Not Dying on Death Road

Our final day in La Paz was a full one. We were picked up at 6:00 am for transport to the Death Road for a downhill mountain biking experience.

Although a modern freeway was built between 1986 to 2006, the Camino de la Muerte or “Death Road” is still in use, primarily for residents and farmers who live near the road, and tour companies.

The road is dangerous because it is literally carved out of a mountainside that forms a deep valley that begins at roughly 4,600 meters (over 15,000’) and drops dramatically by over 11,000’ in a distance of 64 km (40 mi). It features steep slopes, and a narrow single track that lacks guardrails (except when added at locations where accidents have occurred). On top of that, it is often shrouded in rain and fog, and the steep hillsides have a high risk of landslides and falling rocks.

Scary road… still in use by residents and tour companies

With vertical cliffs at the edge of the narrow road (less than 3 meters wide in some places), vehicles drive on the left (unlike the rest of the country) to allow the outer edge driver to assess the distance of their wheels from the abrupt edge of the road. Additionally, vehicles traveling downhill are required to pull close to the edge and stop to allow uphill traffic enough room to pass on the inside.

Passing on a narrow section where a previous accident resulted in a guardrail.

Part of this road was built by Paraguayan prisoners who were captured during the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay in the 1930’s. Up until the modern freeway was built, it was of one of the few routes that connected the Amazon region in the north with the capital city of La Paz.

Of course our group of twelve riders and three Altitude Travel guides (Nelson, Gandalf, and Israel), were here to experience a thrilling morning of downhill mountain biking and taking in the natural grandeur of this deep valley.

After a warm up ride… (actually a very cold, wet ride) on the paved national highway to get acquainted with the bikes and gear, we hopped back into the vans for the short ride to the top of the Death Road. Due to a significant landslide that made the road impassable further down the valley, we would only be able to ride to the site of the landslide. Although unable to ride the entire distance, we had plenty of thrills on the steep 6,000’ descent of the part we were able to ride.

During each section, our head guide Nelson, told stories about the history of the area, how the biking adventure touring industry was born, and other interesting tales. He would always end his talk with the same three safety points: 1) Always keep both hands on the handlebars, 2) Control your speed by braking before corners, and 3) Focus only on yourself while riding… later in the day during lunch after the riding was over, Nelson shared vivid stories that underscored why each of the rules were constantly reinforced.

A bit wet!

Riding down the road was a thrilling experience, full of speed, adrenaline, and the jarring sensation of vibrations from the rough road translated through the full suspension bike frame to our bodies. The equipment was top notch, adding to our confidence that the bike could absorb the most punishing parts of the very rough road, and we could easily control our speed with the well-maintained disc brakes.

Along the way during each section, the Altitude Travel staff was pre-positioned to take pictures of each rider, allowing our entire focus to remain solely on the road ahead.

The end of the road… literally! Behind us is the result of a recent landslide.

All said it was a fantastic way to end this trip. Bolivia is a richly varied country that ranges from high mountains, dense rain forest, vast salt flats, and rugged, mineral rich terrain. Everywhere we went, the people were kind, helpful and open. I hope you enjoyed following this Bolivian experience. Special thanks to mi hermano, Ron for inspiring this adventure. ¡Adios y gracias Bolivia!

5 thoughts on “Not Dying on Death Road”

  1. Obviously you are an adrenaline junkie, but you only live once. Good for you!  Safe travels home

    Sent from the all new AOL app for iOS


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