Biking Bolivia’s Death Road

Sometimes it is better not to tell your mother what you are doing until after you have done it. Biking Bolivia’s notorious “Death Road” is one of those things.

Surprise Mom!

Before leaving for our trip I told my friend Sandra, who is from Bolivia, what we had planned and she said “What? My mother has forbidden me from going on that road!”

I am guessing my mother might have as well, if she had known. Actually, she wouldn’t have told me not to do it. But, she would have consumed her weight in Wint-O-Green Life Savers – which she chews in copious amounts when she is stressed and anxious about what her children are doing.

A view of the top section of the Death Road.

For me, biking Bolivia’s Death Road was the one activity on the proposed Bolivia trip itinerary through BikeHike that had me looking at Glenn and saying, “we have to do this trip!”

The dirt road was constructed in the 1930’s to connect La Paz with the jungle region known as Yungas. It is nearly 40 miles long and descends from above 15,000 feet to around 4,000 feet over that distance. Motorists on the road drive on the left side to enable drivers headed downhill to monitor how closely their wheels are to going over the edge of the cliff.

And…those precarious cliffs free-fall into 2,000 foot ravines in some locations! Many memorial crosses can be seen along the road and it is said you can see the remains of busses and other vehicles that have gone over the edge down below.

Historically, accidents on this road killed about 200 to 300 people per year – giving the Death Road it’s name and earning it the reputation as being the world’s most dangerous road. In 2007 a new, wider, paved road was opened between La Paz and Yungas, taking nearly all of the vehicle traffic with it – thereby turing the Death Road into a popular attraction for mountain bikers.

But, even without all of the vehicle traffic the road is still to be taken seriously. Several bikers have died (20-some since the late 1990s)…mostly from losing control of their bikes by going too fast and/or not looking where they are going while trying to take pictures and videos.

As the event drew closer, the mood of our BikeHike tour group ranged from eager to apprehensive.

We were picked up at our hotel by a small van from the local bike tour company. The roof of the vehicle was covered with bikes, along with a backboard stretcher…never a good sign.

We drove high into the mountains outside of La Paz to get to the starting point where we were all outfitted head to toe in protective pads and a full-face helmet. Again, never a good sign.

Getting ready to gear up for the ride. Note the backboard on top of the support vehicle…gulp.

The start of the ride was a steep downhill on a newly paved road full of s-curves that took us through amazing mountain scenery. Having a big butt helps me excel at gravity sports (!), so I was flying down the road as fast as the bike could carry me.

Unlike other biking tours I’ve been on where the guides try to slow you down, our lead guide was in a speed-tuck zooming down the hill and Matt (another guy on our BikeHike trip) and I were right on his heels.

The scenery along the beginning section of paved road was breathtaking!

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Weeeeee!

Matt, another BikeHike tour group member, zooming down the hill.

The grin on my face was so wide I’m surprised I didn’t bust the face-mask on my helmet!

My smile says it all…I was having a blast!

Matt was grinning like a fool too!

Eventually we made it to the beginning of the official Death Road, a very rough – often narrow – dirt road filled with tight turns and sheer cliffs that would prove fatal to anyone that had the misfortune of going over them.

Glenn and I getting ready to start the dangerous part of the ride. In fact, soon after this picture Glenn lost his balance and fell over, nearly going over the cliff edge.

Here is the rough Video footage of Glenn´s tumble…”I almost died on the Death Road without ever getting on the damn bike!” he said later.

Definitely a “look where you are going” type of ride…don’t want to misjudge that corner!

Darlene (left) and me (right) and the rest of our group taking a break along the way.

Riding this section of road was truly a brain-jarring experience.

It didn’t really matter how fast or how slow you went, the bumps in the road really gave you a beating. In the end I decided going faster (but not too fast, Mom) was easier, if for no other reason than my aching hands and forearms didn’t have to squeeze the brake levers as much.

Bump, jiggle, bump…down, down, down we go.

…and then down some more!

Chris and Darlene on the edge of the abyss. 

Ryan and Matt, part of our BikeHike group, stopping to take some pictures.

Darlene, Jorgen, Trish and Ryan (all with BikeHike) taking in the view.

In the end, I had an absolute blast!

The bike was comfortable (unlike my experience biking on the Uyuni Salt Flats), the views were amazing and the thrills kept coming. I would totally recommend this experience if you ever find yourself in Bolivia. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you tell your mother or not.

3 comments on “Biking Bolivia’s Death Road

  1. Pingback: Things are looking up! (New Zealand, Part 2: Milford Sound and Queenstown) | A Life More Extraordinary

  2. Once upon a time when we lived in Casper, Wyoming our kids got into bibycle racing. At least twice she and her brother raced the Coor’s Mini Classic , a 10 day stage race in Boulder, CO. In 10 days of racing mom ate a ton of Lifesavers.

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