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2020 Updated information about the world famous Death Road found in the mountains of Bolivia. Find out everything you need to know to survive this place!
I have arrived in Bolivia – it’s time to take on the most dangerous road in the world. This title goes to Yungas Road, aka Death Road. If you are daring enough, you can ride down this terrifying route on mountain bikes. To me, this is nothing but an invitation. It’s something unique that would be a once in a lifetime adventure.
The road is 40 miles (64 km) in length and was the first road that connected La Paz to the Bolivian Amazon. It was constructed in the 1930’s by the Paraguayan prisoners of the Chaco War. Cut into the Cordillera Oriental Mountain Chain, the road has vertical drops of more than 1,500 ft (457m) and no guard rails.
Death Road Bolivia used to account for 200-300 deaths each year, over forty years ago. Thankfully, its record has gotten a lot better with an average of five deaths per year since 1998. They also closed it in 2007 to bus/truck traffic, but still to this day the road gives no mercy to travellers.
As for finding a company to book with, I pre-booked my tour with Find Local Trips. I found this site really good as I was able to book, pay on the site, and didn’t pay an extortionate price for my tour – in fact, I spoke with other backpackers who booked locally and directly – and they paid the same price as I did!
I have learned when traveling through South America that you shouldn’t always go for the cheapest option. You need to get value for your money and should always look for the best product/service within your price range. It is good to talk with other tourists/locals because they can share their experience on what they think is the best option. Definitely make sure the tour company has good equipment/buses, guides are certified in first aid, and the company has a good safety record. I was certainly not going to go with the cheapest deal on offer for this adventure!!! I also bought insurance through my tour company since they require you to have insurance – just in case anything were to happen…
Bright and early, we were picked up by our Death Road operator at our hostel in La Paz. We rode by bus with the bikes on top to our starting point of La Cumber at 15,420 ft (4,700 m). We were high in altitude and it was cold. We took a moment to gear up and warm up our muscles. It was so foggy I could barely see the scenery around me.
To start our journey, we toasted to Pachamama (Mother Earth). The common practice is to pour alcohol on the ground, the bike, and then of course a little for yourself 🙂 We started off easy on a paved road for about 14 miles (22 km). This was a good way to get used to the bikes and get a taste for what was to come. It was the calm before the storm!!
From here we started down the real death road. No more pavement – it was all gravel. Changing from road biking to mountain biking, the stakes grew higher quickly.. Even more, the course got more challenging. The road was not an easy straight shot from point A to point B, no, it was a winding road with a lot of sharp twists and turns. There were moments where I couldn’t see what was coming around the corner. Plus, I think the most scary part was realizing that just one wrong decision or move could easily take you over the edge. A majority of the road is only 10 ft (3 m) wide so you really don’t have much space to work with! I’m not scared of heights but when I saw that there were no guard rails and no safety barriers, I was scared stiff!!
The bike ride was definitely a test for my arm strength. For the entire ride, my hands were holding onto the brakes. I had to concentrate on not dying, but what I really wanted to do was admire the scenery and stop to take photos every two seconds. The guides did let us stop throughout the route to take pictures which was nice. They broke up the ride very well with snack breaks, photo breaks, and bathroom breaks. Thank God they had functioning toilets we could use!
We rode through waterfalls and had incredible views of the snow-capped Huayna Potosí mountain, the greenery of the rainforests, local Bolivian villages, and llamas.
Fun Bolivia Fact: Yungas is one of the few places that the coca leaf can be grown legally. During the ride you can see fields of this crop. After it is harvested they then lay the leaves on the road to dry out. Once dried, they are packed up into huge bags and carried to the family salon. After that, they are driven to the local markets and beyond.
As I continued down Death Road Bolivia, I was getting used to the unforgivable terrain. Crosses along the road reminded me to not take any risks and to take it slow. Our guide told us that a lot of accidents occur at the end of the route. People get too cocky with their riding skills and lose their sense of caution. I don’t think I would ever be too sure about my cycling skills down that road. There were a lot of rocks in the way, and if you aren’t careful, you could be easily taken down by one. They had what were called “baby heads” scattered throughout the road. Not literal baby heads, but large unavoidable rocks. I almost lost it when I hit one of them and my bike freaked out and slid. It was actually fine and it was just a small scare, but still another stark reminder that this road was no joke.
Thankfully, other than some panicky moments I had throughout the route, nothing serious happened and our whole group arrived safely in Yolosa. The whole journey took about 5 hours more or less. We finished at La Senda Verde Animal Refuge for some good food, beautiful scenery, a dip in the pool and a nice hot shower. Trust me after accumulating all the dirt and grime from the road, the shower was glorious.
When it was time to head back, we were given two options. It was either to return the same way we came OR take the New Yungas Road (Direct regular road to La Paz). We decided to take the new road back. It was a unanimous vote, as it was pretty clear that we were all exhausted and didn’t want any more adventure on the way back!!
Keep it simple: proper clothing and shoes are a must. You will most likely get wet so bring a rain jacket. Don’t forget the essential sunscreen and bug spray. Sunglasses will help not only with the sun, but to also keep the dust and debris out of your eyes.
Layers: The journey starts in the cold Altiplano terrain. There, you will be happy you have to put on all of the biking gear. But as you continue down the route, you will experience the hot temperatures of the rainforest. By then you will not want to be stuck sweating in your cold-weather clothes, so to be able to put on/take off extra layers is ideal.
The best time to go is in the dry season. If you want to add in another element of danger, you can take the chance of going during the rainy season. Regardless of when, the tours go year-round so whenever it fits in your travel plans – go!
No, there is no need to train for this ride, anybody can do it…except for children under 13…sorry kids! Just give a little space between you and the other bikers. Use caution, be careful, and don’t forget to soak in the moment!
If you’re into adrenaline-rushing activities and want to experience something different when traveling in South America, I highly recommend biking down Death Road Bolivia. It is a once in a lifetime experience and definitely something you will never, ever forget.
Note: To actually be able to experience death road they charge bikers a fee. This fee is 25 Bs (about $4) it must be paid at two different points and this goes to the Municipality of Coroico to fund infrastructure projects. This is in addition to the price of your tour.