These Unusual Border Crossings Are Worth the Wait

From mountains to cafes, the world is full of strange and beautiful ways to cross into other countries

Land Art Festival
Artist Jaroslaw Koziara grew different types of plants to create a fish "crop circle" between the Polish and Ukrainian border. Wojciech Pacewicz/epa/Corbis

Most border crossings fall into one of two categories: boring or even more boring. Add lines of people that seem to stretch on for miles and idling cars billowing out clouds of exhaust, and the inescapable task of crossing from point A to point B can become tedious indeed.

But not all border crossings are defined by drudgery. If anything, they can stand out as a travel highlight. From strange locations to spectacular views, here are five border crossings worth the trip.

Baarle-Nassau: The Netherlands/Belgium

Border Cafe
Baarle-Nassau is riddled with border crossings and shares a border with the Netherlands and Belgium. Jérôme, Wikimedia Commons

It’s highly unlikely that there’s a more elaborate border crossing than the one zigzagging through Baarle-Nassau, a Dutch town that shares the border between the Netherlands and Belgium with its sister city Baarle-Hertog on the Belgium side. All told, there are more than two dozen separate pieces of land belonging to Belgium embedded into the Netherlands like a patchwork quilt, the result of numerous medieval treaties and land swaps over the years.

To keep things orderly, the two countries agreed to define their border by installing white crosses into the pavement around town. These designators are so precise that they run through shops, storefronts, lawns—even a cafe. At one time Dutch law required restaurants to close early, but rather than kick out patrons, waiters would simply move guests to tables on the Belgium side of the cafe. Elections are a challenge in the towns, too. Houses are split by the border, too: The towns determine who lives in which country by the location of their front door.

Mount Everest: China/Nepal

Mount Everest
The highest border crossing in the world is at the top of Mount Everest, a crossing divided between China and Nepal. Grant Dixon/ Hedgehog House/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Other than the wind whipping past at breakneck speeds, it’s relatively low-key at the approximately 29,000-foot summit of Mount Everest. Very few people can attest that they’ve made the dangerous trek to the top of the Himalayas' highest point, which straddles China and Nepal and is the tallest mountain peak in the world (you can see annual counts of people who summited at The Himalayan Database).

2015 was eerily quiet at the border crossing: Zero climbers made it to the top due to uncooperative weather, which forecasters predict will become a common occurrence due to climate change.

Land Art Festival: Poland/Ukraine

Land Art Festival
Artist Jaroslaw Koziara grew different types of plants to create a fish "crop circle" between the Polish and Ukrainian border. Wojciech Pacewicz/epa/Corbis

Most international borders are defined by nothing more than a “Welcome to XYZ” sign and an unassuming customs office, but that’s not the case for this stretch of farmland shared by Horodyszcze, Poland and Warez, Ukraine. In 2011, the two countries tapped Polish-born artist Jaroslaw Koziara to create a piece of land art that encompassed acreage on both sides of the border for an annual Land Art Festival celebrating the intersection between art and nature.

The result is a massive “crop circle” fish that “symbolizes the unity between the two countries.” Koziara created the temporary masterpiece by planting various seeds into a fish-shaped pattern. Visit this year's Land Art festival June 30 through July 9.

Khunjerab Pass: Pakistan/China

Khunjerab Pass
Khunjerab Pass is a mountainous roadway between Pakistan and China. Amiruddin Mughal/epa/Corbis

At 15,397 feet in elevation, Khunjerab Pass, a mountainous highway that pierces through the Pakistani and Chinese border, is the highest paved international border crossing in the world and marks the highest point on the Karakoram Highway (KKH). But the true stars of the trip are the breathtaking, 360-degree vistas—they make the drive more than worth the extra gas.

In the distance are the Karakoram Mountains, a massive range that spans 311 miles and crosses through Pakistan, China and India. The Karakoram range contains the world's highest concentration of mountains over 26,000 feet in height (including K2, the world's second tallest peak). The pass is also home to several glaciers and traces a similar path to the Silk Road, an ancient series of routes that merchants used to trade silk and other goods, although some historians question its existence.

Northwest Angle: United States/Canada

Jim's Corner
To cross into the exclave of Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, from Canada, you most first make a video phone call at Jim's Corner and talk to a border agent. Flickr Jimmy Emerson, DVM - Flickr/Creative Commons

What looks like an unassuming convenience store called Jim's Corner in the Northwest Angle between Minnesota, and Manitoba, Canada is really a tiny border crossing building equipped with a video phone with two lines: one to a customs agent in Canada and one for the United States, depending on which direction you’re heading. That's not the crossing's only unusual feature. To get to the U.S. side of Jim's Corner, visitors have to drive through Canada.

The crossing is tucked in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, an exclave that is completely surrounded by Canada and is the northernmost contiguous portion of the United States. Long ago, mapmakers misjudged the location of the source of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca, leading to a border that requires travelers to go through the United States to get to Canada to get to the United States. Confused yet?

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.