Riding Death Road, Bolivia
Everyone on the travel path around South America raved about this activity. I wasn’t going to miss it, riding a bike down the most dangerous road in the road. Why not? It’s one to check off the adventure junkies list. I signed up to my Death Road experience at Altitude Biking in La Paz. I met a few people who said they used this company and they loved it and met some great people doing it. Plus, they gave you a free t-shirt and I was running pretty thin on clothes after giving away many items on the Inca Trail. The Death Road tour is around $90-110, there are about 4/5 companies that offer the same tour.
Death Road is a 69-kilometre stretch of road that starts out at an altitude of 4,700m in the bitterly cold mountains northeast of the capital La Paz, and finishes at a subtropical 1,200m in the humid town of Coroico. This notorious road gained its reputation as the most feared in the world after so many people died on the road. In 1983, a bus plunged over the edge of the road, killing more than 100 people. It was Bolivia’s worst road accident. In 2006, a new, safer highway was built that bypassed the Death Road and cut the fatality rate, but before this an average of 200-300 people died on the road every year.
I was picked up outside my hostel in a mini bus along with a few more pick-ups from other hostels. There was eight lads in my mini bus and we all got on tremendously, in fact, we went out on a few nights out together. I still speak to some today. We all had a laugh on the way up, eventually getting our gear on, and our bikes readied. We started on a flat road up in the clouds. The scenery was amazing. I was right at the front of the pack, with some of my new mates chasing closing. You’re always going to get a group of 5/6 lads gunning to win the race down.
Soon the road got more dangerous, rugged rocks, narrow paths, puddles, tough terrain, poor visibility and huge cliff falls. The bike shook so much that I developed bruises on my palms.
I heard stories that someone had fallen off while trying to take a selfie when riding. It’s still a very dangerous road despite the drop in fatalities. The guide leads the ride down and there are often stops for photos and drinks. I found myself waiting about 15 minutes at some points for people to catch up. You meet some great people doing it and that’s the best thing about it. There’s about 20-30 people on the ride with you.
You see gravestones throughout the way down, if that doesn’t remind you to slow down and be careful then what will. I was going at speed and was coming up to a corner, I was going too fast to turn and I hit the brakes, just coming to a stop before meeting my doom. It has its place in my top-five near death experiences.
Towards the end, the roads get very rocky and when going at speed can be very dangerous. A rock flew up and smashed my shin as I bolted down the road, and when I turned a corner, I hit into a large stone that sent me flying off my bike. I was in a race with a couple of Irish lads at the time. You hear about someone falling off and hurting themselves on every tour. That guy just so happened to be me. I survived without many scratches. I even left my elbow pads and jacket in the bus on a break and had to ride without them, but over the years, I’ve learnt how to think fast and fall right. Check out the GoPro video below for some crash action!
Once we came to the end of the road, I received an applause for my crash and we had a group photo with our new t-shirts. Then we were driven to a hotel in the jungle for some food and a swim. Overall, it was a great day and one of the best experiences of my South American travels!
July 06, 2017
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April 06, 2016