The Death Road in Bolivia is a winding dirt road that rises out of the jungle up into the high Andes to La Paz. The deadliest traffic accident in Bolivian history occurred here when a bus carrying over 100 people went off the edge and fell hundreds of metres to the valley floor. No one survived. These days the Death Road doesn’t see as much vehicular traffic thanks to a modern new road that bypasses it. But with the drop in vehicular traffic, there’s been a sharp rise in bicycle traffic as multiple tour operators offer mountain biking tours on the world’s deadliest road.
The ride starts at 4700m, where you get fitted for your full suspension bike and get kitted out with riding gloves, helmet, and protective clothing. The first few kilometres are all downhill on a paved road so you can really pick up some speed and get comfortable with the bike. There are multiple stops throughout the ride where the main guide will describe what to expect on each section. After a short 8km drive uphill to the start of the actual Death Road, that’s where the fun begins…
Because the Death Road is only just wide enough for a truck and the cliff is a vertical drop of up to 600m, you have to drive on the left hand side of the road even though you normally drive on the right hand side in Bolivia. It’s so that you can see where your wheels are if you’re driving down. There are small shoulders sporadically placed on the cliff side of the road, but there are long stretches of dangerous curves without them.
Since you’re cycling downhill, you have to keep left too. That is, you have to stay on the cliff side of the road. The tour companies carry rescue equipment but if you fall off the edge you’re basically dead. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll survive falling a few hundred metres into a valley. Think bungee jumping…with no bungee cord.
Regardless of the danger, mountain biking downhill for over 50km is awesome! You can really pick up a lot of speed and there are some great views to be had. Although it’s best to stop and take in the views rather than risk going off the edge. As you descend you’ll strip off layers, marvel at the petrol tankers navigating the road, take in some incredible views of waterfalls and valleys, think about those who lost their lives on the Death Road, and think about how angry your parents would be if they knew you were doing this.
The experience ends with beers, a swim in a natural swimming hole, food, and a 3 hour drive back to La Paz on either the Death Road or the new road. It’s your choice.