There’s something liberating about planning a road trip – it ignites a sense of adventure and free spirit. There are many cult stories about impulsive mavericks hitting the road: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Why not pluck a leaf out of their books and throw caution to the wind? Forget small group tours, hire a car and explore your country of choice independently. Only the best experiences spring from the unexpected.
Heathrow parking specialist, Purple Parking has put together its top five self-drive destinations, popular for their superb scenery, vibrant culture and sheer wow factor. Wind the windows down, feel the exotic breeze on your face and enjoy!
CUBA: for culture vultures
Cuba is a unique and fascinating Caribbean island pulsating with colour and passion. It’s famed for its salsa, vintage cars, cigars and of course, its revolutionary spirit. Make sure you book some home stays (casas paticulares) as it is a great way to meet Cuban families along the way. When driving through Cuba, make sure you ask for directions and take a compass and decent map as there are few road signs. Make sure you stop off at the following:
- Havana. You will be charmed by the crumbling splendor of the capital city of Havana. Although not conventionally beautiful, its eclectic culture gives the city an air of romance as vintage cars drive past shimmering colonial palaces. This place is not contrived for tourism, it is refreshingly authentic.
- Trinidad. Wander the cobbled streets of colonial Trinidad and admire the impressive churches, museums and public squares. When you get tired, relax in one of the bars, enjoy the Cuban music and sample the traditional sugarcane drink, Guarapo.
- Varadero. Ideal for beach-lovers, the white sands of Varadero will not fail to disappoint. The turquoise waters are crystal clear and warm and the sunsets are incredible – perfect to enjoy with a relaxing rum.
- Baracoa. The unspoiled colonial village of Baracoa has secluded beaches, rainforest and a flat-topped mountain. The colourful but weathered buildings add to its charm. Amid the rich vegetation you can find cocoa trees which make the white chocolate Baracoa is famous for.
COASTAL CALIFORNIA: for free thinking explorers
This is where America meets the big blue Pacific, thousand-foot cliffs plunge into the sea, the world’s tallest trees cling to hillsides and huge waves beckon enticingly to the surf-crazed. California is huge; exploring by car will help you reach more of the remote spots. For the ultimate road trip, check out the following:
- San Francisco. Welcome to America’s most liberal city. Join the locals for a street party, eat like a king at the vast array of cafes, sail to see Alcatraz, spot whales from Point Reyes and watch eagles soar over Golden Gate.
- Santa Cruz. In funky town Santa Cruz there’s something to suit all tastes, whether you’re a surfer, nudist, tree-hugger or punk all are living together in radical harmony. Make sure you visit the famous beach boardwalk, its amusement park rides and sweet shops are appealing to anyone who’s still young at heart.
- Santa Barbara vineyards. Head inland for just a few miles and you’ll find yourself in some of the world’s greatest wine-growing regions. The hills above Santa Barbara have a high concentration of wineries where you can try a sumptuous pinot noir and a smooth merlot.
- Hearst Castle. Don’t miss the ostentatious Hearst Castle at San Simeon. This sprawling estate, built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, has 127 acres of landscaped gardens, shimmering pools and statues from ancient Greece and Moorish Spain.
SOUTH AFRICA: for wildlife enthusiasts
South Africa is everything you ever dreamed of. Nature lovers and adventurers alike will be blown away by the 3,500 kilometres of stunning coastline, abundance of National Parks, unique wildlife encounters and world-class surf and shark cage diving experiences. This country is popular for self-drive holidays as the landscape is so diverse. It also has some fabulous wine tasting trails and incredibly warm people. Don’t miss out on:
- Cape Town. It is a thriving cosmopolitan city that enjoys great weather all year round. A creative melting pot, Cape Town has a fantastic dining scene, busy nightlife, sunny beaches and great shopping – and all this is set against the breathtaking backdrop of Table Mountain.
- The Garden Route. This is a gorgeous stretch of the south-eastern coast which features mountains, lakes, tall indigenous forests, amber-coloured rivers and golden beaches. Bright wild flowers illuminate your journey and you can indulge in every kind of adventure activity along the way.
- Cape Winelands. Wine-lovers must book a trip to the picturesque Cape Winelands, divided into six main wine regions. You can book a range of dine and vine tours, with wines ranging from sumptuous Rhone reds to perfumed Sauvignon Blancs.
- Game Reserves. South Africa has a huge collection of wildlife regions, game parks, nature reserves, bush camps and lodges. If you’re looking to spot the Big Five in all their glory, you will be spoilt for choice. Popular reserves include: Kruger Park, Sabi Sands and Shamwari Game Reserve.
ICELAND: for adventurers
Known as the ‘land of fire and ice’, Iceland is home to geographical phenomena and incredible landscapes. Here you will see lava flows, icecaps, deep fjords, geysers and hot springs. This magical country offers a variety of experiences and it is worth hiring a sturdy car to deal with slightly rougher terrain. if you’re lucky you may get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see killer whales and the awesome Northern Lights. Highlights include:
- Reykjavik. The capital of Iceland is a must-see, whether you go in the eternal sunshine of summer or never-ending night of winter. It has a quirky and creative culture and a kicking music scene, topped off with snow-topped mountains and incredible thermal pools.
- Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. These are two of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland and must be seen to be believed. The waterfall spray produces stunning rainbows in the right light and there is a pathway leading behind Seljalandsfoss, allowing you to view it from within.
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Snaefellsjokull glacier lies on this Peninsula, which is steeped in history and well-loved by Icelanders; some of the most important sagas took place here. The majestic silhouette can be seen from afar and the entire landscape is brimming with hot springs, lava caves and waterfalls.
- Golden Circle. Three of Iceland’s greatest natural wonders can all be visited in one day: the Geysir hot springs area, the mighty Gullfoss Waterfall and historical Thingvellir National Park. Often called the ‘Golden Circle’, these attractions offer fabulous opportunities for the budding photographer.
NEW ZEALAND: for outdoor lovers
Much of New Zealand is pristine and untouched. A car will enable you to visit those harder to reach places, and then there are some spectacular walks and bike rides which will take you even further off the beaten track to reveal the natural beauty of the landscape and pure quality of the air. You can also learn about and meet the indigenous Maori people who have a strong influence on New Zealand culture. Wildlife is abundant here and nature lovers can watch whales, dolphins, kiwis and the protected colonies of royal albatross and penguins. Places worth a visit include:
- Auckland. The largest and most multicultural of New Zealand’s cities is a blend of islands, harbor and Polynesian culture and stretches from one side of the country to the other. Known as the ‘city of sails’, you’re never far from the wild surf and beautiful beaches.
- Bay of Islands. The first European settlers arrived in the Bay of Islands and forged relationships with the Maoris. There are 144 islands, each with its own unique culture. You can enjoy a sub-tropical climate while exploring one of the many nature walks here.
- Coromandel Peninsula. This is an ideal place to unwind with hundreds of natural hideaways waiting to be explored. The sparkling blue waters, white sandy beaches and rainforests make it a hard place to leave.
- Kaikoura. For an unforgettable experience, head to Kaikoura to catch a glimpse of the huge sperm whales, dolphins and orcas which are often seen in the water off the peninsula. Nestled on the rugged East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Kaikoura offers stunning coastal alpine scenery.
Wherever you go, make sure you research the country’s driving rules and regulations. Here are some of the most important things to read up on before you drive overseas www.purpleparking.com/travel-advice/driving-abroad.