Bolivian famous Death Road was definitely not on my bucket list. I am not the most adventurous type of person and honestly, I was quite scared of the idea of biking the deadliest road of them all. But here is where I differ from my boyfriend Klemen, who insisted we need to experience this when we are in La Paz. And he was right, it was one of the most incredible adventures of my life! Firstly, I was scared but slowly got a feeling for the bike and started really enjoying the experience. However, I stayed at the back of our biking group (one has to be the last, right?) so this time am I letting Klemen describe our adventure from the the first row.
When (and if) I die, I want to die feeling like I felt riding the Death Road in Bolivia. Tired, exhausted, grasping for air and pumped of adrenalin. Feeling no regret for the shit I’ve just done and wishing it would never end. These are just few words, not even slightly describing the experience of riding the Death Road with mountain bikes. The experience is impossible to put into words, because it’s just a trill ride with some of the most breathtaking views (while you are already out of breath :P).
The North Yungas Road
The North Yungas Road is the main road connecting the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, and the city of Coroico in the northern Yungas region. 56 kilometers long road first ascends to about 4650 meters above sea level at the La Cumbre Pass and then descends to about 1200 meters in Coroico. Travelers quickly get from cold high Altiplano to the hot and humid rainforest.
The road got its name from the tragic history. Some reports say that on average about 300 travelers died here every year. Tragic accidents were common as the road winds through the steep hillside atop cliffs. Mostly single lane road is hard to travel on, especially in the rainy season.
Today the road is mostly used by eager tourists like us, who want to explore the Bolivian nature and experience the thrill ride of mountain biking. Some locals still use it, because they are convinced it’s shorter than the new road.
Death Road on a bike
The most difficult part of riding the Death Road might come before you get there and put the foot to the metal. This is a very popular tourist attraction and with the demand come the many many offers. There are about 70 agencies (I’m wildly guessing here) offering the adventure ride of Bolivia and selecting the right one is not an easy task.
There are questions of safety, gear, general organization and customer service. All agencies will sell you whatever you want to hear, however, I’m not sure how many can deliver on their promise. We took to the internet in search of some genuine feedback from previous travelers to steer us in the right direction. After few days and plenty of pages of reviews we decided to go with Ride On Bolivia – a relatively young company which exceeded our expectations (and looking at their reviews a lot of travelers are extremely happy with them).
Sector 01 – the new road
The Death Road tour stars at the La Cumbre Pass (4650 meters above sea), where you are taken by a van together with the rest of the group. We were a small group of seven, tree couples and a solo traveler. We quickly got chatting and ended up making some new friends.
While we were having some banana bread and coffee for breakfast, guides prepared our equipment and the protective clothing. The bikes were lowered from the top of the van and we could enjoy the awesome views of the Altiplano.
The briefing might be the most important part of the tour. The guides took us through the gear, the bikes and the rules of the ride. There are not many, but you better listen to these guys. The road could be dangerous, and you could put yourself and others in danger. Just to be sure we also did the traditional Pachamama ceremony, to thank the mother nature and ask her to look out for us on the road. The ceremony includes some wise words (spoken only on top of the mountain and never again) and a sip of local liquor (better not to ask what it was).
The most important to keep in mind is, as our guide Willy would put it, “don’t be a fucking idiot”. If you think straight and have some common sense, you should be fine.
The first few kilometers are on asphalt. On this first section you can get used to the bike, the brakes and the road. You’ll be driving together with the local traffic, but you’ll be faster on your bike. First section is about 23 kilometers long and the group makes a few stops on the way. There are some amazing viewpoints and plenty of time to take photos. This is the easy part of the ride, also the fastest as the asphalt allows you to let loose and gain some speed.
Sector 02 – the deadliest road in the world
The second part is the actual Death Road. You begin and the crossroad where new road splits away and continues cutting through the hills. The North Yungas road is immediately recognizable, as it’s no longer paved with asphalt. The gravel makes it harder to ride, so caution is needed. You get used to it in time, but don’t ever think you got it – that is the moment you will fail.
On this more than 30 kilometers long track you can see how the nature around you gradually transforms from the mountains into the rainforest. Slowly the temperatures rise, and you can start pealing the layers of clothing. We stopped on the most important places – either for the views or because of the safety reasons. Willy (our guide) had a lot of stories about the road, the accidents or about the nature. We slowly passed deeper and deeper into the jungle, riding under the waterfalls and past rich plant life.
On about half way through the second part we made a bigger stop to have lunch. We had a support van all the time with us. In case anything would to happen to us or the bikes we were using, they were there to help. There was one guide driving in front of us the whole time and another in the back, chasing us with camera. They really know where and how to best capture the experience. They documented our day well and the end you get all the photos and videos.
After many hours of riding I was starting to feel my lags and hands. This is no easy ride. But we were getting closer and closer to Coroico and the end of the tour. The last part actually quite flat and we had to paddle on few parts (can you imagine :D). After the last photo spot we had one last push among the houses and coca fields to the finish in Coroico.
The end of the tour was in a “restaurant” with a pool and showers. We had our dinner there and some time to fresh up and relax. I was so looking forward to that shower and it felt like heaven, and then I was ready to do it all once again.
Willy and the Ride on Bolivia team thank you for the most amazing day! See you soon.
This blog post was written in collaboration with Ride On Bolivia Biking, however, all views are always my own and I really recommend this tour to everyone who wants to experience the Death Road.
© of photos Ride on Bolivia, Klemen Krulec, Vanja Vodenik