Scenery changing from mountains to tropical rainforest, thrill of the ride and the caress of the wind on your face… Does this sound promising? If you said yes, you should keep on reading!
Back in 2009 and 2010 I spent three months travelling in South America. During my travels I visited Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Those three months have been my most exciting travels so far and I definitely want to go back to South America again when I have a chance to do that.
I especially loved Bolivia, the country that has everything a traveller needs, except the ocean. One of the most memorable experiences there was riding the Death Road. The road is actually called North Yungas Road but it has established many names such as Death Road, Road of Fate and other ominous names, which of course tempt a traveller to ride it with a mountain bike. The road has even been called world's most dangerous road. For a thrill seeker this couldn’t sound more tempting.
This road connects Yungas (Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia) to the city of La Paz (Bolivia’s capital). Most of the road is single-lane and only the width of a single vehicle. Many people have died on the dangerous road before a new safer road was build. Now the Death Road is mostly used by tourist groups.
Does it sound like a fun road to ride? Well it seems to attract travellers, like myself. The road has been a popular tourist destination from the 1990s. The road starts from 4700 metres and descents 3500 metres. During the ride you get to feel the climate change from the brisky mountain wind to tropical heat.
There are many tour operators offering Death Road experiences. We decided to go with Luna Tours and we were happy with what we got. I’ve read some bad reviews too about the company but you can find bad reviews on all companies I guess. Like I said we were more than happy with what we got.
Our group only included two people and the guide so the experience was even more fun with only us and the guide riding down the road. There are many companies doing the tour, so when it’s high season there are many groups on the road at the same time. I personally enjoyed the fact that we only ran into one other group during the whole time (we did the tour in December).
Before the ride we geared up with a mountain bike (naturally), a full-face helmet, gloves, and knee and elbow pads. A van took us to the top of the road where we started our ride. The first part of the ride was paved road and fairly easy to ride, though there were trucks and cars passing us with full speed. During this part you got to know the bike so it would be easier to trust your skills and the bike once you hit the gravel part of the road.
The second part and the actual Death Road is, as said above, gravel road. The windy road is at its narrowest parts only 3 meters wide and what makes the ride even more fun is the fact that you have to ride the left (outer) side of the road because of the possible traffic coming from the other direction. The fall from the road at its highest is about 500 metres. It’s a crazy feeling riding down the road when you see the fall from the corner of your eye as you go. You don’t want to get a cramp on your foot at the wrong time on this road!
The scenery on the way was amazing and I was able to enjoy it though I concentrated much on braking and staying on the road. The guide was riding in front of us the whole time and the van which took us to the start of the road, followed behind us. The driver was also taking the pictures of us. After a while I relaxed more with the bike and it was easier to enjoy the views.
After riding down for about three hours we ended up in the city of Coroico where we enjoyed a buffet lunch. And we got to swim in a pool and wash off all the dust and sweat from the road.
We got t-shirts and a CD with pictures of us on it. It was great to get the pictures from the tour company as it is quite hard to take pictures yourself while concentrating on riding the bike. What an adrenaline rush it was! I’m so happy I didn’t chicken out. Yes my hands did hurt from holding to the bike handle so hard, but it was worth it.
I have to admit I was terrified before the ride and I wouldn’t recommend reading the most horrifying stories of the road before deciding whether to go or not. I did read some horror stories and they just freaked me out (though obviously not enough to keep me from doing it).
I think the most important thing is to be aware of the risks and follow the instructions you get from your guide. It’s definitely a ride on which you need to be focused and you should not goof around. You should also be comfortable with riding a bike, but it’s not technically very demanding. Remember that you can always ride at your own pace. If you don’t feel comfortable riding full speed you can always take it easier. Important thing is to enjoy the ride!