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Death Road Ride - El Camino de la Muerta, My Bike, and Me

Published by James Burt, Writer

Country: Bolivia

The Experience

Preparades? Yes, I was ready I said. My guide waved a quick goodbye and got back in his car, slammed it into gear and headed back down the mountain. I moved my bike to the road’s shoulder and while I pulled on my gloves, I admired the tranquil morning canyon below me.

I had come to the top of the Yungas Road, also known as Death Road this morning. I had been making the trek northward from Patagonia with no idea of what I wanted to do or where I was going. Along the way I got drunk in a bodega in Mendoza, got the flu in Salta, and ate real locro in Jujuy. Fun, but not real adventure. Then over a cup of coffee in a grimy bus café, an Aussie couple told me about the world’s most dangerous road, Yungas Road. They showed me a map and explained how I could rent a bike and a guide for the Yungas Road which connected the Northern Bolivian rain forest of Bolivia to La Paz through a mountain. It was guardrail-less, paralleled six hundred metre drops, and was often swamped in thick, rising fog. The couple insisted that trek down this road was worth ten trips anywhere. That afternoon I bought a ticket to La Paz, and hunkered down in a hostel for the night. After a long sleep, I inquired about getting a guide and bike. The owner smiled and made a call. Forty minutes later I was in a beat up Jeep driven by a silent yet friendly middle aged man with a greasy yellow mountain bike strapped to the top.

I took a breath and began my journey down Death Road. The bike picked up speed and my wrist tightened on the brake. My adrenal glands began pumping. I had been on a road like this one outside of the small Chinese city of Lai Wu. It was smooth and wide. This road was anything but. My front wheel hit a rut and I swung the handle bars to the left. I could see the edge of the canyon on my right and felt my muscles lock. The road got steeper and although the road looked scary, I felt a rhythm in my wrists. I worked the brakes only slightly and let myself go faster down the hill. The gravel popped underneath the wheels and a thick wind came up. The adrenal feeling returned in full force. I continued to steer, fast, steady, and carefree. The landscape beside the road was wide and vast, and seemed to lead me safely to the bottom. In retrospect, I realized it was also handy that there were no vehicles on road during my trip down.

Every minute seemed like an hour, yet it was only some minutes. I brought my bike to a halt and looked up. I wondered how far down I had come, but it soon donned on me that it wasn’t important. Just coming down the way I did was enough, knowing that hundreds of people over the years had died on this stretch, both in bike and car accidents.

When to Go to Death Road Bolivia

Since Bolivia is at its hottest during the North American Winter, it's best to ride Yungas Road during late October or early November. Spring is coming on and it is warm enough to travel comfortably. A good two week trip is best - Bolivia is not as big as Argentina and you can see a lot in that time frame.

Odds n' Ends

Be wary of luggage thieves in Peru and Bolivia, especially in and around bus terminals. People are friendly, but Bolivia is especially destitute and theft is common.


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Language Guides

Spanish is one of the languages spoken in Bolivia. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


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