Cycling the Death Road in Bolivia; The World’s Most Dangerous Road
When you travel to South America, there are a few things people will scream that “YOU HAVE TO DO!”. One of them is undoubtedly to cycle the death road in Bolivia. It’s famous, for all the wrong reasons. But don’t worry, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds, not anymore.
So what’s this all about? Well, in a nutshell, “the world’s most dangerous road” is accessible as a day-trip from La Paz, Bolivia. It used to be used by lorries and buses, until they kept falling off the sheer drop. So rather than close it, it has become a bit of a tourist attraction for dare-devils and backpackers. But they don’t take the bus, they cycle the death road in Bolivia. From the top to the bottom.
So when I was in Bolivia, this is exactly what I did to! Let me help you guys with some info on the infamous ‘death road in Bolivia” and you can weigh up if it’s the kind of thing for you. AND, if it is, I hope this should help with some tips to prepare you. Let’s have a look:
Table of contents
The History Behind Bolivia’s Death Road
For a start, you won’t be surprised to hear that ‘the Death Road’ isn’t the actual name of the road. That is the Yungas Road. It’s now 40 mile/60km downhill cycle track.
The North Yungas road was originally built int he 1930s, by Paraguayan Prisoners of War. People using the road were dying at a rate of ONE PERSON PER DAY. It was dubbed then the ‘World’s most dangerous road’, and media interested picked up. Hence the tourist attraction that it has begun, and mercifully, a new road being built for non-tourist stuff.
Where is the Death Road in Bolivia
The ‘North Yungas Road’, aka the Death Road, isn’t far from La Paz. It’s about 80km, and a 2 hour drive, from Bolivia’s capital.
Most people visiting Yungas Road, do so as a day trip from La Paz.
The Death Road in Bolivia DEATH TOLL:
The death toll on the death road is 18 tourists since 1998. That’s just cyclists.
However, the reason that the North Yungas Road became infamous was because so many people were dying on it long before it became a cycle track. 100s of unfortunate locals, bus drives and truckers perished throughout the 20th century.
Thankfully, very limited traffic uses the Death Road now as there has been a safer road constructed. However, some Bolivian towns still use the death road, so occasionally on your cycle, you may meet traffic.
Death Road Cycle Tour Cost
Cycling the Death Road is one of the most popular activities in ALL of South America. So my advice is to 100% BOOK IN ADVANCE, so you’re not disappointed and it’s sold out.
Tours vary in price from $50 to $150. but health and safety in Bolivia is a little hit-and-miss, so don’t scrimp here. You want a bike with breaks that definitely work, right!?
TOP-TIP: Use my guys, HERE. Not the cheapest at $125, but highly qualified, safe and 100% safety record!
Cycling the death road in Bolivia. WITH MY GIRLFRIEND!
Cycling the death road had been on my travel bucket list for years. Finally, I was in Bolivia, so it was now or never. I had flown my girlfriend out to visit me, I hadn’t seen her in 4 months and I would be in the Americas for another 6 months as I tried to finish my journey to every country in the world. So it looks like we’d be doing this thing together. A scary prospect as Jaa had NEVER ridden a bike with gears before.
To make matters a little scarier, we choose a day where it was snowing at the top. Neither Jaa nor I had appropriate clothing for the weather but off we went anyway.
Choosing our tour company
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 straight 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.
Starting the day
The day itself is a long one. The group takes a 2-hour 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 detail. 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 not 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.
How scary was it really?
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 severely 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 too. 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 your 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. You’ll be in just shorts and tshirts by 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.
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