Cycling down the world’s most dangerous roads may not sound like everyone’s best way to spend a thursday in Bolivia, but for crazy travelers it’s a South American rite of passage. I’ve been dreaming about taking this ridiculous day trip for years, and finally it was upon me.
For a bit of context, the trips are run as day trips from La Paz, Bolivia’s main city. The road itself has famously been named ‘the World’s Most Dangerous Road’ due to the sheer number of deaths each year, rumoured to be 200 to 300 annually. Ouch. Even since the backpacking boom hit here around ten years ago, almost 30 travelers have lost their lives on the trip – the most recent being an Asian girl taking selfies as she fell to her death – grim :S
So naturally I decide to take my girlfriend, who has NEVER ridden a bike with gears before, we choose a day where it’s snowing at the top, we have no appropriate clothing, and off we go. It took some serious convincing to sign her up though, part of the deal was we went with the most professional company, with the best equipment, step forward Barracuda Biking, we had heard awesome reviews of these guys from people on the road, so we went straigh to their offices and sorted out our trip for the next day.
There is a more famous company based in La Paz, but they offer exactly the same service at a higher price, skip those guys and go with Barracuda, believe me. Also, you get lunch and a well-need hot shower waiting for you at the end of the trip, perfecto. The price runs at 500 bolivianos or $75, so while it’s not cheap, you want to make sure you’re getting the best bikes etc so the price is well worth it. Not to mention that this is pure bucket list stuff.
The day itself is a long one. The group takes a ninety min drive from La Paz, climbing some serious hills in the minibus, the weather turns greyer, and colder, until the point you reach around almost 5, 000m altitude (15, 000ft), from there you get out of the bus and the plan is pretty simple. You spend the rest of the day trying not to die as you descend all the way to down, 75km, to an altitude of around 1, 200m. The guides debrief you in great details, you have a chance to have a spin on the bikes and just before you set off, you take a little taste of alcohol, one for you, one for your bike and one for the earth – something about appeasing the mountain Gods, anything to get me, and more importantly my gf, to the bottom in one piece.
And we’re off… The opening section is pretty easy, most of it is paved roads so it’s a great introduction to the Death Road. You get a chance to be comfortable on the bike, and although it’s freezing up there, you soon get the hang of it and your confidence grows.
As you descend, the weather gets progressively warmer. The landscape changes dramatically and the views alone are worth the money you’ve paid. You’re completely entitled to go at any speed you want – with lunatics gunning it at the front, to the more risk averse propping up the back. There really is no pressure to go fast, so no worries there.
The way it works is basically the entire journey is essentially broken down into around ten segments, and at each segment you stop and wait for the group to all catch up. It was an exhilarating experience, I was helping my girl now plummet to her death for large sections so to be honest it was much less scary than I had anticipated, although my girl would say quite the opposite. That being said, everyone was wearing huge smiles on their faces throughout the entire journey, it’s so much fun.
While the road does have ridiculous sheer drops for much of the trip, the width isn’t crazily narrow – for you to die, or crash, you have to be doing something severly wrong, or stupid or perhaps nursing a mammoth hangover, so stay off the booze the night before, keep your wits about you and there won’t be a problem in the world.
Most of the traffic on the road has now ceased with new roads welcoming the trucks and buses, so that’s one less thing to worry about to. Although an occasional vehicle does pass you, it’s quite rare so for the most part you have the freedom of the road.
Your ass, knuckles and arms take a pretty hardcore battering so be ready for it. Soon you’re in lower altitude and you shed a lot of layers you were wearing, shorts and tshirts are all good towards the bottom. Your confidence is sky high, the sheer drops have all but disappeared and the last hour or so is a beautiful cycle through the mountains. It’s really gorgeous, you know you haven’t died, and you’re free to enjoy the last segment.
Before long you get to the final point where you have a hot shower, hot food and cold beers waiting for you. A perfect day, a bucket list item checked and not a bruise to show for it. Good luck guys, make sure to choose Barracuda Biking and you’ll live to tell the tale. Happy travels.