No visit to La Paz is complete without an attempt at cycling down the infamous Yungas Road aka the Death Road.
So what is the Death Road anyway?
The Yungas Road leads from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas region of Bolivia, it is 64km long, and in 1995 it was named the Worlds most dangerous road with estimates of 200-300 people dying on it every year. From La Paz it ascends to 4’650m before descending to only 1’250m at the bottom in the town of Coroico. Turning suddenly from Altiplano to Rainforest terrain causing drastic weather changes! The road is mostly single lane, build by Paraguayan war prisoners, it has tight hair-pin corners with no visibility at all, in the winter rain and fog causes a muddy path and poor visibility, in the summer vehicle dust is terrible and rock falls are also very common. So you want to hurl yourself down it on a mountain bike right?
There is a 64km downhill track as part of the death road which is now a popular tourist activity, and despite some 25’000 people participating, 18+ tourists have died since 1998. The death road remains dangerous.
So if you have a quick look on google, tripadvisor etc for a company to help you on your way down the death road, you will see that there are plenty of companies to choose from! Chatting with other backpackers who had already cycled the death road, we narrowed it down to 3 or 4 companies that we had heard good reviews of! We chose to go with the sister company of the infamous yet pricey Gravity; Barracuda Biking, and I am so glad that we did! We popped in the day before the activity, having pre-booking the date we wanted. They took all our details, we signed the many waiver forms and got measured and tried on all of our safety gear. They are centrally located and were very informative. Included in the price BOB570 each (£61) you get transport from the office return to your accommodation, lunch, drinks, snacks, your mountain bike and all of your safety gear, photos via dropbox of the day and on fb, a small group and lovely guides! What more could you ask for.
In comparison to the other higher priced companies, whom we saw on our ride – they had huge groups and we met some of the guides and I was so happy we had Bolivian Guides and not a cocky english one that I met! A friend had been made to feel bad that they had cycled slowly and was encouraged to get into the van to keep up – which would have meant she would have missed cycling part of the track, I am glad to say nothing like this was even considered within in our group and I would totally recommend Barracuda, they are a great budget option!
Biking the Death Road
I didn’t take the decision to cycle the Death Road lightly, I was extremely nervous, possibly even slightly terrified! I was lucky that Barracuda turned out to be so great, and they really put my mind at rest, with informative safety information and a guide at the front, a guide at the back, and also the van following us so if any one wanted to hop of for a break, or had simply had enough then you could!
Before we started to cycle one of our group started to feel very unwell, and we think he had altitude sickness – La paz is at 3’640m and on the drive up to the beginning of the death road you ascend up to 4’650m!! It is completely advisable to acclimatise in La Paz first! Altitude sickness is horrible! Drink plenty of water and whatever you do – do not drink alcohol!!
Ok, so we were picked up on time by our two lovely guides and driver, the group consisted of myself, Sarah and Nathan aka Exploring Kiwis, Belgian couple Sylvia and Bert and solo traveller Patrice! The drive up the the start of the Yungas road is beautiful – grab a window seat and enjoy the view!
The 6 of us got our cycling clothing and layers on – including a provided rain coat, two pairs of gloves, helmet with option of full face, windproof cycling trousers and cycling jacket. we then had time for a toilet break, were provided with our lunch, and also paid the first tourist entrance fee (BOB 50/ £5.50 for both). This is enforced by the local villages.
Here is Sarah and Nathan ready to go!
Then at last we got on our bikes! They checked everyone had their brakes the correct way around as to not end up over the handle bars by accident!
The first section of the road is actually a tarmac road, this is great so you can get used to your bike! as we started it was raining and foggy! this made me a little bit scared but once we got going and the speed picked up it was Rad! I’ve never ridden downhill before and it was Super!
Next there was a tunnel which bikes are not allowed to pass through so we headed off around the tunnel and this was the first bit of gravel road we hit! with a few little bumps added in, it was a shock to the system but everyone was fine! so far so good!
Then we started on the actual road, immediately it was clear this was not going to be a smooth ride! It was so bumpy it shook my bones! It was really Foggy from the clouds and rain – visibility was quite poor! but it was beautiful! We stopped after around 15 minutes and everyone was fine – the poor guy with altitude sickness jumped onto the van at this point because he was just too sick! Our crew was down to 5! I was super cautious and poodled along nice and slowly taking in the fantastic scenery! Nathan was tanking it!!! with Sarah not far behind him also going impressively fast! W stopped every so often and at particularly dangerous sections of the road just to check in and be warned where to be cautious! We also made plenty of photo stops!
Before I knew it we had broken through the clouds and were heading into the Rainforest and within a matter of minutes the temperature had risen dramatically and we stopped to de-layer! I kept my cycling bottoms and top on just in case!! We cycled down and along the path which was much dryer now and took some adjusting to how I steered my bike and braking as well, in comparison to the much wetter road before!
We stopped for a snack break – we were given chocolate and coca cola and a banana! it was very nice!
Then we descended for the last section of the road down to Coroico, and it got super hot in the sunshine and there was a little bit of uphill!!
And then before I knew it I had survived the Death Road. It was absolutely fantastic! I would have driven to the top and done it again – if it was’nt for the exhaustion! We headed for our Lodge where we could swim, were fed with a buffet dinner and also able to purchase a beer to celebrate!
The drive back to La Paz was a few hours and we were dropped off at our hostel.
It was such a good day – If you have the opportunity go and give the death road a go!
Love b x