It’s known as the World’s Most Dangerous Road..
..due to the ridiculously large number of accidents (many resulting in deaths) that occur each year. Surprisingly then, it’s also one of the most popular adventure activities in Bolivia. We’d heard different traveller tales ranging from the scary to the downright insane. Stories of old broken bikes and inexperienced instructors made us choose our tour company carefully. This led us to Barracuda Biking. While not the top rated Death Road tour company in La Paz, they offered all the safety assurances needed at an affordable price to convince us they were our best option.
The drive from La Paz up to the Death Road takes about an hour. Our old friend Bill had just flown into town from Manchester for a two week whistle stop tour, so we were looking forward to showing him the best Bolivia had to offer. We met the other three riders and our two guides who briefed us on safety and what to expect during the day.
The guides Andres and Jair explained they’d be with us all the way down while our support van would follow behind in case of emergencies. It’s a total of 64 kms downhill across varying terrains and would be challenging. We were told cars and lorries might try and freak us out by honking horns or getting too close. There’s no bike culture in Bolivia to speak of and cyclists on the Death Road aren’t always welcome.
Our starting point was a cold foggy car park at the top of the mountain. Here our guides distributed the gear – helmets, jackets, trousers and gloves. All in fairly used but decent condition. Then we were given the bikes – full suspension Kona’s with locking disc brakes, all under a year old.
After a short safety chat we set off, following Andres who lead the eight strong pack for most of the day. We quickly picked up some serious pace and overtook several other groups. I haven’t ridden a mountain bike for years and was surprised at how smooth it was. Springy suspension glided us over rocks and bumps with ease almost lifting us up over the gravel. It made for an exhilarating ride as we catapulted ourselves down the road.
Thankfully we stopped relatively frequently during the day to give us a chance to catch our breath, regroup and take in the amazing scenery. Once we’d got through the damp morning fog the road began weaving through cloud forest and then into lush green jungle. From the road we could see miles ahead and the sheer drop to our left contained some of the most expansive mountain jungle we’ve encountered in South America.
Our guides explained we we were passing through several different micro-climates depending on our altitude. At one point the clouds closed in and we got soaked for a good 10 minutes of torrential downpour. Then they disappeared and bright sunshine dried us off just as quickly. A few minutes later we were soaked again by a gushing waterfall cascading over the middle of the road. There was no way around so we sped up as fast as we could getting another soaking as we passed right underneath.
The road soon turned from tarmac to full on stony gravel with treacherously wet rocks in part. Sliding through sections of mud became second nature as did the face full of muck every time we skidded around tight corners. Some of us seemed to get more caked in dirt than others and we soon had to take off the protective gear as it had become too heavy and humid. After a quick snack stop we paid 50blvs ($7USD) to get past a checkpoint made out of scaffolding and tyres.
The last 20kms flew past getting greener (and hotter) as we reached our final destination deep in the jungle. We got faster and increasingly confident on the bikes, gaining speed and attempting more daring manoeuvres. Almost everyone in the group had a near miss at some point and came close to coming off their bikes. Luckily no one did. Apparently the last death on the road was just three weeks previous. An Israeli guy had misjudged a corner and gone flying off the edge into the abyss below. Jair our guide told us that they had a bad accident once every few months or so and considering they did the ride five times a week, he said our odds of keeping safe were pretty decent. Hmm.
Despite the danger I felt there was just the right amount of fear and fun to keep us on our toes. There were definitely points where we felt scared but that only added to the experience. After 3hrs solid riding we all reached the end successfully and everyone high fived and hugged each other. We’d made it down the death road alive and unscathed. It had been awesome.
Afterwards we were driven to a property a few miles away where showers, swimming pool, food, music and beers were waiting. This was a welcome treat after the pummelling we’d taken all day on the bikes. We were the only ones there and enjoyed jumping into the pool and sipping cold beers with our feet dangling in the water. Food was served in a buffet style and we heaped our plates high to sate the hunger that’d built up over the day’s activity.
The guides had become our friends over the day and we couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of instructors. Professional and safety conscious without being overbearing, they took care of us every step of the way. In the afternoon we enjoyed a few beers together and made the most of the amazing jungle lodge hideaway. We all decided they really do have one of the best jobs in the world.
The rest of the gang were driving back to La Paz but we decided to stay in the small town at the end of the Death Road, Coroico. We said goodbye to Andres and Jair and they kindly negotiated a taxi to take us up to Hotel Esmeralda, high up in the jungle hills.
If you’re heading to Bolivia we can’t recommend the Death Road enough. Barracuda Biking were total pros who know their stuff and will make sure you have a good time. If you’re scared about doing it, which we were, don’t be – if you’re sensible and safe you’ll be fine. Their best advice? “Don’t show off in front of the girls”. That’s how 90% of accidents happen. Take it easy, enjoy the day and make sure you look out for each other on the way down.
We stayed in La Paz at Wild Rover Hostel. Six person Dorm – 60blvs per night.
Address: Calle Comercio 1476, Esquina Bueno, (frente al Hostal Republica), Comercio, La Paz, Bolivia
We booked with Barracuda Biking. Cost 600blvs for the full days activity.
Address: Linares, La Paz Zona 1, Bolivia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We stayed in Coroico at Esmeralda Hotel. Triple Room 140 per night per person.
Address: Coroico, Nor – Yungas, Coroico, Bolivia