Failing to die on the Death Road

There are certain things one does when traveling that it’s probably best my mum doesn’t know I’m doing them til afterwards. Cycling down the World’s Most Dangerous Road (© the Inter-American Development Bank), aka the Death Road, is one of them.

The road gets its reputation from the days when it used to be the main road from La Paz, up in the Andes, to Coroico, the gateway to the Bolivian Amazon. It’s so dangerous because it’s an unpaved, gravelly, single track road, that basically hugs the edge of a cliff as it drops over 2000m from the La Cumbre pass (4,700m) over 64km. For much of the way, the road is sandwiched between vertical rock walls on one side, and a sheer cliff on the other. Now imagine that as a busy main road with buses, cars and trucks trying to travel in both directions, with the usual insane Latin American drivers roaring round blind bends without a thought of what might be coming in the opposite direction. Conditions of course are even worse in the rainy season, and the road became the scene of many tragic accidents.

These days, things have changed a little – a new paved road bypasses the death road, meaning that the only traffic is the very occasional car heading to one of the villages along the way. Meaning the road is mostly clear for the dozens of backpackers making the descent. And I for one was very glad indeed I didn’t have local traffic to contend with on the way down.

Despite the dangers, it’s totally worth doing – the road is absolutely spectacular, and the views it offers across the mountains are stunning. The ride is great fun, especially the opening section down a paved road from the mountain pass (before the new road branches off) – this section has none of the steep drops, and is wide and safe, so you just jump on your bike and go as fast as you want, with no effort other than braking whatsoever.

The mid section is the most dangerous of all, but gives the best views of all, including the famous corner where everyone stops to take the ‘classic’ photo. After that, the road widens a bit, the drops get less dramatic, and you speed up again all the way to the bottom. Slightly scary in places, absolutely exhilarating, and worth every Boliviano.

I’m very glad I chose the company I did – Vertigo – as the bikes were excellent, the safety briefing and guide gave me total confidence, and we seemed to get much better safety gear than most of the other companies – full face helmets, protective outer gear, and elbow and knee pads. I’d recommend them to anyone thinking of doing the ride.

The road itself ends near the pretty little town of Coroico, and rather than rushing back to La Paz, we chose to stay the night, chilling out in a lovely little hotel perched on a hill overlooking the mountains. A perfect end to a brilliant day, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the pool, very relieved that we’d failed to die on the death road.

One response to “Failing to die on the Death Road

  1. I just read an article in one of the Chilean newspaper ‘lifestyle sections’ about this. I really fancy doing this when I go to Bolivia in December as I love cycling and showing off at dinner parties.

    On a rating scale of 1 to 10, how scary are the scary bits (bearing I mind I get vertigo)?

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