Death Road, Bolivia

Death Road, Bolivia (5/4/2014)
Bolivia Death Road Camino a las Yungas
Bolivia's Death Road (Camino a las Yungas)
  The World's Most Dangerous Route Death Road Bolivia
The World's Most Dangerous Route!

Yes, with some encouragement from fellow travelers and my wife, Pat, I decided to put down my deposit and sign up to do Bolivia’s famous Death Road bike ride

After my adventure while doing research for this post, I learned the Death Road lives up to its name having claimed 200-300 lives every year until they closed it to bus and truck traffic in 2007 when the recent new road was completed. An average of 26 vehicles disappeared over the edge every year. With about 25,000 thrill seekers a year doing this bike ride, it still claims the lives of an average of 2 bike riders every year now. This is truly a death road.

Bolivia Death Road wayne dunlap bike Camino a las Yungas
Wayne on Bolivia's Death Road
After a couple of days to reflect with the adrenaline in my veins back to normal levels, I am better able share my feelings about this unique adventure. I LOVED IT! Somehow I did the Death Road bike ride staying up with our new Australian friends we are traveling with who were half my age. This surprised even me because I have not been on a bike for over 10 year and have little experience with mountain bike riding.

Crosses Remind You of the Danger Bolivia Death road Camino a las Yungas
Crosses Remind You of the Danger
The bike ride on the Camino a las Yungas road (better known as Bolivia’s Death Road) is a gorgeous, winding, 40-mile road leading from La Paz to Coroico. Because of its legendary extreme danger, in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the "world's most dangerous road". The road includes numerous cross markings on many of the spots where vehicles have fallen and people have died (see photo).

Camino a las Yungas bolivia death road
1,000 Foot Dropoffs
Like us, most people wisely choose to go with a professional tour company and there are many to choose from in La Paz. The good companies offer top quality mountain bikes with quality brakes and suspension. Because much the ride is on a gravel dirt road with 1000+ feet drop offs with no guardrails, this is very important and you should check out the quality of bikes offered very closely.

Safety, not price, should be your major concern when choosing a company to go with on the Death Road ride.


Riding with Our New Australian Friends bolivia Death road Camino a las Yungas
Riding with Our New Australian Friends
The trip starts early in the morning in La Paz where you take a 45-minute ride in a van to the summit at 15,260 feet. There you put on arm and leg guards, gloves, helmet, and jacket and pants they provide. Thoroughly checking your bike is a wise idea before taking off. 90% of the Death Road ride is downhill ending at an attitude of about 3,900 feet.

Gravel Road Death Road Bolivia
Gravel Road - Death Road, Bolivia
The first third is paved and riders literally fly down the ride achieving great speeds or braking to the speed they were confortable with. The rest of the Death Road ride was on the narrow gravel road offering many types of riding experiences. People in our group (50/50% men/women) came down at various speeds. 

Riding Through the Waterfall Death Road Bolivia
Riding Through the Waterfall - Death Road, Bolivia
The most daredevil among us followed the guide at high speed while others used the brakes more and came down at the speed they were comfortable with. With the frequent stops, the group met up giving the late arrivals sufficient time to rest before starting again. There is a small waterfall you ride under that provides a refreshing shower (see photo).

Our Crazy Group bolivia death road
Our Crazy Group
During my experience on Bolivia’s Death Road, I found myself getting increased confidence as I went along and started staying up with the fastest among our group. Then I would pass one of the many crosses put up indicating that someone died at this stop. It sobered me a bit to back down the speed and be more cautious – a very wise decision.

Would You Fool Around on the Death Road bolivia
Would You Fool Around on the Death Road?
At one time I let my confidence get ahead of me. We were going through an area where we were in some clouds and the drop off was hidden. I came down to a hairpin turn braking at the end. My back tire slid a little bit and when I looked back through a small break in the cloudy view, I saw that I had come a few feet from a shear drop off – probably further away but it did get my attention. I took a more cautious approach to my Death Road ride from then on.

Map of Bolivia Death Road
Map of Bolivia's Death Road
We ended our ride at a nice restaurant with a pool and buffet lunch. After a nice shower and swim, sharing a few beers with my fellow riders provided a wonderful ending to our bike ride down Bolivia’s Death Road. The 3-hour bus ride back on the new road to our hotel in La Paz arriving around 9pm was an anti-climatic but much safer way to end our adventure.

Beautiful Thrilling Bolivia Death Road
Beautiful & Thrilling - Bolivia's Death Road
The next morning when I awoke from a very good sleep, I told my wife that I wasn’t sure what hurt more - the effects of the ride or the aftermath of the many beers shared.

I would recommend the Death Road adventure to anyone who has 1) modest experience with riding bikes, 2) a fair amount of fitness, and 3) some go-for-it attitude.

My advice for everyone is to remember that riding Bolivia's Death Road is not a race. Go at the speed you are comfortable with and come home healthy. Go for it! 



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13 comments:

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  2. You had me (and I'm a height-phobic scaredy pants) until the fog anecdote. Sorry, but it's staying on the Nope List. :)

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  3. Wow. The scenery is beautiful but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to do this bike ride. I think you'd want to make sure bike brakes were in top shape.

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  4. My gosh, you are a daredevil! I'm not signing up. I don't even think I could have beared watching you! Glad you returned safe and sound:-)

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  5. I don't think my biking skills are quite up to snuff for this adventure. I sometimes have problems steering and staying on my bike on tight turns. I also had trouble with the altitude in Cuzco, Peru, 33 years ago, so I suspect I wouldn't fare too well at over 15,000 feet..However, I enjoyed your account of the adventure.

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  6. Eeeeekkkk! I did the mule ride on Molokai in Hawaii and that was plenty scary enough, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Travel-Articles/U_S_A_/Molokai-Mule-Ride/molokai-mule-ride.html

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  7. Wow, Wayne what an amazing adventure. I'm glad you emphasized safety too and that going with the cheapest company isn't necessarily a savings. What a sense of accomplishment!

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  8. When your wife urged you to ride a bike on "Death Road" I hope you checked to see if she'd also recently taken out an insurance policy on you! I used to do biking trips and certainly preferred downhill to uphill ,but this one doesn't call out to me. I'd be white knuckling on my brakes the whole time! Good for you for surviving!

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  9. Amazing to read about but you have a lot more courage than me.

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  10. This Death Road trip reminds me of the bus rides I took when I lived in Bogota, Colombia. OMG was I scared!

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  11. OMG! You are indeed a daredevil! Even the pictures frighten me!

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  12. I enjoyed riding Bolivia’s Death Road vicariously with you, but will not be signing up for the trip any time soon.

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  13. I'm with Carole, enjoyed the read, but will not be taking the ride. What an adventure, my heart would be pounding non stop the entire way. I can understand why arriving back at your hotel would be a bit of a let down!

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