how to Survive Mountain Biking Down Bolivia’s Death Road
Have you ever heard of “The Death Road”? Aka The most dangerous road in the world? aka North Yungas Road. The harrowing stretch of road in Bolivia has many names but is still undeniably dangerous. But people still find the courage and are determined to mountain bike down its winding dirt road. If you’re looking for the ultimate adventure in Bolivia—this is definitely up your alley!
When I was in Bolivia back in 2016, I made the trip for two specific adventures biking death road and seeing the salt flats in Uyuni. I had read about the experiences but still didn’t know what to expect or exactly HOW dangerous this road would actually be. Still, I knew it was an adventure I wanted to have.
Here’s what to expect before mountain biking the World’s Deadliest Road in Bolivia!
What Is the Death Road?
Not for the faint of heart, the 43-mile long STEEP (like REALLY steep) road through the Cordillera Oriental mountain chain connects Bolivia’s capital -La Paz with a lower altitude city – Coroico. The death road in Bolivia starts at a whopping 15,260 feet above sea level where it’s cold and windy, ending in the hot, humid Amazon rainforest.
For travelers visiting La Paz, Bolivia, and looking for a serious adventure- take a day trip to get your adrenaline pumping as you speed down death road.
The road twists and turns down towards the Amazon rainforest—and I don’t recommend looking off the side of the road…because it’s a 2,000-foot drop.
How Did It Get Its Name?
With a name like Death Road, I’m sure you can imagine how it got its name. Due to a lack of guard rails, limited visibility, and the intermittent waterfalls flushing away the dirt, the road has claimed a number of lives, including a few tourists.
There are reports that show upwards of 200-300 people lose their lives on the road every year (numbers are a total of both motorists and cyclists). Because of this, the Inter-American Development Bank named it the “World’s Most Dangerous Road.”
about death road
Most of the road is around 11 feet wide, unpaved, and without guardrails.So ALWAYS be mindful of this on your journey down.
The weather patterns bring warm and humid winds from the Amazon to the slopes of the Andes bringing heavy rain and fog—so at times visibility isn’t good. We were lucky to be riding on a nice day with great views of the mountains and the 90-degree cliffs we rode next to.
Mudslides and tumbling rocks are common and sometimes you’ll find waterfalls on the cliffsides as we did
What to Expect
Yungas road first climbs to 4,650 meters (15,256 feet) at La Cumbre Pass and then makes a steep descent to the town of Coroico, at an altitude of only 1,200 meters (3,937 feet).
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For the majority of the ride, I had butterflies in my stomach and thoughts of the numerous mountain bikers who had lost their lives on the road. Not to mention all the car accidents!
This drop of over 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) is one of the longest stretches of continuous downhill road in the world.
Preparing for the Ascent down death road
As I changed into the bike gear our tour provided (long pants, a coat, gloves, helmet, neck scarf) we received a quick rundown on the do’s and don’t’s of mountain biking down the Death Road. Then we boarded a bus that was going to take us to the starting point at La Cumbre, high up in the mountains.
I couldn’t help but be terrified the whole ride, we might not have been on death road but the newly paved road was also completely downhill. When we reached the starting point it was FREEZING as the wind whipped around us biting at any exposed skin. I sheepishly asked for the neck scarf I originally declined.
As we started our descent the road was paved and smooth riding for around 25 minutes. The views on the way down were simply stunning. Large towering mountains with sharp jagged edges jutted from the earth into a cotton candy blue sky surrounding a valley of luscious green jungle. That’s around the time I realized we had yet to reach the actual death road. (WHAT?!)
I looked down and saw the road stretching out for an eternity. This is when reality began to sink in! My arms were already feeling slightly fatigued and we weren’t even to the real starting point. This was going to be an interesting adventure.
REACHING DEATH ROAD
After biking for almost an hour we finally reached the beginning of the actual Death Road and I sadly waved goodbye to smooth paved roads and said hello to a harrowing dirt road of loose gravel and deadly drop-offs.
Death road is entirely downhill so you never really let off the brakes. It felt like you were going too fast but also felt like hitting the brakes too hard would send you flying forward head first – like Grace did.
It was about an hour into the ride down when she went over the handlebars. The bike flipped on top of her and she landed on the edge of the cliff just barely not falling over it.
Between the intermittent waterfall, the loose gravel, and the cliff edge to my left, the danger was now very real.
Riding down the death road in Bolivia had my adrenaline pumping the entire 5 hour’s ride down
At some points, the road was so narrow only one bike could cross at a time. It seemed crazy that a bus could ever consider driving the road.
All along the road, there were crosses in remembrance of the lives lost along the road. With the hazy mist surrounding the graves, it was unbelievably eerie.
After around 3 hours the temperature began to rise and all the gear was making me hot. A couple of hours later we arrived in the jungle town of Coroico. We were happily greeted by locals and handed a cold cerveza. We were offered a zip line ride down the mountain which we bravely accepted.
After the realization that we would be riding in the back of a truck and up the very road we just biked… we had another beer. The views from the zipline were incredible and we safely made it back to the ground.
By the end, I was exhausted, had more than a few bug bites, and could hardly move my arms.
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