A highway flanked by green grass and trees

Photo © Michael Sommers.

Driving around Brazil’s highways and byways is not for the faint of heart. Although some estradas (Portuguese for roads) are top-of-the-line, others leave a lot to be desired. Torrential rains, scorching heat, floods and landslides, trucks and buses, all take their toll. Then there are the potholes (not to mention the craters), the absence of shoulders, the lack of clear signalization, not to mention Other Drivers; both the drunken and the daredevil variety are in high supply.

And yet, if you want to travel at your own rhythm throughout a specific state or region (renting a car is less advantageous in cities or for long transnational hauls), hitting tiny villages, secluded beaches, and natural attractions – some of which are poorly, or not at all, served by bus – a car is often the way to go provided you’re armed with a decent road map.

In Brazil, Quatro Rodas publishes scores of municipal, state, regional, and national maps (also available online) as well as the biblical Guia Rodoviário, a road atlas , updated yearly, that allows you to navigate over 450,000 kilometers worth of roads stretching from Rio Grande do Sul to Roraima.

As an accompaniment to the publication of the recently launched 2011/2012 edition (available at all bookstores and newspaper kiosks for R$25), the 16 reporters whose task it was to take to the asphalt and test drive their navigability, compiled a list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Highways in Brazil. Only major state and national paved roads – the largely unpaved Transamazônica highway didn’t make the cut, for example – were included in the ranking, which took into consideration criteria such as asphalt conditions, road signalization, shoulders, and service infrastructure.

Brazil’s 10 Best Highways

1. SP-348 – São Paulo to Cordeirópolis (São Paulo)
2. SP-070 – São Paulo to Taubaté (São Paulo)
3. SP-160 – São Paulo to São Vicente) (São Paulo)
4. SP-280 – São Paulo to Espírito Santo do Turvo (São Paulo)
5. SP-340 – Campinas to Mococa (São Paulo)
6. SP-330 – São Paulo to the São Paulo/Minas Gerais frontier (São Paulo)
7. SP-225 – Bauru to Itirapina (São Paulo)
8. SP-310 – Limeira to Mirassol (São Paulo)
9. BR-290 – Porto Alegre to Osório (Rio Grande do Sul)
10. BR-040 – Rio de Janeiro to Juiz de Fora (Rio de Janeiro/Minas Gerais)

Brazil’s 10 Worst Highways

1. BR-235 – Remanso to the Bahia/Piaui frontier (Bahia)
2. PA-150 – Eldorado dos Carajás to Rio Maria (Pará)
3. BR-116 – Iço to the Ceará/Pernambuco frontier (Ceará)
4. PI-140 – Itaueira to Dirceu Arcoverde (Piauí)
5. BR-497 – Campina Verde to Prata (Minas Gerais)
6. BA-160 – Bom Jesus da Lapa to Ibotirama (Bahia)
7. BR-364 – Cacoal to Ji-Paraná (Rondônia)
8. BR-222 – Santa Luzia a Bom Jesus das Selvas (Maranhão)
9. BA-093 – Simões Filho to Dias d’Ávila (Bahia)
10. MT-407 – Cuiabá’s inner ring road (Mato Grosso)

It’s easy to see that while wealthier, car-crazy São Paulo’s highways unsurprisingly came out on top, the roads of the Brazilian North and Northeast continue to rank as the country’s worst, a fact that underscores the diminishing, but still lingering traditional economic divide between Brazil’s North and South.

On a more promising note, the Quatro Rodas road warriors confessed to never having witnessed so many roads undergoing major renovations (i.e. more than just cosmetic repairs to the inevitable potholes). Such upgrades are a direct consequence of the unprecedented investment being made in the country’s highway network. If these new and improved routes are consistently maintained, road tripping in Brazil is destined to become an increasingly driver-friendly experience.