Debating Distances: Unraveling the Longest Roads in the World

The Pan-American Highway, deemed the longest road globally, spans approximately 30,000 kilometers (19,000 miles) from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. However, its claim to fame isn’t without contention. Proposed in 1923 by the United States, the highway was portrayed as a noble endeavor to unite distant nations. Nonetheless, some argue it was primarily a strategy to bolster US exports, particularly automobiles, to Latin America.

Formal discussions began in 1924 when US officials invited 37 Latin American delegates to Washington DC to present their case. After years of negotiation, the Convention on the Pan-American Highway was established in 1937, with Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and the US signing the agreement.

Despite ambitious proclamations, progress was sluggish. Even in the early 1970s, President Nixon optimistically predicted the highway’s imminent completion, yet significant gaps and incomplete sections persisted. Presently, the Pan-American Highway remains disjointed, with a prominent interruption known as the Darién Gap—a 160-kilometer (100-mile) stretch of land separating Panama and Colombia. This area, shrouded in dense jungle and subject to seasonal rains, lacks any road infrastructure whatsoever.

Efforts to bridge the Darién Gap were proposed in the 1970s, with the US offering substantial funding. However, environmentalists vehemently opposed the initiative, citing potential devastation to biodiversity and Indigenous communities. Moreover, the region’s perilous conditions, including armed militias, criminal gangs, and drug traffickers, further complicate any crossing attempts.

Nevertheless, the Pan-American Highway still clinches the Guinness World Record for the “longest motorable road.” Its main rival, Asian Highway 1 (AH1), is part of the Asian Highway Network and spans 20,557 kilometers (12,774 miles) from Tokyo, Japan, to the Turkish-Bulgarian border. However, AH1 suffers from interruptions, notably the 942 kilometers (585 miles) of sea between Japan and South Korea, as well as the impracticality of crossing the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea.

Another contender for the longest road title is Australia’s Highway 1, encircling the entire island for about 14,500 kilometers (9,000 miles). This route holds the Guinness World Record for the “Longest continuous road.” Notably, the “Highway 1 to Hell” team set a record by circumnavigating Australia in 5 days, 13 hours, and 43 minutes.

Ultimately, determining the longest road in the world is subjective, depending on one’s perspective and tolerance for interruptions in ostensibly continuous routes.