Less than a one hour drive from La Paz, Bolivia is Death Road (El Camino del Muerte) which is claimed to be the world’s most dangerous road. Estimates show there have been over three hundred deaths since the road has opened. Along the road there are several religious Christian crosses saying ‘In Memory Of’.
It starts at 4,700 meters high dropping to about 2,000 meters stretching about 70km in length with a 3300m descent in altitude. What exactly makes this road so dangerous though?
The real name of the road is The North Yungas Road and it extends from La Cumbra to Coroico. A straight vertical drop of over 3,500m on the side with roads as narrow as 3.2m wide then to add a slippery rocky road that especially when wet can drift you in any direction. Somehow cars pass through in both directions. Many vehicles fall into deep ditches or just completely over the edge. It doesn’t help that many of the drivers are reckless either.
Since the 1990s, the people of La Paz has taken advantage of the title ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Road’ and turned it into a backpackers must-see. Not only will you get the chance to see it but you’re given the opportunity to mountain bike the entire strip. Is it safe enough to actually do though? I had to find out.
There are many agencies’ offering this trip at La Paz. When it comes to safety, there are a few things you need to make sure they are fully equipped with before deciding to go with them.
- Dual Suspension Bikes: The ride gets bumpy
- Helmet, Knee Pads, Elbow Pads
- Food and Water
- Quality Mountain Bikes
- Rescue Equipment
- Make sure the guide can speak English as well if your Spanish isn’t perfected yet.
Here’s a list of agency’s we recommend:
- Radical Rides (I went with them and I highly recommend them)
- Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking
- Downhill Madness
The view from over 4,000meters high is breathtaking (literally as well). You’ll be in the clouds passing through beautifully covered green mountains surrounding you. Nothing but silence and noise of the jungle.
Several miniature waterfalls crashing down on the road you’re riding on which makes for a nice cool down while riding. The ride itself isn’t tiring since mostly downhill and toward the end has some straight roads that can be a little tiring. The road is bumpy due to all the rocks so hold on tight as it gets quite shaky.
- On Death Road, if there’s oncoming traffic – bikers are to move to the left toward the ledge. This is opposite of what you normally do on paved roads in Bolivia.
- When going downhill, use the back brake instead of the front. You won’t want to fall forward. Hit the front break just a little to avoid skidding when hitting the back break.
- Take your time going down. Don’t worry if the rest of the group is far ahead. You should have a guide behind you anyway in case anything happens. Just enjoy the view.
- Stay 10 to 20 meters away from other bikers. If they’re going to break, you need enough time to break as well.
- Cars are very reckless and tend to drive too fast on this road. Stay aware and always on the side. Do not pass another biker up on any corner turns where you can’t see what’s ahead.
- Don’t show off. It could cost you your life. Take it easy and enjoy the view.
- Most good agencies will take the pictures for you on their camera and give you all the pictures on a DVD at the end of the tour. Don’t worry about taking pictures. You won’t have time to anyway.
- If you’re on the road already and you’re getting too nervous or tired, don’t worry. There’s the agency’s van following you from behind and it’ll pick you up. Whenever you’re ready, you can jump back out.
Is it for you?
I never really felt very scared. I’d imagine if you’re scared of heights, this may not be for you. You should have basic to moderate biking skills. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll pick it up again if it’s been a while. It’s not hard as long as you follow the directions the guide gives you.
The first hour or so biking is all paved which leads to Death Road. If you have trouble, the guide should be able to assist you. After a while on the bike, you get used to handling it and it becomes a breeze to ride. Take your time and don’t rush.
At least with Radical Rides, the tour included a DVD with pictures of me on the road, full meals, a shirt, and at the end of the day a full buffet and pool. If you’re going with a big group, some agency’s may be able to bargain with you. The views are spectacular. Have fun and wear that “I Survived Death Road” t-shirt the next day with a smile.