Death Road in Bolivia
The North Yungas Road in Bolivia, also known as Death Road, has been given the title the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”. It was built in the 30s, along the side of the Cordillera Oriental Mountain Chain by Paraguayan prisoners during the Chaco War. Today, it is known as Bolivia’s Death Road due to its high mortality rate. The road is surrounded by a mountainous area, extends over 69 kilometres from La Paz to Coroico and connects the Amazon rainforest with the capital.
It is at an altitude of 4,650 metre and leads from La Paz to La Cumbre. At Coroico it gradually descends to 1,200 metres. Due to the road’s gradient and altitude, travellers experience cold conditions in the Altiplano highlands, while it’s hot and humid in the rainforests below.
Death Road use to be the only road connecting La Paz with the Yungas region in Bolivia. Even at night, full busses and trucks overloaded with people, harvests, and wood would overtake each other on the only three-metre-wide winding roads. This usually led to accidents, with the trucks and busses and their passengers falling from the cliffs. Thanks to its reputation, this road attracts adrenaline junkies from all over the world who want to jump on their mountain bikes for an unforgettable experience.
Death Road Stats
Single-lane roads on 900-metre-high cliffs combined with rainy weather, no crash barriers, falling rocks, and the limited view were, and still are, the reasons why many drivers have died here. Reportedly, between 200 and 300 drivers died annually here in 1994, and cars fell from the cliffs into the abyss on a weekly basis. The most tragic accident in happened on July 24, 1983, when a crowded bus fell from the edge of the road into the canyon and more than 100 passengers died. During your travels along this road, you will see different crosses and altars which mark the many places where people have died.
Is Death Road still dangerous?
After 20 years of hard work the road was modernized and now has two lanes, drainage systems, asphalt paving, and crash barriers. The government also built an alternative road to divert the traffic away from the dangerous road. This means that people can now drive from La Paz to Coroico without having to fear for their lives. However, in spite of the improved conditions, Bolivia’s Death Road still takes some lives. Today, the death toll is mainly consists of local workers and visitors seeking an adrenaline rush. Reportedly, over 22 bikers have died on Death Road since 1988.
Death Road Tours
In spite of these statistics, the 64-kilometre-long downhill bike tour has been attracting adrenaline-seeking mountain bikers since the 90s. The tour on Death Road is not for the fainthearted and only recommended for experienced mountain bikers, as well as very confident and practiced beginners. Around La Paz you’ll have a great selection of travel agencies who offer Death Road tours at varying prices and qualities.
If you are looking for the most cost-efficient option, you should be prepared for an unreliable, risky, and unprofessional tour. Alternatively, you can do a tour for about $124 with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, Bolivia’s best-reviewed biking company. This travel group is also perfect for travellers on a tight schedule. Tours depart 363 days a year and are only closed on Christmas and New Year. You can also choose the cheaper option, Barracuda Biking, with tours beginning at $72. They use older models than Gravity, but still fulfill all the safety standards so that clients experience a safe but affordable tour of Bolivia’s Death Road. Death Road offers an exciting and thrilling tour through breathtaking landscapes, so make sure to check it out if you are looking for an extraordinary adventure.
A few pointers before driving on Death Road
Check your gear
No matter which company you choose, make sure your bike is in good condition before starting out on your trip. The most important parts of the bike are the front and back brakes. Also make sure to check the gears, the tire pressure, and the wheel alignment.
Be prepared for oncoming traffic
Although the Bolivian government built a new and safer road, many cars still use the Death Road. Keep that in mind when you are heading round a curve, so you don’t hit oncoming traffic. Also remember that the road might be wet during rainy seasons.
Everyone drives on the left side
This is unlike every other road in Bolivia, but on Death Road all vehicles drive on the left side for safer driving. However, if a tourist is driving downhill, this means they have to stay on the dangerous cliff side. Make sure you don’t lose control. A fall can be up to 600 metres high.
Keep your eyes on the road!
Make sure you don’t get distracted by the breathtaking view and drive off the cliff. There are big rocks at almost every turn that can do a lot of damage to the unsuspecting driver. Drive carefully so that you can react in time.
The climate on the road is different
The road runs from the snowy summits of the Andes to the tropical jungle; meaning the temperatures change from cold to hot, so pack according to the weather. Take a bag with, so you can carry your thicker clothes with you when it gets warm. Also keep in mind that the road can be slippery and muddy during the rainy season.
Reserve the entire day
For this tour, you will have to wake up at six in the morning and only get back late at night. You’ll spend hours driving along this difficult but exciting road under a humid tropical sun. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep, so you are in peak condition to drive.
Bolivia’s Death Road didn’t get its name by chance. It has become much safer thanks to modernization, but you should still be well-prepared and keep the above-mentioned tips in mind. This is an experience which should be on every backpacker’s bucket list.