It was raining heavily and the slippery gravel underneath me felt like it could give way any minute, sending me plummeting to my certain death. The dense fog made it very difficult to see more than 10m at a time and my heart was pounding with every additional meter I cycled. The sheer drops right next to me made feel dizzy and a little panicky, so I was literally holding onto my bike for dear life. Why? Because I was cycling down ‘the world’s most dangerous road’, aka the death road, which claims up to 300 lives per year.

the death road cross

One of the many crosses – to remind passers-by why this is called Death Road

I’d heard so much about the death road that I was both very scared but also very curious about this infamous bike ride. Most of the death road is the width of a single vehicle and traffic rules specify that the downhill driver (i.e. anybody taking part in a cycling tour) never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road. Which is not great news when there are no guard rails and sheer drops of up to 600m!

the death road drop

How is that for a sheer drop?

I had actually decided against the bike ride because although I’ve done a few challenging mountain bike rides before, I am not the world’s most confident cyclist. However, when I met a few tour guides in a pub in La Paz one night and they passionately told me about how amazing (and safe) the ride on the death road is, Chris and I promptly booked two tickets with the most reputable tour agency in La Paz – Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking.

If I put my life at risk I generally want to ensure I go with a company that has the most experience and best track record in terms of safety so I’m glad I paid a little more than I might have done with other less well-known and reputable companies. For example our group was the only group that had proper suspension on our bikes which, because of the rocky terrain of the death road, was an absolute must for me.  We also got top notch safety equipment and the all important rain gear that set us apart from some of the other wet and miserable groups.

the death road group

Our group fully kitted-out

For those of you who follow our facebook page you may remember that we foolishly decided to go on a brewery tour the day before the bike ride. I don’t know whose idea that was (I blame Chris), but with hindsight going on an all day bender the day before a 64km bike ride really wasn’t a good idea.

At 6:30am we took a bus up a windy old road into the mountains and before long poor old Chris couldn’t take it anymore and had to lie down for a while before he got to taste the delicious Saya beer all over again. However, nothing wakes you up more than the fresh mountain air at 4,700m altitude and a glass of 90% strong spirit which we drunk before setting off, as an offering to ourselves and also Pachamama (Mother Earth) to ask for her protection – although as a rule I’m pretty sure drinking before cycling is not the best way of enhancing your safety. 😉

the death road bus

Chris struggling a little, and that was just the bus journey

After some safety instructions from our fabulous guide, Raf, we set off. The first part of the bike ride is down a new road which was built as a replacement for the Yungas Road (the official name of the death road) as it was becoming too dangerous for bigger vehicles. This gave us plenty of time to get used to our bikes under Raf’s expert tutelage. Although the wind was really icy, I really enjoyed this part of the route as we drove past some stunning scenery at some pretty spectacular speeds.

the death road downhill

the death road group shot

After about an hour we entered what felt like the beginning of the death zone. As soon as we reached the official Death Road it started pouring down with rain and became really foggy. The road conditions were all of the sudden much more dangerous as the loose gravel became horribly slippery.

I really had to concentrate and took my time as I didn’t want to end up as a splattered mess down in the valley. Our guide let us go as slow as we wanted to, so me going down at my own modest pace wasn’t an issue which was very comforting. In fact, one of the girls who cycled too fast ended up coming off her bike and twisting her knee and couldn’t continue the ride. Oh, and of course Chris fell off his bike too, but to be fair it was after he foolishly drove through a waterfall rather than around it. He later claimed it was an anti-hangover strategy.

the death road good weather

This is what the death road looks like in good weather conditions…

the death road bad weather

…and this is what it looked like when we went

the death road cliff

Our group, at least one of whom has zero fear of heights (or death)

the death road fall

I’m eternally grateful to our guide for catching this moment on camera, when Chris established that after a number of years, a waterfall makes a nice big hole in the road :-)

The lower down we cycled the better the conditions got. After a while even I got more confident and it was loads of fun cycling through waterfalls without a care in the world.

the death road jungle

the death road tammy and chris waterfall

We had plenty of breaks during the ride and received loads of snacks and drinks, all of which were included in the price. After about three hours the weather changed and it finally stopped raining. We had now reached the jungle and I could finally see some of the stunning scenery I wasn’t able to see previously. At the end of the trip, after four hours of cycling, we stopped off at a small roadside restaurant where our guide bought us all a glass of well deserved beer to celebrate the fact we’d survived Bolivia’s infamous Death Road.

the death road banana trees

the death road finale

As you may be able to tell, I needed that one!

Afterwards we drove to La Senda Verde Animal Sanctuary, a partner of Gravity, where we could have a lovely hot shower and enjoy a hot meal. Having been soaked throughout the bike ride it was so nice to have a hot shower as I don’t think I would have survived the one-hour long bus ride back to La Paz in wet clothes. The sanctuary is home to monkeys, birds, and bears and if it hadn’t been for the continuing rain we would have done a tour to see the animals. The sanctuary also offers accommodation and all proceeds go towards helping animals in need. It was a lovely and peaceful place to end a crazy, but fabulous, day.

the death road llama painting

So would I do cycle down the world’s most dangerous road again? Hell yeah, but next time I might go in the dry season. 🙂 But what about you? Have you, or would you, cycle down the death road in Bolivia?

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Disclaimer: We received a small discount from Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking in return for this review. As usual, all opinions remain my own. Thanks also to Gravity for providing us with some of the photos from slightly drier days. 🙂

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

44 Thoughts on “Surviving The World’s Most Dangerous Road

  1. When I saw a glimpse of the second image, my heart nearly jumped out!! 😀

    But still… it looks like so much fun (!) that yes… I’d do it, if I got the chance!

    Really loved this post, thanks!
    AkwaabaGolden recently posted…Exploring a different side of AccraMy Profile

  2. Wow – kudos to the two of you for doing this, especially after a brewery tour! I think I will vicariously live through your experience – I am too much of a chicken!!
    Emily recently posted…Laid back in MindoMy Profile

  3. I love this article! You portrayed it so much better than I did! I don’t think my photos went anywhere close to showing how insane it is! Good call going with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. I’m so glad you changed your mind and did it. Such an amazing experience, especially in the heavy rain 🙂
    Arianwen recently posted…A North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag ReviewMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 3, 2014 at 12:17 am said:

      Thanks so much Ari! I remember that you went with them too, so I had that in the back of my mind when I booked with them. I am glad I went with Gravity too. When I saw some of the bikes or kit from other companies, I knew I made the right choice.

  4. The death road itself wasn’t enough so you had to add some pouring rain to it? 🙂 I think I would do it – under a dry condition though!
    Katharina @ 100 Miles Highway recently posted…5 Habits of Highly Effective ExpatsMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 3, 2014 at 12:20 am said:

      Ha ha, I know! The bike ride would be stunning in dry weather, but you can also see how far down the drops go. So fog has its advantage actually. 😉

  5. Wow that looks like an amazing but also challenging and scary day. Congratulations that you made it. I love your photos!
    Stef recently posted…About finding courage and following my heart (and why you should do so too)My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 3, 2014 at 12:22 am said:

      Thanks very much Stef. It was certainly challenging, but as so often with these things, once you have done it you are really proud too!

  6. Those are some seriously insane photos! I’m not the most comfortable cyclist either, so it’s good to know that there are safe companies and you don’t have to be the most accomplished cyclist to do something like this.
    Jennifer recently posted…Glamping Around Tanzania As Seen Through Our iPhoneMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 3, 2014 at 12:28 am said:

      Thanks Jennifer! You can definitely do it even if you haven’t done much mountain biking before. If you take your time you will be fine. Some people think they are invincible though and that’s when accidents can happen.

  7. It looks a bit like a road I took to get to Tusheti in Georgia!
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 3, 2014 at 9:14 pm said:

      Now, Georgia that’s a place I need to check out too one day. Did you cycle the road as well or did you stay in the car Marysia?

  8. I am a definitely in the “no way ever” category. I am the biggest chicken when it comes to these things! You are one brave bad-ass for accomplishing this! Kudos to you!
    Mary Calculated Traveller recently posted…Who cares if you get sick on a Cruise Ship? The CDC does.My Profile

  9. Wow, what an amazing experience, I would totally be up for that type of adventure….it looks great that you have a big bus in the back blocking off traffic to!
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 3, 2014 at 10:21 pm said:

      It certainly was adventurous Noel. That bus is also there for emergencies in case you don’t want to go any further by bike or if you get injured. I found that very comforting actually.

  10. Wow what an adventure! Looks awesome and just a little bit intimidating 😉
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 4, 2014 at 12:09 am said:

      It is only intimidated when you first start Hannah, but once you get used to the bike and the terrain, it is actually great.

  11. wow – you have guts!
    I am not a big fan of heights and i am super unco-ordinated so i would have probably been the girl who fell off her bike and accidently down the steep hill to her death – hahaha! sorry probabaly not that funny.
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 4, 2014 at 12:12 am said:

      Ha, I am like that too and that’s why I didn’t want to do the tour at first. Turns out it is the dare devils who go too fast who get punished-like that Aussie girl who twisted her knee. So I reckon you should try it. 🙂

  12. WOW, what a great post and picture. I bet it was an awesome experience, I would like to do it one day.
    Kadri recently posted…Adios Koh Samui, Welcome Welcome Krabi and Beautiful Railay BeachMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 4, 2014 at 8:32 pm said:

      Thanks Kadri. It really was awesome despite the terrifying drops. If you get the chance to do the ride one day, do it. I highly recommend it.

  13. So I’ll just come out and start with what can be quite a negative quality: My husband and I can be… stubbornly independent? That seems like a nice way to put it. We have been *guides* in adventure situations and have a tendency to want to go it alone when it comes to dangerous, life-threatening situations. After the remote dog sledding in the Yukon, the remote situations in Alaska, we can tend to feel like we’re a lot smarter than to use any sort of guide service — obviously we can do it ourselves.

    So I’ll go ahead and admit that at the beginning of this story I thought to myself, “A guide company? Psshht…”

    By the end? Nope. Good call! Yep. Guide company. Definitely a good idea. Would I cycle down death road? Yes. And now I know that I should trust the professionals if I do, and get over my own ego. Mhmm….
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 4, 2014 at 9:44 pm said:

      I like doing things independently too, but like you said cycling down the death road should definitely not be done independently. Things do go wrong and people have died doing this bike ride. Our guide was trained in first aid and abseiling. Plus we had the bus for emergencies as well. It gave me a huge peace of mind actually.

  14. What a great post! Sounds like a really amazing experience- thanks for sharing!

  15. my girlfriend and i were gonna do this when we were in la paz in december but tiwakanu won in the end. after reading this, i am definitely gonna do it when i’m back in bolivia later in the year
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  16. I’m speechless, you are so brave! I wouldn’t have done it for sure I’m too clumsy for such a dangerous track, well done guys! 🙂
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 5, 2014 at 1:29 am said:

      I am really clumsy too and that’s why I initially didn’t want to do it. But I guess my curiosity took over and I am so glad I did it. It was incredible.

  17. That was a heck of a ride, guys! Looks so adventurous! The landscape is just breath-taking, so worth the sweat!
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  18. I would be scared of cycling that far on a normal road, never mind on Death Road! Sounds like it was worth it though, looks beautiful.
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 6, 2014 at 11:57 pm said:

      The surrounding countryside really does look beautiful. It actually makes you forget about all the scary parts.

  19. Wow, this defines brave! I’m getting vertigo just looking at these photos
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  20. My daughter has done this bike ride but I have only ever seen one photo. One guy in her group fell and broke a collarbone. Looks like an adventure and one I’d love to do.
    Enjoyed the read.
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 15, 2014 at 10:21 pm said:

      Ouch! One girl in our group twisted her knee too. If you don’t take things slowly these things can happen, but if you are careful it is an awesome ride!

  21. Thumb up and great job for making this as one of your bucket lists!
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  22. Great pictures! Gravity was a good company (unlike some of the others that I saw on the road). The picture of the wheel teetering on the precipice is my favorite.
    Andrew recently posted…How to conquer the death road (and live to tell the tale)My Profile

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