I was recently at Retiro Terminal, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, filled with the resignation and dread that inflicts anyone buying a ticket for a 20-hour bus ride. Still, it could have been worse. The man behind me was heading to Lima, Peru; a 72-hour endurance test presumably aimed at people who have lost the will to live. And while we’re looking at lengthy bus rides, we might as well investigate some other transport superlatives.
Introduced in 2017, the Transoceânica route connects Rio de Janeiro and Lima, covering a grand total of 6,300km in 100 hours – if you’re lucky. There is infinite scope for mishaps and delays on the marathon slog through the Amazon rainforest, over the Andes and across the Peruvian desert. Job-hunting migrants and the most budget-minded of backpackers pay about US$270 for a one-way ticket, which is half the cost of a flight.
The same team of drivers stay with the bus from start to finish. Sure, they take it in turns to nap in vacant passenger seats but they are unlikely to be sufficiently rested to deal with narrow Andean roads after nightfall. Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” He probably never set foot on a South American bus.
Chinese freight trains and Belt and Road initiatives aside, the longest passenger rail service that doesn’t require a change is the twice-monthly, nine-night epic from Moscow to Pyongyang. The 10,267km “masochist’s special” runs along much of the Trans-Siberian route with one car continuing to the North Korean capital (as if passengers haven’t suffered enough after 211 hours).
There is some debate among trainspotters regarding whether it is actually a continuous service and it’s generally accepted that the 9,289km Moscow-to-Vladivostok sector is the longest regularly scheduled run, although it can feel more a punishment than an enjoyable way of spending six days. Siberian scenery can be monotonous (you’ll never want to see a birch tree again), so many passengers salvage their sanity by stopping in the intriguing cities of Yekaterinburg and Irkutsk, from where excursions to Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest in the world, can be arranged.
The pursuit of international bragging rights extends beyond claiming the planet’s tallest building or the most spectacular fireworks display. Last year, Qatar Airways route QR920, between Doha and Auckland, became the world’s longest continuous passenger flight, beating former record holder, Emirates (Dubai and Auckland), by little more than a boomerang throw.
The inaugural trip in February 2017 covered 14,535km in 16 hours and 23 minutes. Fifteen crew members served 1,036 meals and 2,000 cold drinks and an unknown number of passengers attempted to strangle the person sitting next to them after enduring endless hours of inane chatter. Given the superlative-chasing one-upmanship prevalent in the airline industry, the first commercial round-the-world flight can’t be far off. Don’t forget your DVT stockings.
To qualify as the world’s lengthiest ferry ride there should be regular departures, no intermediate stops and the vessel must carry passengers. The longest timetabled trip within Hong Kong waters is the 90-minute service from Ma Liu Shui to Ping Chau Island, which, although it departs only at weekends, still qualifies as a scheduled sailing. Stepping up in terms of distance, the service between Bellingham, Washington, and Skagway, Alaska, takes a minimum of two and a half days to cover 2,983km but it makes a number of port calls en route and is thus disqualified.
There are contenders such as the scenic voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes, through the Norwegian fjords, which takes 12 days but, despite being described as a “very comfortable ferry”, the vessel looks suspiciously like a cruise ship. That leaves the Marmara Lines service that sails the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Turkey, leaving Ancona on Saturdays at 10.30pm, arriving in Cesme at 6.30am on Tuesdays. That’s 56 hours, or the equivalent of shuttling from Ma Liu Shui to Ping Chau Island and back 33 times.
5 Cycle path
Described as the longest continuous off-pavement bike trail in the world, the Great Divide Mountain Route stretches 4,455km, from Alberta, Canada, to New Mexico, in the United States. As you might expect, endurance is the name of the game for cyclists who negotiate remote river valleys, high deserts and the Rocky Mountains, often on dirt and gravel roads that turn into porridge after rain. And then there are grizzly bears and mountain lions to keep an eye out for.
Despite being longer than its North American counterpart, a series of ferries break up the North Sea Cycle Route. Nevertheless, two-wheeled devotees are looking at a total distance of 6,000km and an estimated six weeks to complete the circuit. After starting in Britain, pedallers trace a coastal itinerary through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – countries whose citizens can ride a bicycle almost before they can walk. On reflection, allow eight weeks.
6 Tram network
We’re back to grey areas when it comes to the longest tram system. Should the criteria be based on distance, the number of routes, or stops? Pedants point out that Moscow’s giant 415km system is actually two sub-networks and thus is beaten by rival city St Petersburg, at least in terms of total distance (240km). Vienna, meanwhile, boasts an environmentally friendly 215km of track and 40 separate routes, the most of any system.
That brings us to the overall winner. Melbourne has more than 1,700 tram stops along 250km of double track; much of it on roads shared with other vehicles. A workforce of more than 2,000 employees ensures the fleet of 493 trams operates around the clock and by the end of this year, the entire network will be running on solar power.