The Death Road
Looking for a bit of adventure on your trip to Bolivia? Bolivia’s North Yungas Road aptly named The Death Road is a 64km road leading from Bolivia’s capital, La Paz to Coroico (Amazon region) and ranks number 1 in the Top 10 Worlds Most Dangerous Roads. While the death rate is not exactly accurate, it is estimated that between 200 – 300 travellers (including locals) are killed annually along the road.
For the locals, travel by bus is the norm. To travel over the Death Road is a means to an end and a risk that comes with living in Bolivia. However for the likes of you and I, ironically, the danger of the road has made it a popular tourist activity. At first it got on the radar of the extreme thrill seekers but later downhill mountain biking enthusiasts realised there was a 64km stretch of continuous downhill riding, on gravel and with the tag of “Death Road”. Shortly after, a number of tourism companies specialising in Downhill Mountain biking started up to cater for the increasing tourist demand.
So, the question is do we go down in a bus or on a bike? Well, as luck would have it I’ve done and survived both. As part of my Bolivian adventure a bus ride to Bolivia’s north required me to sit myself down in a rickety bumpy bus and chance my luck over the Death Road. Part of that bus journey also required me to listen to the worst windpipe music but aside from that the Death Road didn’t disappoint; there are sheer cliff faces, a beautiful clear day, spectacular scenery and the main attraction, a very narrow gravel road for a bus. Nervous fidgeting and clinging to seats set in when there was confusion at two buses going in opposite directions. Without a doubt there just isn’t enough room for two at certain sections of the road. What good is a bus ride without a bit of nervous fear and energy?! However, a genuine highlight was driving through serene idyllic waterfalls which fell onto the road before cascading down the cliff and galleys. Not surprising the road is eroding! I survived, it was beautiful and dangerous – don’t we just love the bad things!
Two weeks after my bus ride down the Death Road, I had my 2nd date with my now husband. He arrived in Bolivia to a lovely surprise organised by me – a mountain bike down the most dangerous road in the world. Well, he didn’t run away from me so that’s reassuring! In fact, he was so thrilled he ditched me once we started in pursuit of our guide (who just so happened to be the current Bolivian Downhill mountain bike champion). I on the other hand took it a bit more leisurely (and that’s ok you can do that!). Highly recommend stopping when you can to take photos. We started at 4,800m – note it’s freezing and wear every layer of clothing you have and peel it off as you go. Unlike the clear sunny bus ride, it rained for 75% of the ride down but even that wasn’t enough to ruin the experience. Due to the rain and fog the views weren’t as spectacular as I’d seen previously but the experience of the ride was just sensational! Have you ever mountain biked through a waterfall! As you cycle along, you can see crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles (including buses) have fallen. We got down well within the 5hours allocated for the adventure. I survived; it was bumpy, adventurous and sensational!
My verdict, the bus is definitely scarier and riskier – the road just feels smaller in a bus. A mountain bike fits on the Death Road with room to spare and you can control how fast or slow you do down. However, don’t forget it is called the Death Road for a reason. While there have been numerous fatalities involving vehicles, there have also been mountain biking accidents. We highly recommend booking with an operator with known safety check procedures (including during the ride) and regular maintenance of their bikes. If you are interested in this adventure please send us a message.
For a bit of live action on the road, check out the BBC show Top Gear: Bolivia Special (Episode 6 of Top Gear series 14) where the hosts drive down the Death Road. The danger of the road is readily apparent when the road begins to crumble under the wheels of Jeremy Clarkson’s Range Rover as he was forced to the edge while passing another vehicle!