that time: a death-defying ride

Many of those who visit the country do so to try their hand at one or more of the myriad of outdoor adventure travel pursuits possible. From hiking one of the many trails in the impressive Andes Mountain range to white water rafting down rapid jungle rivers, Bolivia is a daredevil’s playground. Of the many thrills available for visitors to enjoy, the most popular and one of the most dangerous is arguably a bike ride down the notorious World’s Most Dangerous Road.

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64km of unpaved road carved into the side of a jungle mountain = an adventure you won’t soon forget.

I do not know how to cycle on anything that is not firmly attached to the ground (cue SoulCycle) and the World’s Most Dangerous Road was not the place for me to try and learn. Connecting La Paz with the jungle cities of Coroico and the Yungas, the thoroughfare dubbed Death Road, is no easy féte.

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Tight corners with lots of bikers.

The 64 kilometer mountain bike plunge starts at the summit of La Cumbre, a pass at a height of 4,725 meters and and altitude is not the only challenge. The actual trail is a ferociously windy one, carved dangerously close to the side of a steep mountain cliff. Just over 3.2 meters wide, those who try their luck at the 3600 meter vertical decent are forced to cling close to the jagged edge. Adding to the thrill, the road is largely unpaved, leaving little reprieve from the constricted and bumpy ride.

Though I wasn’t going to be biking my way down Death Road that didn’t mean I didn’t want to experience the the wild ride for myself. A few years back, a paved fast road connecting La Paz and the Yungas was built, leaving Death Road to be a (mostly) rider’s only domain. However, the road is still open to vehicles who dare to drive it and I was able to hire a ride down. Even from my passenger side perch the drive did not disappoint in regards to beauty or adrenaline rush. The path consists of sweeping views of the wild mountain terrain, changing in vegetation along with the descent in elevation. The narrow road on the other hand is just as terrifying in a clumsy van as I imagine it would be on a bike.

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They don’t call it the World’s Most Dangerous Road for nothing. On the day we were there our group witnessed a girl go over the edge…

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… Luckily she survived and was able to be roped out to safety.

With 600 meter drops around incredibly tight turns and few safety guards in place, the ride down Death Road is not for those who are scared of heights or faint of heart. Along the way simple roadside crosses act as some of the only apparent warning signs, marking the solemn spots where riders and drivers over the years have met a tragic fate.

Sadly, not everyone is as lucky.

Sadly, not everyone is as lucky.

Because of the inherent danger in making ones way down Death Road whether by vehicle or bicycle, it is important to chose a cycling agency carefully. As with the rest of Bolivia, some operators chose profit over security and pay little attention to safety standards and operating practices. Luckily for those who want to ride, the practice of hiring expert guides and providing up-to-date cycling equipment is becoming more commonplace. Whichever agency you go with, be sure to get a bilingual guide as well as a bike with hydraulic disc brakes and a support vehicle that will be with you throughout the day.

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Though it didn’t rain when we were there, waterfalls and washed out sections of trail are not uncommon. Neither are sudden downpours. (photo courtesy of Sy Design Inc.)

There may seem to be many reasons not to try your luck on Death Road, but the thrill and breathtaking scenery alone are reasons enough to do so. With the focus being solely on the downhill road, cyclists are able to step away from it all and lose themselves in the journey where there’s only the rider and the ground beneath the wheel.

As long as you chose a quality operator and know the limits of your abilities the Death Road moniker is more an illusion than the reality.

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If you are planning a trip down Death Road, I suggest contacting Grupo Rosario. The trustworthy team there uses only the best adventure outfitters and will help you plan your adventure every step of the way. 

 

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