Would you brave Bolivia’s Death Road, one of South America’s ultimate challenges? In a land of adventure and wilderness, going down this windy, unbarriered mountain road 56 km northeast of La Paz remains one of the continent’s biggest adrenaline experiences. While riding the 58 km down the Death Road may seem like a crazy endeavor, the activity is offered by well-established, licensed tour providers with many years of experience helping tourists tackle it.
The Death Road (or Ruta de la Muerte in the original), is the ominous nickname given to the north section of the old Yungas Road linking Coroicos and La Paz. It was voted the “world’s most dangerous road” by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995, and a 2006 estimate suggested that 200-300 travelers were killed along the road each year. Besides the facts that sections of it can get wet and visibility can be significantly impaired on foggy days, what makes the Road so dangerous is its very narrow size.
Despite this chilling reality, the Road has become a popular attraction on the South American travel trail. Today, the traffic and number of casualties have been culled by the construction of a safer alternative, and the old Yungas Road is the perfect terrain for thrill-seeking mountain bikers. While the Road is barely large enough to let one car through and needs to be navigated very carefully by motored vehicles, it is much more manageable on a smaller bike… and rewards you with epic vistas from its 4,650 m-high starting-point to the end!
Flickr photo via wanderlasss
Perhaps surprisingly, you don’t need to be an accomplished mountain biker or cyclist to enjoy those views: the descent of the Death Road is not particularly physical or technical, and is open to almost anyone who can pedal! Your experience will start with a 20 km ride down a more securitized road in order to familiarize yourself with your bike and to master the turning and braking techniques. Once you’re comfortable with your gear and have found your cruising pace, a short minivan drive will take you up to La Cumbre Pass, the start of the actual North Yungas Road. Then it’ll be time to whizz down the remaining 38 km – with many stops for photographs along the way!
You’ll have a chance to relax and calm your nerves after the effort with a drink in a mountainside bar and a late lunch at a wild animal shelter. There is also the opportunity to sign up for optional activities, including zip lining, swimming, and tours of the shelter’s monkey area. Finally, you will set off for perhaps the scariest part of all: your minivan drive up the Death Road and back to La Paz.
After reaching the capital city in one piece, you’ll have earned major boasting rights: After all, you’ll be an official survivor of the world’s most dangerous road!
* Tips for a successful (near-)Death Road experience: This is not an activity you want to skimp on! There are tens of providers offering Death Road tours from La Paz – make sure that you do your research and choose a reputable company providing modern bikes with good suspension and appropriate riding gear. Although the Death Road is mainly downhill, it contains small flat and uphill sections towards the end. You will need minimum levels of fitness and confidence on two wheels to enjoy the ride.