Kinda report from our Death Road Tour + some possibly useful info for the first timers
Death Road is currently a major tourist attraction that used to be a regular road from La Paz to Coroico connecting Yungas region of Bolivia and La Paz. In 1995 it was marked as world’s most dangerous road. In 2006, it was estimated that 200–300 travellers were killed along it each year.
The road descends from 4650m at La Cumbre Pass to 1200m at the town of Coroico, changing from cool Altiplano terrain to rain forest as it winds down through steep hillsides and deep cliffs. Except the tours, the road is presently used by few locals living in the area only.
Which tour operator to pick
This, of course completely depends on your budget. The cheapest option we have found started at 320,-BOB (€41), which would mean riding a bike with the front suspension only and the bike itself was either a fake or refurbished model from the 90s. The most expensive option was just above 800,-BOB (€102) and the bikes were apparently not more than one year old Konas.
We have opted for a company called Barracuda, the mid range when it comes to prices. Bikes were Konas, in this case they were original. The bikes had both wheels suspended and the obligatory helmet, gloves as well as optional suits, elbow and knees protections were provided. Snacks and dinner were also part of the package for 545,-BOB (€70).
We were informed that there’s about 20 certified and another many non-certified companies that provide the tours. The whole Death Road related tourist industry in La Paz appeared to have a fragile micro climate and very question-skipping kind of professional attitude about its competitors so we were not exactly sure what was the honest information and what was the professional attitude. So how did we pick? Like many others: reviews + budget factors did the job of decision making pretty easy.
Drive safely please
The road’s dangerous nature has made it a popular tourist attraction from the 1990s on, drawing some 25000 visitors annually. Nevertheless, road remains dangerous; at least 30 cyclists have died on the road since 1998, the last one being an Aucklander Emile Vollenhoven on January 22, 2019. RIP dude ):
The more expensive tour doesn’t necessarily need to mean being more secure, the latest tragic accident proves that point. I must say that our guides stressed the potential dangers many times before and during the tour. They have made many group-stops to warn us about the more dangerous parts ahead, but it was still up to an individual driver how fast he or she went.
I am only saying that because my inner teenager has woken up turning me into a bit of a stupid downhill racer. If you used to be into this kind off thing, Death Road might get quite tempting. Only about half-way down I’ve decided to take it easy and it was only because at that speed I could not really fully enjoy the scenery.
It was just then when I realised how stupid I’ve been up there racing down at 30-40km/h at some points because anything could happen at this kind of speed, especially when driving on unpaved dirt road. After all, the latest tragic accident only happened here just two days before our tour. Just look at those drops on the picture above, they are enormous. Please ride carefully and don’t let your testosterone to overcome your abilities – the place is not called Death Road for no reason.
The Tour itself
After about an hour’s drive out of La Paz, we have arrived to the spot. After trying our bikes and the gear, we were given many safety instructions by the Barracuda team. They took it seriously and stressed the dangers many times over and over. Then the photo shoot begun. All the activities now are a photo shoot, aren’t they? Normally I’d hate it but the only other option is to be a bit of a miserable git so I’ve embraced it (again).
The spiritual safety precaution before the ride is to give a bit of booze to Pachamama AKA Mother Nature the ancient Inca god to keep you safe. I only did it because she’s a female god, which is a rare thing. And also because everyone is also required to have a bit themselves (as a safety precaution). It was apparently 96% alcohol – except that it was not 96% – it wasn’t even 50%…
Unlike other Bolivian roads, vehicles on Death Road are required to drive on the left, so drivers have a better view of their outer wheels and passing is safer. We were quite lucky because due to the landslide, there were almost no cars present on the road. The thing is that the road itself is rather narrow. The largely single-lane road follows cliffs with drops of up to 600m. Most of it is the width of a single vehicle, about 3.2m.
I must admit that at the beginning I found it rather bizarre to enjoy a strip of road where so many died, it does ): At points it felt a bit disrespectful to me personally doing a cheesy photo shoots in such place marked with so many crosses. To feel better about this dilemma, I concluded that it was all but disrespecting those whom died here. After all, Pachamama serves us with all things, death included for everyone at some point…
Then we just rode and rode further down. Pachamama served us with riding through the waterfalls and many places with magic views. As we descended to lower altitudes, the climate changed drastically, the beauty levels however remained equally high. It was very hot down there at only 1200m above the sea level, the lowest I’ve been in weeks. Being high all the time doesn’t suit me so much. I like Oxygen a lot.
Some of us have ended a tour with a zip line adventure (not included in the price) and then we have all met in a hotel for a little swim in a pool and a delicious lunch. Overall, it was rather expensive day, given the fact that for pretty much the same money you can get driven around Salt Flats in Uyuni for 3 days in a Jeep but it was worth it. It was a great day 🙂
*Please note that the pictures in this piece are made by the tour guides.