DOOM! Death Road, Bolivia
13 June, 2016
It’s the ‘done thing’ in La Paz. Most travellers visit this South American city to pedal the 69 kilometre / 43 miles Death Road, Bolivia because it was, until very recently, named The Most Dangerous Road in The World. The name originated from the number of deaths the road caused during the construction of it and it was not Bolivians that built it. War prisoners from Paraguay were responsible for La Carretera de los Yungas to give it its real name.
Choosing a Company to Cycle Death Road
In the past, 200 – 300 people died every year on this road. Your guide will discuss historical accidents, some he has witnessed and you’ll see many shrines along the way. Choosing a company should not be done lightly. We did not actually book direct (a gift package from Tinggy, the experience gift website) but we were happy to hear that we were tackling the ride with Gravity (from word of mouth). Peru / Bolivia Hop recommend Altitude, their team also looked professional on the road but we naturally can’t comment on the overall experience with them.
You want a company that has decent equipment. Death Road is a gravel road (made me feel sick for the first part). The beginning offers a false sense of security as you pedal along a concrete road, still scary to share the road with the mental Bolivian truck drivers mind you!
Man… We are badass.
The quality of the bus and bus driver would also be high on my checklist. All we hear about in Bolivia is that the bus drivers are drunk! We saw a bus crash in Santa Cruz on the news while we were in Bolivia, so crashes are not a thing of the past.
Gravity Bikes – Death Road Bike Gear
We were each given a protective coat and trousers (made of thick material), gloves (it was still very cold with them on in the beginning), a helmet and a bike with great suspension and brakes (I don’t think I lifted my fingers from the back break once during the ride). A bottle of energy drink was also tucked into our coats.
Safety First on Yungas Road
Kieran, our guide, explained how to use the bike (but seriously, don’t do this if you can’t cycle). Kieran wasn’t alone. His Bolivian wingman, Cesar, was at the back if Kieran was at the front or at the front if Kieran was at the back. We were sandwiched by safety. Cesar is a jack-of-all-trades; he also takes photos, which the company then uploaded to Facebook and Dropbox for our laughing pleasure. The bus also follows on behind if you really feel that you can’t cope you can hop on, an environment that this is OK was created well by Kieran.
The team all regrouped at different stages to listen to a bit of history / stories of death, another mechanism to ensure meatheads can’t just cruise down the bends and cause trouble.
The La Carretera de los Yungas Route
The meeting point for the day was at Oliver’s Travels, one of our favourite eateries in La Paz (more tips here). Bikers have the option to eat breakfast (it opens at 6am) but must be ready to leave by 07:30 (try the porridge for 30 BS). If you have not signed a disclaimer yet you are asked to do it then. The team of 14 riders were then driven by mini bus for about an hour to La Cumbre at 4700 above sea level (asl) where we had the first ‘how to’ chat and were kitted out.
The first leg was a little daunting. I witnessed a truck overtake another with no regards for us on bikes; he just took up the whole of our lane. I stopped to let him do so. I also saw a car swerve over the two lanes after he passed us. The drivers are mental; you just have to remember that. The blessing was that the road was smooth! The views were lovely, watch when you turn your head as the bike moves too… This cycle took us about one hour ten minutes.
Kieran took us through a very bumpy gravel pathway (tunnel is out-of-bounds now after a gringo/truck crash). Say goodbye to smooth roads! After that the pathway the Death Road is gravel, rocks, bends and a downhill, oh and a 4,650 metre drop. Craig loved it! Before we fully committed to the downhill, we had to pay our 25 BS / £2.50 for the pleasure.
A majority group vote decided that we would not cycle uphill in altitude (a common result) so we jumped on the bus where Kieran fed us with sandwiches.
After lunch, we hit the real Death Road. Kieran hung back with me until I found a bit of confidence. I can’t say I ever fully found it but I did ease up towards the end, two fingers still on the brakes like! Craig flew down, hanging back to check up on me now and again. There were lots of regrouping and photo stops with instruction on how to tackle the next part. Death Road all in all took about three hours.
Whilst entering the town, Yolosa (1200 asl), you are asked to be respectful of the locals and slow down slightly and say ‘hola’. Recently there was a tour guide / local van crash and the local was arrested. The locals blocked the road until he was realised from prison so the tour companies and locals had a meeting and came to an agreement that they would not bolt through the town. This town is the end point. Collect your beer, you did it! You now decide whether to pay 200 BS for the zipline (do it!) or head to the animal sanctuary (which you are bussed to).
Zipline on Death Road
Craig and I opted for the zip slide. We were hooked up and bundled into an open back truck. It took a while to register that we were driving up Death Road! For the next half an hour we ‘super-manned’ down three different zip slides at speeds of up to 85 km/hr. Now this is my kind of fun!
We then joined the rest of the group for a pasta salad lunch at the animal reserve (which you can actually stay over night at). There are showers (soap and towel provided). Craig showered with a monkey staring at him which was a first!
So now we have the T-shirt to prove it, we did Death Road. Apologies to Gravity who will definitely have to replace the back brake pads of my bike and thanks to Tinggly for this unforgettable experience in exchange for review (nightmares for me, stuff of dreams for Craig!)
Death Road Prices
At time of writing, as described on each website – Gravity Bikes: $124 / 849 BS / £88 and the package with Tinggly Experiences: $119 / 819 BS / £84…
Consider Before Cycling Death Road, Bolivia
This is going to sound pretty straight forward but can you cycle? I mean off road cycle and not Holland style. The road is made of gravel, one wrong turn over a stone and it technically could be game over. I was totally fine on the paved road but did not react too well to the gravel, Craig, on the other hand, loved it!
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