RIDING THE DEATH ROAD IN BOLIVIA
Downhill biking on
THE MOST DANGEROUS ROAD IN THE WOLRD
Bolivia… the country of Lake Titicaca, Sucre and La Paz, the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, and THE MOST DANGEROUS ROAD IN THE WOLRD!
For sure everybody has heard about the DEATH ROAD already. On youtube interesting documentations as well as videos of serious and sad tragedies exist and the Yungas Road has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bolivia.
Funny golf ball BoB and we couldn’t resist our curiosity and wanted to see this very special road that was declared “the most dangerous road in the world” by the Inter-American Development Bank in 1995 due to its 200 to 300 deaths every year (before the opening of the bypass road in 2006).
Nowadays many agencies in La Paz offer day tours where you have the chance to ride down the 64 kilometers of the Yungas Road from the La Cumbe Pass to the Jungle of Las Yungas by bike. The biker awaits a descent of more than 3,600 meters and a change of nature starting with the highlands of the Cordillera Real and finishing in the Amazon rainforest in the village of Santa Barbara. It’s an incredible and unforgettable experience and definitely a once in a lifetime adventure!
Our tour with VERTIGO BIKING
From La Paz our minibus brought us to La Cumbre, the highest point between La Paz and Las Yungas at 4,700m, where our two guides Kenneth and Marcelo gave us safety instructions and our equipment: bikes, jackets and trousers, helmets, gloves and pads. The scenery of Bolivia’s highlands around us was beautiful and we could see the first crosses along the road that taught us the first respect for this tour. Everybody of our group was excited and couldn’t wait to get on the bikes. Also little BoB got his own cool helmet and was perfectly prepared for this adventurous ride.
Yeah! We are ready for the ride!
The first kilometers were on paved road to warm up. Here we had the chance to get to know our bikes and to get a feeling for the speed. Then we arrived at Unduavi where the Tourist Check point is located. After having a break with snacks and drinks and paying an entrance fee of 25 Bolivianos (about US$3.50) we jumped into the minibus and drove 8 kilometers up to Chuspipata. And here it was: the beginning of the world-famous DEATH ROAD.
The adrenaline in our bodies rose quickly when we caught a first glimpse of the winding road along the lush hillside. But not only the view of the road also the immense change of nature from bare highlands to fertile vegetation was impressive.
The winding DEATH ROAD with its up to 600 meters deep hillsides
Kenneth and Marcelo gave us the last safety instructions, we all took our bikes and the unique journey started…
What to say? It’s just awesome!!!
Kenneth gave us last safety instructions
The first part of the road is wider so that you can get used to the gravel road. Marcelo was always the first one and guided the group and Kenneth followed the last biker. Luckily it was a sunny day so that we had best views and could see the road, the curves and the edge. Like Kenneth told us that it’s usually rainy and the fog from the valley comes up which worsens the view dramatically. Furthermore there is construction work going on on the road at the moment (September 2014) so that no vehicles can use the Yungas Road.
In 2006 a new street was open that connects La Paz with Las Yungas which is used by heavy trucks and busses. But some vehicles still use the DEATH ROAD as it is shorter. In the first moment we thought it’s a disadvantage that the road is closed for cars because our minibus wouldn’t be able to follow us during the ride what it normally does in case an accident happens. But later on we realized that it was an advantage as there was no traffic that wanted to overtake or pass us. A combination of strong rain, a wet road, dense fog and traffic must be sooo difficult and dangerous. Really, this journey is not a joke! It can become a very serious thing when you don’t respect the rules! At the latest when you see the many crosses and memorial plaques along the road you should think about your speed and the many people who had tragic accidents and who couldn’t return to their homes!
Biking through the San Pedro Waterfall
Every 20 minutes we made a short break on the road and waited until the group was complete. Marcelo told us about the sad accidents that happened on these places and on one spot we could still see a burned-out car lying in the depth of the valley. He also talked about the latest tragedies of tourists. We heard a number of 2 to 3 tourists who lose their lifes on this road every year. We really hope this number is an exaggeration. Most of the accidents happened while taking pictures and filming as people were unconcentrated. In combination with bad weather conditions bikers make fatal mistakes. After hearing all these stories little golf ball BoB became so afraid that Lars had to take off his helmet and put him into his jacket. There he felt much better 🙂 .
The most impressive but also the most dangerous parts are the San Pedro waterfall and the “balcony”. We hardly had any water coming down from the waterfall but like other videos on the internet show you get really wet on rainy days. The curve of the famous “balcony” is not equipped with beam barriers for great pictures at this drop-off. Other very dangerous parts are luckily protected by beam barriers but the absolute majority of the road is still unprotected. Never forget that there are cliffs of up to 600 meters!
After 64 kilometers of downhill riding we reached the end of the DEATH ROAD at Yolosa and our minibus already awaited us. The whole group was so happy that nothing serious happened and that we had the chance to ride this unique road on our planet.
Our next stop was a nice hotel in Santa Barbara where we got a delicious lunch and where we could swim in the pool or take a shower. Around 16:30 pm we started our trip back to La Paz. And on our way we couldn’t believe our eyes: it was snowing big snowflakes. The street was totally white and you could have built a snow man! Luckily our driver drove very carefully so that we felt safe all the time. Around 20pm we arrived in La Paz.
We made it! Exhausted but happy!
What a great and exciting day!
Our agency and prices
Usually we never go for the more expensive agencies and had good experiences so far. However, with this tour we wanted to be sure that we have good guides and safe equipment.
We can highly recommend the agency VERTIGO BIKING! Kenneth and Marcelo as well as our driver were very friendly, funny and we felt safe with them. Bith guides speak English and Spanish. The bikes were modern and in good condition and they checked our brakes during every short break. The food and drinks were delicious and sufficient. And the best: You get a free T-shirt and a CD with pictures and short videos of the experience.
direct booking in their agency in La Paz: around US$ 64 (450 Bolivianos) per person,
online booking on their website www.vertigobiking.com around US$68 (480 Bolivianos) per person
When you decide to go on a bike ride on the DEATH ROAD you should consider the following rules:
- Go in your own pace! Don’t care about other bikers who think they must rush down the road. YOU should enjoy your ride and have a good and safe feeling all the time!
- Don’t go for the cheapest tour operator! We saw other groups passing by and they had old bikes and the whole equipment didn’t look very safe. On this trip you want to be sure that that the brakes are working! 🙂 We recommend VERTIGO BIKING.
- Go during the dry season! The best time to go on a ride is the dry season from April to November. From December on it gets really wet in Bolivia and the DEATH ROAD is really muddy. It’s much colder and there is a lot more water coming from the waterfalls. You will definitely get wet! Also the risk of landslides is much higher. Of course the agencies still offer the ride but they recommend avoiding the rainy season!
- Get used to the altitude! Give your body some time to get used to the high altitude so that you are fit for the ride. When you arrive from sea level you should spent 3 days in La Paz or similar heights before going on the DEATH ROAD.
- Don’t drink alcohol and don’t take drugs the day before! If you do so, this would be absolutely stupid and very dangerous! When the tour operator has the feeling that you are not fit then they might make an alcohol test with you and they can cancel your trip. The price won’t be refunded.
- Don’t do a tour when you don’t feel safe on a bike! It is not a smooth paved road. The DEATH ROAD itself is a gravel road with some bigger rocks and ruts from the rain. As the bike is most stable when you have a certain speed, it won’t be much fun if you feel very insecure and are afraid. There are so many other great attractions Bolivia has to offer.
- Bring 25 Bolivianos for the entrance to the DEATH ROAD. Otherwise you won’t be able to enter the area.
- Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent! You know the sun is very strong in these altitudes so put on sunscreen even on cloudy days. When you arrive at the hotel for lunch you should put on strong mosquito repellent as you are in the rainforest where a lot of mosquitoes live!
Our great group on the DEATH ROAD
The DEATH ROAD got its name and reputation from a really bad past and for us it was a strange feeling when we heard about all the accidents like when 100 people died in a bus accident in 1983 or when an Israeli girl died in 2011 in the age of 23 or Theodore Dreyfus, an English traveler, who lost his life in 2009 in his early twenties. Luckily something good came out of his death and Theodore’s father collected donations and invested them into an emergency vehicle, rescue trainings and rescue equipment for tour guides and a medical center in Unduavi. What an outstanding commitment! See article below.
And these are just a few tragedies that occurred. But all these stories remind you of where you are and how quick a nice journey can change into a terrible experience. But we are also proud that we could visit this very unique road. As long as you have a lot of respect and do what your guides tell you, you can have an unforgettable experience.
In memory of the victims of the DEATH ROAD in Bolivia.
We wish you a fantastic time on your trip to the famous Yungas Road in Bolivia!
If you have any questions regarding the tour, just leave a message below.
Thanks for reading and safe travels!
BoB, Liane and Lars