Death Road, Bolivia – Cycling the most dangerous road in the world

Death Road Bolivia

The first time I heard of Death Road was on Top Gear, seeing them drive down this crazy narrow road with sheer drops at one side, it looked terrifying.  For those of you that haven’t seen the Top Gear episode or heard of Death Road, well it’s famous for being the most dangerous road in the world.  It is a gravel road that is 69 kilmotres long and in some places only one bus width wide.  It used to be the only road from La Paz to Coroico but a new road was finally built in 2006 and so now the only traffic you see on the road are the tourists, either cycling down or in vans, or the local farmers who live at the bottom of the valley.

It used to claim the lives of 200-300 people a year as the road is very narrow and there were also frequent landslides, this makes it very difficult to pass in places.  There are vertical drops of up to 1,000 metres and buses would go up and down and have to try and pass in narrow spots.  There was an average of 26 vehicles that went over the edge every year.

In 1983 a bus went over the edge killing 100 people on board, but despite the new road being built there is still the danger for the cyclists that go down this road, over 20 have died since 1998.  These include people who have either been in accidents with trucks or have gone too fast and served over the edge to avoid a truck or just gone too close to the edge.  The road has a lot of crosses at the side that you see when you cycle down marking the spots.

During my trip to Peru, I knew that I would be going through La Paz and so I decided I had to do Death Road, I had met a lot of people doing the route I was doing but the opposite way and it seemed that there were 3 companies with a good reputation for having good bikes with working breaks and safety conscious.

I decided to go with Vertigo Biking who at the time were the 2nd best.  We got to our starting point, a pass on the top of the new death road and got out of the van, got our safety gear on, onto our bikes and had a safety briefing.  We were told we were unable to have our cameras out while cycling and that the 2 guides would take all the pictures and we would get a cd at the end of the day with all pictures and that they would be posted to facebook.  This is a great idea, accidents have happened because people have been concentrating more on the picture than on the road, so it’s great that companies are forcing us to be more safety conscious.

Death Road Bolivia

The starting point is 4,700 metres at La Cumbre, but despite being sunny it’s not very warm at that altitude.  The views were amazing as we cycled 63km down the new death to road getting used to our bikes.

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We then stopped at Unduavi for a break and lunch before getting back in the van so we didn’t have to cycle the 8km up hill to the original death road.  Here the road is gravel and just going down slowly in the van was scary.  I was glad when we stopped and got out our bikes.  I got back on my bike and headed off following the others.  On the first corner I managed to skid and lose control of the bike, but thankfully that corner was huge and so it wasn’t an issue but it did shake my confidence of cycling down the road, just one touch of the brake when you are in the gravel and you could lose control of the bike.  After this I then took my time and for me it meant I got my own personal photographer and for the group a little extra break time at each photograph stop while they waited for me to catch up!!  The views from this road are amazing but looking down at the drops it’s so scary, bad enough cycling down, don’t think I could do it in a car never mind a bus!!

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As you are cycling along you can see the markers for places where people have died, it’s sad to see so many of them.  You also have to watch out for trucks coming up and down the road and we were given strict instructions to always go to the mountainside and never near the edge when you hear a vehicle coming.

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We carried on cycling down the valley until we got to a point where the temperature had increased considerably and it was off with some of the clothes to cool down.  We encountered quite a few streams running across the road at points and it wasn’t even the wet season when I was doing it.  I can’t imagine how horrible this road must have been to drive up and down with barely any visibility and the rain pouring down.

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We finally made it to the town of Yolosa located at 1,200 metres above sea level.  We had descended a total of 3,500 metres that day and you could easily tell, it was a lot warmer and a lot easier to breathe.

Death Road Bolivia

After this we got in the van and went for dinner before the drive up the new death road in the mist and fog (that was terrifying enough) and back to La Paz.  It was a great day and I really enjoyed it, the experience was amazing.  If you are ever in La Paz then it is a must do.

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Death Road Bolivia - Cycling the most dangerous road in the world

Find out about Why I started travelling here, Miami Beach here, Key West here, Everglades here, Bolton Abbey here, Naples here, Koh Tao here, Yangon – Myanmar here, Ischica – Italy here, Koyasan – Japan here, Machu Picchu – Peru here, Memphis here, Faro – The Algarve here, Fiji – South Sea Island here, Egypt – My trip in a hot air balloon here & Doutbful Sound – NZ here 

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53 thoughts on “Death Road, Bolivia – Cycling the most dangerous road in the world

  1. Omgosh!!! I was literally at the edge of my seat reading as you set the scene for Death Road. You go girl! I couldn’t have done it ( probably not as skilled as you though)

  2. You are so brave! This sounds like an incredible experience, but I don’t think I could work up the courage to do it – I’m so bad when it comes to steep things! I also love that you took your time when you knew you needed to and didn’t feel pressured to keep up with the group. And now you have amazing pictures to prove your adventure@

    • It wasn’t too steep, only the drops over the edge!! Was a great experience and if you book with a good company there is no pressure to get it done fast, they want you to enjoy it and get to the bottom safely and if that means going slow it’s not a problem 🙂

  3. I have heard about deadly roads in Latin America so much that now I just have to go to experience them! The Himalayan roads in India are similar to this at many places! Try it out sometimes in future!

    • I would love to go to India, it’s on my bucket list. Some of the roads in Latin America are scary, I think that’s why a lot of the buses are at night so the passengers can’t see the sheer drops at the side on the road!!

  4. What an amazing adventure. Funny you mention Top Gear. This is also how I found out about the Death Road for the first time! (Side bar: great show!). I wish I could undertake this adventure but I just don’t have the coordination/skill or the guts. I live vicariously via others like yourself who have done it though.

    • I wonder how many people have done trips after watching Top Gear!! Honestly if you were going the speed I was, it isn’t dangerous in the slightest 🙂

  5. That sounds like an incredible adventure! I would maybe try this, but I would feel bad holding everyone up. I am not in the best shape and hate being the last/slowest in the group. Do you really think people wouldn’t be upset if I was slow?

    • Sometimes the group had to wait 5 minutes for me to catch them up for the photos, but they just got to sit there and enjoy the amazing views. I don’t think that anyone would mind, no one in my group did, all everyone wants is for everyone to get to the bottom safely! It’s nearly all downhill so don’t worry about having to be fit. You should never stop yourself doing something because you are worried that other people will be bothered you are last/slowest as it might stop you having one of the best experiences of your life, go out there live life to the full and see and do everything you want to do 🙂

  6. Oh god you’re so brave! I could never do this, I have a fear of falling haha. It’s good ot know that there’s tours though, for those who dare! This was a really interesting read though, I had no idea this was even an option for people to do. xD not that I will be doing it, eep!

    • Sometimes we just have to get out of our comfort zone, I have been surprised by all the things I said I would never do and have now experienced while travelling!!

  7. Your photos are absolutely amazing! I’m not sure if I’ve got the guts to do this, but it is reassuring to hear that the tour companies have certain rules in place to keep people safe. I’ll let you know if I ever muster up the courage to do this…

  8. Dang that’s intense!!! And now I want to do it! Growing up I would tell my mom that I “laugh in the face of danger.” Unfortunately that’s still true

  9. You had me saying “nope” at ‘Death’… even the photos are scary. You’re super brave to do this (and jump!). Sounds like an intense adventure. Good on you, I’ll just stick to reading about it. 🙂

  10. What an amazing experience! Peru is at the top of our list, and This would be such a rush! That said, I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do it….so maybe I’ll just way h the episode of top gear 😉

  11. Oh my word! You’re such a brave girl. I don’t think I will ever do that. Not that I can’t ride a bike. LOL! But hey, I’m jealous. The exhilaration you get from this kind of activities can’t be found anywhere else.

  12. I found out about this road a few months ago and it has interested me ever since, we would love to feel the thrill of riding down the most dangerous road in the world! Looks like you had an amazing time!

  13. You were lucky with the weather. When I started it was so cold and raining so hard that we could barely see anything! Can you imagine riding the first leg without seeing anything? lol

    • The weather was terrible when we were coming back up the new death road, the van was steamed up and the driver could not see anything, I was so scared!! Imagine if that had been on the old death road!! It was freezing when we started the cycling, but thankfully not raining, it’s a pity as the views are amazing 🙂

  14. Your adventure through the Death Road reminded us of our biking trip through Ladakh in India. We believe the risk of riding these dangerous roads are rewarding with memorable and scenic experiences. Isn’t it?

  15. Oh my Clare!!!! You are way braver than I am. There is no way in a million years that I would be able to the death road. I actually remember that episode of Top Gear (The Hubs is a fan!). I can only barely just ride a push bike as I never learned as a kid (I know! How?) so I am nervous riding on perfectly good roads! So glad you made it safe and sound!

    • Thankfully we went up the new road, which due to the mist and the windscreen freezing over constantly made visibility zero!! Not sure we would of survived death road if we had driven up it in those conditions!!

  16. I don’t bike at the best of times and scenes like this put my teeth on edge…lol…I can barely stand on a chair due to a height fear, but this was absolutely amazing and I stand in awe of you managing to do this experience – what a trip indeed.

  17. I love how casually you describe the imminent threat of tumbling off the edge.

    You say you “put your safety gear on” at the top… I can’t see any safety gear protecting you (except maybe a parachute), but I suppose it gave peace of mind 🙂

    Brilliant description, and the photos are incredible too. I’m not sure how confident I’d feel jumping up for a photo that close to the edge.

  18. Oh my gosh, Just looking at the road and seeing bikes made my legs ache 🙂 Only because I have a bad knee and biking has always been a problem for me, But wow, what a great experience! I love the photo of your group by the edge of the mountain jumping up in the air! It sounds pretty scary, but somehow reminds me of a drive I took along highway 1 in California along the coast with drops along the road. These roads are a bit different in many ways but the one that sticks out to me is that they don’t appear to be paved making your venture even more challenging! Nice Work!

  19. I’ve heard about Death Road! It seems like such a cool experience, although I don’t know if I would have the guts to do it! And yeah braking on gravel is terrifying- especially going downhill. Definitely have fallen into a tree a couple of times doing some trail biking growing up. It helps to put your inside foot down to steer into the skid a bit more.

  20. Now that’s what I’d call exhilarating!! A few people I know have been here already and they wouldn’t stop raving about it! I will probably do this someday once I’ve gathered enough guts! 😉

  21. I just got back from Bolivia and didn’t have the guts to go on the death road. The name is so scary … I will never be able to do something like this. Hats off to your daring spirit! Wish you many more safe adventures!

  22. I’ve heard of Death Road but I didn’t know Clarkson had been down it, I’ll check that episode out. I like the picture of everyone tucked into the mountain when the truck was coming, you all followed instructions. The statistics on the road are scary, they’re probably under estimated as well. Glad to see you survived to tell the tale.

  23. I remember people from my group doing this when I went to Bolivia. I decided to skip it as it was my first time travelling alone and I think my mum was pretty worried. I didn’t want to make her feel any worse!! But if I went back I’d definitely go for it! Looks awesome

  24. OMG I was getting nervous just reading this! I’ve been teetering on the verge of putting cycling down Death Road on my bucket list, and I think I’m finally going to do it! I like that the company you went with took pictures for you so people didn’t have to worry about getting that “perfect” shot, you know?

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