Death Road Bolivia

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Distance:  28.1 km
Gradient:  6%
Elevation gained:   1,724 metres
Surface: Gravel

Here is a link to the Strava segment here:

Yungas Road is called “El Camino de la Muerte” or “The Road of Death.” Thousands have plummeted to their deaths.  Giving it the infamous reputation as being the most dangerous road in the world!  This deadly 69 km gravel dirt track stretches between the city of La Paz and the town of Coroico.  Has claimed the lives of thousands of travelers. This maybe a reason not to want to cycle across a road like this.  Unless of course you love a sense of danger and adventure…….

Image by AHLN; courtesy of Flickr

What to expect

The winding road  connects the Amazonian rain-forest to the capital city. In most places the road is no more than four meters wide.  The road winds its way around a steep, never-ending cliff face.  Which rises up to 900 metres in height.  With the cliff plunging hundreds of meters with nauseatingly deep canyons just to the side of the road.  This is a common threat as there are a lack of handrails all along this road. Dangerous hairpin turns and countless blind corners without guard rails require nerves of steel to negotiate.  But they’re not the only dangers.

During the dry season.  The road is very dusty and dust from passing vehicles makes it nearly impossible to see.  It would be very easy to ride over the side of the cliff. During the rainy season.  Numerous streams cross the road and the road can become a mud heap with little traction. Falling rocks are a danger from towering cliffs above the road and mudslides are an ever-present threat.

This is also a high altitude climb which rises to 3,000 metres above sea level. It is common for people to experience altitude sickness above 2,400 metres.  So listen to your body and take care on the climb. The air is thinner at these altitudes & you’ll have your work cut out for you getting up this beast.

Image by Jimmy Harris; courtesy of Flickr

Road rules

Yes there are actually road rules on Death Road. The downhill vehicle does not have right of way.  They are required to move to the outer edge of the road to let the vehicle coming uphill pass on the inside. Often there is no room for two vehicles to pass.  So the downhill driver must reverse uphill to find a wider spot.  Yup I wouldn’t want to do that!  I can imagine how nerve racking that would be, especially as you could be reversing towards another vehicle.

Death Road can be confusing to locals. In Bolivia, vehicles drive on the right side of the road.  However on Yungas Road, a driver must use the left side of the road as a safety precaution.  This gives the left-hand drive vehicle’s operator a much better view over his outside wheel.  That of course is looking straight down a cliff face plummeting steeply into space.

Any lack of concentration may have fatal consequences.

Pretty much if you’re riding a bike the rule of thumb is that if you hear a vehicle then get the hell off the road.

Image by Michael Fernando Jauregui Schiffelmann; courtesy of Flickr

History

Death Road was built on the back of a bloody war. Prisoners of war during the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay in the early 1930’s were put to work cutting into the side of the Cordillera Oriental Mountain range to build what was called Yungas Road.  The Chaco War was a bloody affair with the loss of 100,000 soldiers on both sides.  Finally, in 1935 Paraguay would claim victory over Bolivia.  Establishing the Chaco Boreal as Paraguayan territory.

Death Rate

It is estimated that between 200 to 300 drivers were killed annually along Yungas Road all the way up till 1994. It was common for cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks.  One of Bolivia’s most tragic road accidents happened on July 24th 1983.  When an overcrowded bus plowed over the side of the road into a canyon killing more than 100 passengers.

If you consider making this perilous journey by bike.  At least 20 cyclists have died since 1998 while riding with guided adventure tours. Not a comforting statistic!

Image by Jimmy Harris; courtesy of Flickr

Is death road still dangerous?

Over the past 20 years there has been some upgrades to Yungas Road to make it safer. In 2009 an alternative road was constructed.  Replacing the dangerous 64 km stretch and all traffic has been diverted to the new road. Even with these improved conditions, Yungas Road is a fatality waiting to happen. Today the death toll is limited to local workers and daredevil backpackers still using the infamous road.  20 cyclists have died since 1998.  It’s up to you whether you consider it worth it.

Image by Jimmy Harris; courtesy of Flickr

Death Road Bolivia Cycle tours

Death Road has become internationally renown for its 64 km downhill bike ride.  Which is a draw card for thrill seekers and avid mountain-bikers since the 1990’s.  These tours are certainly not for the faint-hearted.  You’d want to have a high level of skill to stay alive. There are a number of tour operators offering different packages.

 

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