America, the ski resort of San Carlos de Bariloche is located on the foothills of the Andes and surrounded by lakes and mountains. It’s a great stop for outdoors enthusiasts, offering water sports, climbing and trekking opportunities.  

Pumalín Park

This 715 000-acre conservation area stretches from the heart of the Andes to the fjords of Chile’s Pacific Coast. The park was founded to protect the Valdivian rainforest and offers sea kayaking, hiking and climbing opportunities.

Torres del Paine

A national park showcasing some of the most sensational scenery in the southern Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine is perhaps best known for its distinctive three granite peaks of the Paine Massif, which rise up 2 500 metres above sea level.

Need to know

1. Be prepared to pay a fairly hefty one-way car rental return fee – you’re dropping your rental vehicle thousands of kilometres from where you picked it up.

2. Much of the route is gravel, but you can get away without renting a 4X4 provided the vehicle you select has high clearance.

3. You’ll also need to carry extra fuel and fill up whenever you can because petrol stations are few and far between.

4. The weather can be very harsh with considerable variations in temperature, and parts of the route can even be closed during winter, so it’s best to tackle it in summer.

5. It’s not easy to stock up on essentials like gear in remote little villages so you’ll have to bring everything you need with you. 

Flight Centre travel advice

· South Africans don’t need a visa to travel to either Chile or Argentina.

· The quickest way to get to South America: South African Airways or LATAM Airlines to São Paulo in Brazil, then connect to Santiago on LATAM’s extensive network.

· Carry some cash with you because ATMs are not freely available in remote areas.

Route 1 – Iceland

A mythical land forged by fire and ice is yours to explore along Iceland’s Ring Road which runs 1 332 kilometres around the island and connects many of country’s most popular tourist attractions.

You’ll want to spend at least a week roaming the island’s desolate landscapes and discovering its natural wonders, from lush lava fields and fjords to glaciers and waterfalls. Visit the quirky capital of Reykjavik and delve into the Icelanders’ rather unusual, but steadfast belief in elves and trolls.

Highlights along the journey

The Golden Circle

Home to Iceland’s most-visited destinations, the Golden Circle features typically as a scenic day trip and comprises three stunning locations: Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and the spectacularly exploding geysers in the Geysir Geothermal Area.

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

The ethereal landscape at Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon makes it a must-visit stop on your road trip around Iceland. Located next to Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, this lagoon is filled with floating icebergs that melt into obscurity in the lake’s glacial waters. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Home to one of the most enduring symbols of Iceland, the Snæfellsjökull volcano, this peninsula is located on the island’s western coast. Take a hike on the lava field, visit Vatnshellir Cave or see if you can spot the resident whales frolicking off the beach at Grundarfjörður.

Need to know

1. If you’re travelling in winter, you’ll want to make sure you see the Northern Lights, which are allegedly better viewed on the east coast of Iceland.

2. Four seasons in one day – that’s how best to describe Iceland’s weather.

3. The minimum length of the drive should be seven days, but if you have the luxury of time try to spend a couple of days in one spot and extend your trip to 10 days.

4. Consider tackling the Ring Road in an anti-clockwise direction so that you tackle the outdoors destinations while you’re still fresh.

5. Don’t stop on the side of the road to take photos no matter how beautiful the landscape. The roads can be very narrow, and there isn’t room to stop safely.

Flight Centre travel advice

· The peak travel period in Iceland is July and August (summer). If you want to avoid the crowds and have a chance to see the Northern Lights, visit in October.

· South African passport holders need to obtain a tourist visa. Travellers have to apply at the Royal Danish Embassy in Pretoria.

· The fastest route to Iceland is via London. Travellers also have options to fly via other hubs like Doha, Munich and Paris, but may have to make two stops.

California 1 – United States

Ah… the open road, the sun-kissed Californian coast and glittering Pacific – this one’s for all you movie lovers out there, and promises road trippers an opportunity to channel their inner Thelma and Louise.

One of the world’s most celebrated road trips, California 1 begins in San Francisco, travelling along the coast and clinging to mountains and cliffs through Big Sur and the charming towns of Santa Barbara, Carmel and Monterey, recently depicted in the series Big Little Liars, then ends in San Diego.  

Highlights along the journey

Santa Barbara

You’ll think you’re in Andalusia when you visit picture-perfect Santa Barbara with its characteristic palm trees and red tile roofs. It’s definitely worth stopping overnight so you can spend some time strolling along Stearns Wharf for a bite to eat.

Big Sur

One of the most beautiful and undeveloped stretches of coastline in the world features on this section of Highway 1 between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon. Here the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean providing stunning coastal views.

San Francisco

No visit to California would be complete without a few days in the “City on the Bay”. Spend a day strolling around Fisherman’s Wharf, take a ferry to Sausalito for a unique perspective on the city skyline or hop on a tram and admire the colour Victorian façades.

Need to know

1. The Big Sur section of Highway 1 has been closed until recently due to mudslides caused by heavy rains. Make sure you check your route daily.

2. Take care where you stop along the way to take photos as there are sections of hairpin bends and narrow shoulders which would compromise your safety.

3. Take your time. You’ll want to soak up the California sunshine fully and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

4. Download Google Maps or buy a map for the area because cellphone reception can be intermittent along Highway 1.

5. Hire a fuel-efficient vehicle as fuel along this route is very expensive.

Flight Centre travel advice

· For the best views along Highway 1, we recommend driving north to south – not only is San Francisco a convenient place to start the drive due to flight access, you’ll also be on the ‘right’ side of the road to stop if it’s safe to take photos.

· South African passport holders need a tourist visa which can be applied for at the US Consulates in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

· The quickest way to get to San Francisco is to fly via Atlanta with Delta Air Lines, or New York or Washington with South African Airways.

If you’re flying via the Big Apple to San Francisco, consider breaking up your journey with a couple of nights in this vibrant city, says Potgieter. “In fact, it’s always a good idea to see if you can top or tail your road trip with a couple of days to relax in a destination. Make the most of your time while you’re there.”

Useful resources for planning your trip

Argentina / Chile

www.chile.travel/en

www.barilocheturismo.gob.ar/en/home

www.patagonia.com.ar/en

Iceland

www.inspiredbyiceland.com

www.iceland.is

California

www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/states/CA

www.visitcalifornia.com/trip/highway-one-classic

Images courtesy Envato