La Paz and the World's Most Dangerous Road

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June 5th 2012
Published: July 31st 2012
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The World's Most Dangerous RoadThe World's Most Dangerous RoadThe World's Most Dangerous Road

Also known simply as "Death Road"
La Paz
La Paz was established in 1548, and is located at an altitude from about 4,000m above sea level in El Alto to 3,100m in the lower residential area - quite literally, it is a breathtaking city. The altitude can be gruelling at first so it is wise to take things easy for the first few days.

The central Plaza San Francisco is one of the city's most essential sites. Its church was begun the year after La Paz was founded and the vast plaza in front of it is constantly bustling. The nearby Plaza Murillo is much more quiet. It is surrounded by imposing buildings including the Presidential Palace, National Congress and the Cathedral.

The World's Most Dangerous Road - Madness, but a thrill
In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened Bolivia's North Yungas Road as the "World's Most Dangerous Road". It is also know as "Death Road" and legendary for its extreme danger. Today, cycling down the now traffic-calm road it one of the most popular things to do in La Paz, if not in all of Bolivia. A number of companies in La Paz offer guided day trips however this is the one of the activities where it is really worth to check out the safety record of the company of your choice. I went with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking who were the first to offer the trip in the 1990s and was not disappointed.

Jack Branswell, Ottawa Citizen, 29 March 2008:

There are no soft landings on the World's Most Dangerous Road, and at virtually every hairpin turn from my perch on my mountain bike, I was invoking the Lord's name. Come to think of it, there may have been some other words that followed his name.

There are crosses and sometimes flowers at the sharpest turns reminding you that mortality can be one white-knuckled skid of a tire away. The World's Most Dangerous Road, from La Paz to Coroico, was given that ominous moniker by the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank.

Much of it is no wider than 3.2 metres - since the average car is about 1.65 metres wide, two would have difficulty passing. It also has no guardrails and, if you go over the edge, search-and-rescue can consist of police waiting to see where the vultures are circling.

The dirt track is used mostly by tourists who have signed on with mountain-bike companies to go on a 67-kilometre run that starts at an elevation of 4,700 metres in La Cumbre, which is about an hour outside La Paz, and ends at 1,200 metres in Coroico. The run, which is done in about five
Death RoadDeath RoadDeath Road

A dozen or so companies in La Paz offer the "Death Road" adventure trip. Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking was the first and has one of the best safety track records.
hours, including breaks, is an increasingly popular adventure tourism excursion here.

Mercifully, all but three kilometres of the 67 are downhill. At this kind of altitude, taking a step, let alone trying to ride a bike uphill, can be a life-altering experience. But once -- or if -- you get over the vertigo, the vistas are mind-numbingly beautiful. Or maybe it's the lack of oxygen that numbs the brain? Either way, it's quite the trip.

The pass through the mountains is extremely lush and green. Mist wafting through the higher levels of the mountain range gives the road an other-worldly feel to it. It is also amazingly quiet when you stop and take in the view.

On organized tours - which are really the only safe way to do this trip - guides will point out the wrecks down the cliffs in an appropriately sombre and cautionary tone.

The road also has several ribbon-like waterfalls that pound the road, making conditions even more difficult. Despite all of the challenges the road presents, physical exertion isn't really one of them. Anyone who is in decent shape can tackle the road because so much of it is downhill.
Ready to goReady to goReady to go

The starting point is an hour out of La Paz - at an altitude of 4,700 metres.

You do need to be strong enough to grip the brakes and hold on for dear life - especially at the start, when you are looking all the way down into the valley. You also need to take time to enjoy the - literally - breathtaking scenery. The road is a seemingly endless series of switchbacks and hairpin turns. Each turn offers a view of the tiny track you are heading down on. From the top, at La Cumbre, it looks like nothing more than an ant trail.

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 24


All geared upAll geared up
All geared up

Gravity offers protective gear including gloves and windbreakers.
At altitudeAt altitude
At altitude

Being at 4,700m I was very grateful for the fact that it was all downhill for the first hour or so
What lies aheadWhat lies ahead
What lies ahead

The view of the road ahead at our first stop

The lead guide stops at various points to explain the route (and risks) that lie ahead.
Bus wrecksBus wrecks
Bus wrecks

Along most of the road numerous wrecks can be seen hundreds of metres below

The first 20km or so are very easy as all of it on a wide tarmac road

The only real risks here are gravel and oncoming traffic.
Death RoadDeath Road
Death Road

This is where the actual Death Road begins - a 40km dirt track which leads down into the Amazon jungle
Death RoadDeath Road
Death Road

This is the only proper crash barrier for the next 40km
Extreme dropoffExtreme dropoff
Extreme dropoff

The first third of Death roads sees extreme dropoffs of at least 600 meters
Watch your speedWatch your speed
Watch your speed

Some 20 cyclists have died since downhill cycling began in 1998
Cycling on Death RoadCycling on Death Road
Cycling on Death Road

This is the only photo I took whilst I was actually cycling. I quickly realised that I'd prefer to have both hands on the brakes at all times.
Cross on Death RoadCross on Death Road
Cross on Death Road

Death Road is lined with crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles have fallen.
Into the mistInto the mist
Into the mist

Transiting quickly from a cool 4,700 metres to rainforest parts of the road are often covered in mist
Misty conditionsMisty conditions
Misty conditions

The bad thing was that I couldn't see the depth of the drop-off anymore. On second thought, that was probably a good thing.

2nd August 2012

My daughter did this road several months ago and her camera was stolen in Cusco, so no photos. Thank you for providing yours and your wonderful narrative.

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