There is a lot of controversy, misinformation and general confusion on the highest road in the world, so I have decided to get the right answer to this question once and for all.
The highest road in the world is the one that leads to the top of Mount Uturnka, at an altitude of 5730 m (18,799 ft). Lagiong La in Tibet and Kungjag La in India are both higher, but the climb to the top is so extreme that they are not really considered as roads.
Read on to get a complete overview of the 5 highest roads in the world and get an idea why there are so many wrong answers to this question. I have added a list of 10 other streets that claim to be the tallest and the reasons why they are not the tallest in reality.
What is the actual definition of the street?
This is exactly the kind of obstacle that most news portals, blogs and people in general encounter when this issue is raised. Can’t you see that somehow you can only drive on the road.
Maybe you have seen Ojosa del Salado at the top of a number of lists mentioning the highest road in the world. Here’s a picture of what Ojos del Salado is about:
The snow-covered Ojos del Salado volcano is not expensive according to our definition.
Yes, it is a huge volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina, the top of which is covered with snow.
Few people have climbed the volcano in the last 20 years in specially adapted SUVs with huge tyres, ridiculous suspensions and monstrous engines under the bonnet. They climbed up to 6,688 metres above sea level, which is a commendable achievement, but does it make the summit of the volcano expensive?
No, it’s not.
If you drive your car into a river, that river will not be magically updated on the maps either.
The nearest road to the top of Ojos del Salado is barely 4,600 m above sea level, which is high but not high enough.
How do you determine what a road is?
In the dictionaries of Collins and Cambridge there are almost identical definitions of what a road is, so here is a shorter definition of Cambridge:
a long, hard surface on which vehicles can drive
There are several critical points in this definition with which I agree:
- Hard cover – the road shall carry the vehicle. Snow, non-uniform thickness and a thick layer of volcanic ash do not meet the requirements.
- built – the road should actually be built. The salt dish is perfect for driving very fast, but it is not a road. And is not the steep side of a mountain, even if it is long and heavy, as in the first part of the definition.
- For vehicles – Some people might disagree, but I don’t understand why the box is ticked as long as a vehicle can drive over it. If the road is designed for vehicles, I think most of what a reasonable person would call a vehicle should be able to travel on it. Therefore, a steep gravel road requiring 2,000 horsepower from a sample truck is not considered a road.
A very important thing to add is that the road can only be on this list if you can really drive and drive it.
This may seem obvious, but the problem with many roads claiming to be the highest in the world is that they do not pass this fundamental test.
Some of these roads are deactivated service roads that lead to mountain peaks that you cannot really reach. Others, such as the many high corridors in India that touch the chest and claim to be the highest, are not open to the public. You must be in possession of an Indian passport and apply for a special road permit a few months in advance, and even then you must travel with the Indian army.
These things are not a road a normal person can just drive on, so they cross their fingers and are disqualified from our list.
Does the road have to be paved to get on the list?
A good question – many people shared the record and talked about the highest paved roads. It doesn’t matter if the road is asphalted or not, as long as it looks like a road, the way it works and most normal people would call it a road.
If someone cuts a perfectly flat, passable road off the side of a mountain and if a rock leaves the surface for traffic, it is a road, even if it is technically unpaved.
Most people will not agree on the meaning of the term paved gravel – is compacted gravel meaningful? What about paving tiles or bricks?
Let’s keep it simple, and for the purpose of this list we include all streets if they meet our basic requirements.
Why are most very high roads in India not on this list?
Looking at the list, one may legitimately wonder why not all the famous passages are present in different parts of North India.
Almost all other lists you can find online are at the top, including Umling La, Mana Pass and Marsimik La.
The problem is that the Indian government restricts access to these roads, preventing most countries in the world from travelling on them. Some of them (e.g. Marsimik La) only need permission to enter a protected area – which is usually relatively easy to obtain through an online application.
However, Marsimik La itself is not included in the list of regions that can be visited by foreigners. Therefore, if you are not an Indian citizen who also lives in India, you do not have the possibility to travel there legally.
Other passports, such as those of Umling La, are taboo and are only covered by special licences issued directly by the military. When I say it’s awarded, they almost never get awarded, so I won’t waste your time trying.
Because these roads only exist in theory and you can’t drive on them, we have removed them from our list and included them in the honourable mentions below.
If you can’t drive, it’s not the solution! It’s just a piece of asphalt from the side of the mountain.
Now let’s move on to the real list of the highest streets in the world!
1. Uturncu, southern Bolivia – 5,730 m
In Bolivia there is a road that leads to the top of Mount Uturunca. In fact, the volcano has two craters reaching an altitude of 6008 meters.
The road leads to a point just below two craters, before rocks and landslides prevent you from continuing. It was once possible to drive to the top, and huge trucks drove all day long when the sulphur was taken out of the craters. At a height of 5730 m, the accessible bit is still quite high, so it is at the top of the list.
Although in some places the road gets a bit narrower and there is a steep slope to the left, you should be able to drive until the engine stalls due to lack of oxygen.
This is Mario Zehmester, who will ride a dirty bike on a Uturunka in 2016:
2. Semo La, Southern Tibet (China) – 5 565 m
Semo La may only be a few meters from a winning road, but at 5,565 meters above sea level it is a very high climb. The road is located in the Himalayas in southern Tibet, and unlike the winner, it is well paved and easy to drive with almost any vehicle, unless the lack of oxygen stops the car.
The highest paved and asphalted road in the world – The Semo La Pass in Tibet
The actual height of the pass is 5,565.1 m, which was recently confirmed by GPS measurements, but the locals were a bit excited and completed the whole thing with the sign.
Not only does this road climb quickly, but it also runs about 150 km along the plateau at an altitude of more than 5000 m.
Spend a few good days preparing for the high altitude, because to climb and descend you need to be at about 40% of your normal oxygen level for most of the day.
Also make sure you have gas, food and water – you won’t find any shops along the way, and it’s the one place you don’t want to land!
3. Kaksang La, India – 5,438 m (17,841 ft)
Although it is far from the highest mountain pass in India, it is the highest pass that can be reached by normal passage through a protected area/IPP. No further approvals are required.
The road to the top is surprisingly decent, and one should be able to go up by car or bike without unnecessary problems.
Mirpal Tso Lake is located just below the highest point of Kaksang La Pass
Once at the top you have a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, and the beautiful lake Mirpal Tso is just below the highest point of the road.
4. Suge La, Tibet (China) – 5430 m
Another mountain in Tibet near Lhasa, in the Nyenchen Dungla Mountains.
The climb is quite decent, and one should be able to get there with an average car without passes or special restrictions.
The road passes right next to Mount Kyongmo Kangri, which at an altitude of 7,048 m offers truly amazing scenery as you climb the winding road.
If you want to set records, the areas near Suge La Pass are relatively flat and the slopes of the mountain are slightly sloping – you can spread out and climb to an altitude of about 5,550 m if you want to climb as high as possible, although the zoom on the fourth highest road in the world is already pretty good!
5. Tanglang La, India – 5,328 m
Unusual in Kashmir, the Tanglang La is open to the public and does not require a special permit for climbing.
The Tanglang La Indian pass is the easiest of the 5 highest roads in the world.
It is located on the main road from Manali to Leh and is quite busy compared to some of the remote passes, which take hours driving and are exactly on the border with China.
Although road kites fly up and down the mountain, it is almost completely asphalted, fairly easy to drive compared to most other roads on this list, and is often used by trucks and buses.
Tanglang La often ranks second or third in the world in terms of size, but as you can see that is not quite the case. Even after all that is not really a road, and roads that are actually open to the public, we were still able to make the list, but in 5th place.
Reportable and hypocritical
A few candidates were not on our list, but they were close enough. Some of them failed because their roads were impassable for everyone except the most specialized off-road vehicles. Others are closed to the public or subject to severe restrictions by the military.
Most of them are on other lists, although I don’t think a road you can’t drive counts for nothing!
Ojos del Salado, Argentina – Chilean border – 6,688 m (21,942 ft)
This is the answer you can find when trying to determine which is the highest road in the world.
Sure, the songs sound crazy, and it sounds fair, but it’s a fact. It’s not a road.
It is literally a volcano that some people have driven several times in highly specialized cars in recent years, but that certainly doesn’t qualify it as a road in our books.
With reference to our previous definition, it is not built specifically to be expensive anyway, and can only be driven with the best prepared vehicles.
It may be the highest point no one has ever driven, but it’s not one of the highest roads in the world.
Lagiong La, Tibet – 5830 m
Little is known about this isolated passage through Tibet, and it was almost at the top of the list.
The pass is available to anyone living in Tibet and you do not need a special passport or permit to enter – it is not near the border or near a military installation.
But the road to the pass is very extreme. The surface is loose rock, the road is broken to pieces, and huge falls make this trip very dangerous in many places.
Even drivers with a lot of off-road experience would think twice before trying to reach the top, so there isn’t much that prevents successful drivers from posing for shots at the top.
The fact that it is almost impossible to drive to Lajiong La, and that the road is almost as big as climbing a real mountain, we had to take it off the list, because if you are not a real adrenaline junkie, there is no chance, apart from your safety, that you will climb soon.
Kungjag La, Indo-Chinese border – 5780 m
The Kungjag La road stretches in the mountains between India and China and is normally passable from mid-June to September.
You can even drive it without a military escort or special permission. Unlike most of India’s highest roads in the Ladakh region, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, Kungjag La lies a few thousand kilometres away in the Sikkim region, which lies between the mountainous kingdoms of Bhutan and Nepal.
Although nothing stops you on the road, the surface is slightly larger than the natural rocky and mountainous terrain and becomes incredibly steep and inaccessible as you drive past it. The official advice is that only experienced climbers should try climbing in specialized cars.
I have the feeling that the aisle of a normal family salon can end rather badly, and not many people have ever been there, so it’s another street that makes a list of voluntary references instead of the main staff.
Mana pass, India – 5,610 m (18,406 ft)
The Mana Pass is another mountain pass in northern India, located in Uttarakhand, between Nepal and Kashmir.
The road to the mountain pass leading to China, which was built by the army itself, is passable and in good condition, but is not passable over the standard ILP pass.
You need permits from the local police, the local army and the district court to go there, and even if you have all these permits, the army can still restrict access if they want to.
You can drive without restrictions to the village of Mana, nicknamed the last village of India, but the village is at an altitude of about 3,350 m and you will have to show all your documents in order to drive on.
Although it is possible to find reports of randomly selected persons who have climbed the pass, the evidence that they were allowed to do so is very limited: Most of the pictures end with a large sign at Mana Village, and there is no proof that they still do. A number of people stated that, with a few exceptions, no permits are issued to tourists.
La ring road, India – between 5,599 m (18,379 ft) and 5,800 m (19,029 ft)
Reports on Umling La are as incoherent and mysterious as the pass itself. Many different altitudes are given, most agree that the altitude is about 5800 meters above sea level.
Although there seems to be a road connecting two small Indian villages on the border with China, the army doesn’t let anyone pass after a short period in which it is difficult to get a permit. Unlike other local roads, the Protected Area Pass/ILP protocol no longer provides access to these roads.
Because you can’t drive on the road and there is no way to check if it fits in the car, as well as the actual size, Umling La is removed from the list.
Marsimik La, India – 5,582 m
Marsimik La is a pass in northern India that has long claimed to be the highest road in the world. The game board on top confirms these statements and indicates that the pass is at 5777 m, making it the highest road in the world. …if that is true.
GPS checks during several expeditions show that the highest point of the pass is at 5,582 m. In fact, just open Google Maps and see for yourself by looking at the view of the field.
The Marimic La is actually much lower than the 18,953 feet indicated on the official board.
Google Maps Screenshot
The road to the top is not perfect, but partly asphalted, and although it can be stony in some places, usually driven by a reasonable car, it is surprisingly easier to climb higher and reach the top plateau.
Unlike other passes known to the Northern Indians, no special military permits are required. However, the permission to enter the Foreigners Reserve does not include access to Marsimik La, so no person who is not a citizen or resident of India may enter by car.
Foti La, India – 5,524 m
It’s the same story as Umling above. Before approaching the hallway, you will see signs indicating that the ILP resolution range is over and that you cannot drive any further. If you continue, you risk being arrested and chased by the Indian army.
Sometimes checkpoints give the same information to the army, and unless you want to spend some time in a frozen Indian army prison high in the Himalayas, we strongly advise you not to ignore these signs.
Until this situation changes, high mountain passes in India, such as the Foti La, have been removed from the official list.
Dongha La, India – 5486 m
Again, unfortunately, you will need a number of special permits, including those from the local warlords and the local court – don’t expect to get them if you are just a mortal.
This is all the more unfortunate because the road has recently been asphalted all the way to the top and I hear that it is a beautiful road with breathtaking views, but because you can’t really get there by car, it has to stay in the Lion part as well.
Chang La, India – 5,360 m
Another who can’t handle the legal paperwork. The official protected area of India excludes Chang La from the areas you can visit under the general Kashmir license, which makes it difficult for us.
Hardung La, India – 5,359 m
Another route known as the highest in the world is the Hardung La Pass in northern India.
It is a strategically important route used by the Indian army to supply military outposts on the Himalayan glaciers.
The signs above that claim the status of the world’s highest road are a bit optimistic.
The above signs claim to be the highest road in the world, but unfortunately the sign exaggerates the height by about 800 feet, and even if it were as high as claimed, Uturnka in Bolivia would still have a moustache higher, although with fewer signs and tires.
Unfortunately, despite much misinformation, access to the protection zone is not available to Hardung La, as this is one of the excluded areas in Kashmir. If you are an Indian citizen and resident, you can travel there with an ILP permit, but most countries in the world do not require a travel card.