As we start to plan the next phase of our adventure and sort through some unseen footage from our travels to date we’ve had plenty of time for reflection. Here are 3 of our favourite countries to overland in.
Mongolia is one of the ultimate destinations for overland travel. In 2012 when we visited it was impossible to drive across the country from border to border on anything that resembled a “normal” road. It is big and empty and so driving here can be very remote.
The beauty of Mongolia lies in the steppe. Hospitality is a keystone of the nomadic lifestyle, and if you travel in Mongolia, it won’t be long before you’re invited into a Ger (refusing would be unthinkably rude) to be offered steaming yak’s milk, goat’s cheese biscuits, marmot Boodog, salty tea and ‘Airag’ – fermented mare’s milk, which at 5% proof wasn’t quite strong enough to stop us thinking a little too much about how exactly you milk a horse.
The driving can be challenging, we encountered some real challenges in the Khan Khentii Protected Area in the north of the country. Trudging about in the pouring rain trying to find a route through a forested quagmire was about as much fun as it sounds. With 21 river crossings under our belt by the time we left Mongolia, we wouldn’t have been without Bee-bee’s snorkel, suspension lift and four-wheel drive.
Despite incidents like this, or perhaps because of them, we would argue that Mongolia is one of the ultimate destinations for overland travel.
The main reason Tajikistan is on this list is down to the infamous Pamir Highway. The M41 is the world’s second highest international highway. I’m using the term ‘highway’ loosely as the surface, when it exists, is mostly unpaved. The ‘road’ in its entirety traverses the Pamir Mountains and travels through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan reaching an altitude of 4,655 metres. The area is notorious for landslides, rock-falls, earthquakes, floods, high winds and frequent political unrest. Part of the highway requires a special permit as it passes through the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. All these factors rate it quite highly on the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Roads’ list; for us, it was the Holy Grail of overlanding and sounded like a fun adventure!
With most great overland destinations come challenges and the Pamir Highway is no exception. Diesel is scarce, we had to carry an extra 80-litres due to the lack of availability en-route. The altitude and lack of oxygen can also be demanding on both you and your vehicle. We suffered from some pretty atrocious headaches and dizziness, luckily this passed fairly quickly as we acclimatised to the height. The lack of oxygen also affected our vehicle, as we climbed our diesel engine began to kick out an increasingly large amount of black smoke and at times lacked power.
Stunning switchbacks, lunar landscapes, high altitude lakes and challenging driving are one reason to visit this part of Central Asia. What really sets the Pamir’s apart from other popular overland destinations is the stark reality of how powerful nature can be and our relative insignificance in the larger scheme.
We went looking for an unforgettable adventure and we found it - AK-47 gun-toting friendly young soldiers, mudslides, earthquakes, flooding, barrier free gravel roads that cling to cliff edges, gravity defying overhangs, collapsed bridges, impassable rivers, rock falls and then there’s the notorious ‘Tunnel of Death’.
Morocco is the closest country to Europe that offers the biggest contrast in culture and geography. We visited Morocco in 2013 and were limited by a closed border to Algeria in the east and an increasingly dangerous border to Mauritania in the south we would be land-locked by civil unrest and political restrictions. However, with around 280,000 miles² we had plenty to explore with the Sahara desert, Atlas Mountains and wild Atlantic coastline.
The transition from the familiarity of Europe to the unfamiliar of Africa is only a 90-minute sail across the Straits of Gibraltar. As with the arrival to any foreign country for the first time, there is always slight trepidation of the unknown.
The driving can be as challenging as you make it, you can head to the High Atlas Mountains for challenging, scarcely driven routes, complete with hair-raising cliff drops and rock crawling or you can head out into the desert for some fun dune driving. We even encountered a few river crossings.
Morocco is the perfect destination for ‘Newbie’ overlanders, but be warned off-road driving in the Western Sahara should be avoided due to the area being heavily land-mined. A fact that became glaringly obvious when a local Saharawi took me for a disheartening 1-mile walk into the desert to a site where the previous year a Landrover was annihilated killing the driver.
After spending 3 months in Morocco it was obvious why we met so many other overlanders. Morocco is essentially an off-road playground for Europeans and it is often used as a testing ground before embarking on longer trips. It offers all kinds of challenging terrain for every kind of overlander from Motorcyclists to the largest of off-road trucks. The people are friendly, the visa is easy and the fuel is cheap; it is essentially overland heaven, especially if you can speak French.