Cycling Death Road, Bolivia
The first time I heard of Death Road, Bolivia was when watching the Top Gear Death Road episode, 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 Bolivia Death Road Top Gear episode or heard of Death Road, well it’s famous for being one the most dangerous roads in the world, the highway of death Bolivia.
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, doing the death road cycle 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 cycle Death Road La Paz. Watching the Top Gear most dangerous road in the world episode had made me decide I had to go and see it and try the Death Road Bolivia cycling.
Adventure tourism is becoming very popular in the world as more and more people here about crazy things there are out there to do. 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 chose to go with Vertigo, who at the time were the 2nd best company to use.
Gravity were the best company to use when I was there.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
After this we got in the van and went for dinner before the drive up the new death road of Bolivia 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.
Where to stay in La Paz
There are many places to stay in La Paz Bolivia, from hostels with dorm beds to luxury hotels. For less than US $11 you can get a dorm bed in Wild Rover Hostel if you want to splash out a little then for less than US $50 you can get a double room including breakfast at the Qantu Hotel.
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