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.
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!
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.
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. 😉
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂