Bolivia’s Death Road: Mountain Biking Down The Most Dangerous Road

Bolivia has no shortage of impressive sights and natural attractions, but a mountain biking adventure on Bolivia’s Death Road, located outside of La Paz in the Yungas region, is a trip like no other. Winding beneath the mountain peaks, this scenic road was built by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930’s. At the time, it was one of the few roads used to connect La Paz to the Amazon rainforest region to the north.

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The Death Road (known locally as El Camino de la Muerte or simply Yungas Road) is considered by many to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The narrow 3-metre wide road stretches for over 40 miles with sheer cliffs and very few guard rails. In 2006, it was estimated that over 300 people die on this road every year, yet the danger of the experience is precisely the appeal!

About the Death Road

Besides sharp turns and steep drops, other hazards include loose stones, oncoming traffic that includes trucks carrying goods and livestock, and mudslides during the rainy season. Depending on the time of year, you might also encounter fog and mist, both of which reduce visibility. For several years, this was the only road connecting La Paz to the Amazon Basin in northern Bolivia, so it used to get even more traffic! While the snowy Andean peaks of this region are stunning, they make for difficult terrain for travel, and few routes run through this area.

Before other roads were built to connect La Paz to other areas, there were so many fatalities on the Death Road that the Inter-American Development Bank declared it “the world’s most dangerous road”. It was so bad that in 1983, a bus fell down a cliffside, and over 100 people died. Since then, other routes have been built with two lanes to allow bigger vehicles to travel safely. Safety measures have also been put in place, like requiring drivers to drive on the left side of the road in order to have better visibility of the vehicle’s wheel placement. In fact, this road is one of the few places in South America that enforces left-hand traffic. 

There was no way in hell Oksana was going to join me on this little adventure, so I took it upon myself to take one for the team.

Yungas Rd, aka the Death Road
Yungas Rd, aka the Death Road, Bolivia 
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Choosing An Operator For Biking On Death Road In Bolivia

Choosing a reputable operator is the key success factor for any type of trip, but when it comes to Death Road, Bolivia, bikes…then it’s even more important! One failed break; one less-than-perfect bike can make you lose control and result in injury, or worse!

Trip Advisor reviews for Bolivia tours, and a few local recommendations helped us select Barracuda Biking as the operator for the trip down this infamous road. Their Certificate of Excellence and hundreds of Excellent reviews made me feel confident that I was in good hands. Seeing their equipment on the day (original Kona bikes and full suspension with hydraulic disc brakes) confirmed that I’d made a good choice for my adventure on the Death Road, Bolivia.

Max in this Barracuda Riding gear at the start of the Death Road
Max in his Barracuda Biking gear at the start of the Death Road, La Paz

Biking On The Death Road In Bolivia

Our day started with an early morning meet-up in La Paz’s Central District. After meeting the guide, Gustavo, and the rest of the riders in the capital city, we all jumped in the van heading for the Mirador La Cumbre.

Once at the top, we got a serious safety briefing (these guys don’t joke about safety), got our gear, tested our brakes, and started our descent on Death Road, La Paz.

The first part of the road was fast but easy; it was paved and gave everyone in the group a chance to get used to the gear and find their own pace. Then, after a quick 10km ride back in the truck (the uphill part of the road), the paved road disappeared, and we found ourselves on the narrow Death Road, Bolivia.

We hopped on our bikes and started the ride, passing through some pretty spectacular scenery as we descended into the rainforest. There were plenty of stops and picture ops along the way, and while the ride was an adrenaline-filled experience, thanks to my bike riding experience, I never felt unsafe or like I was pushing my limits or the limits of the bike.

By the time we reached the bottom, we were more than ready for lunch. Biking down the Death Road Bolivia certainly works up an appetite! Luckily, a hearty buffet lunch awaited us, along with a dip in the swimming pool and hot showers. We had about an hour to rest, clean up and get ready for the long bus ride back to La Paz.

Safety briefing by Barracuda Biking
Safety briefing by Barracuda Biking, they take safety very seriously on their Bolivia tours
Overlooking the Yungas Valley from the paved section before the Death Road
Overlooking the Yungas Valley from the paved section before the Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia bike tours
Death Road, Bolivia bike tours

The Death Road, Bolivia – Should You Do It?

It was an awesome day and definitely a highlight of my time in Bolivia. If there is one thing I’ll note for anyone thinking about conquering the famous Death Road, it’s don’t hesitate and DO IT. If you go with a reputable operator with good gear (Barracuda Biking was awesome), follow the safety instructions and make sure you aren’t pushing your own limits during the ride, you’ll enjoy the trip and the spectacular scenery along the Death Road. If you’re coming from an area that’s closer to sea level, it’s a good idea to let your body adjust to the altitude for a day or two beforehand, as altitude sickness can hit you quickly and have disastrous consequences.

If at any point along the way, you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with the narrow road, the bike, or anything else, remember you can stop halfway through, jump into the support vehicle that follows the riders and enjoy the scenery from the safety of the bus. 

Bus going back to La Paz
Bus going back to La Paz

Essential Travel Info For Conquering The Death Road, Bolivia:

Getting there: Mountain biking trips along the Death Road can be organized from La Paz, where many tour operators run this Bolivia tour as a day trip (7am-9pm). You don’t need to pre-book and can sign up for the tour the day before.

Cost: Barracuda Biking offers these Bolivia tours for $72.

Skill Required: To safely conquer the Death Road Bolivia, you must be comfortable riding downhill on a mountain bike. Those who aren’t can still experience the road by tagging along in the support vehicle that follows the riders throughout the day.

Things To Do In La Paz

While you’re in the La Paz area, it’s well worth it to spend a day or two exploring this beautiful city. It’s a great way to adjust to the altitude! It’s a beautiful, bustling city, filled with a mix of ornate Spanish Colonial architecture and modern buildings, amazing eateries, and colourful markets. 

Calle Jaen

Located in the heart of Old Town, this is the best-preserved colonial road. Calle Jaen is lined with colonial-era homes that house small museums, cafes, galleries, and shops. This is a great place to wander, people-watch, and take some great photos.

Calle Jaen, La Paz
Calle Jaen, La Paz

Take a Cable Car Ride Over the City

Mi Teleferico is a 10 km aerial cable car system, and consists of 26 stations all over the city. A sustainable solution to the traffic problem in La Paz, Mi Teleferico’s cable cars utilize solar power. Each of the system’s five lines has several stops, and the views of the city below are simply amazing.

View of La Paz from the Cable car
View of La Paz from the Cable car

Mercado de Las Brujas

The so-called “Witches’ Market” is a fascinating place to explore and learn about Bolivian culture. You’ll see vendors selling offerings to Pachamama, medicinal herbs, and implements used in rituals alongside spiritual workers reading fortunes and providing guidance to locals. 

Local Market in La Paz
Local Market in La Paz

Disclaimer: Max was a guest of Barracuda Biking on this tour of the Death Road. However, all opinions expressed in this article are my own.

READ NEXT: Exploring Southern Bolivia on a Salar de Uyuni Tour

3 thoughts on “Bolivia’s Death Road: Mountain Biking Down The Most Dangerous Road”

  1. We took Barracuda as well. It was a great adventure. I have to admit your pictures are a lot better than ours. We had clouds and fog most of the day, but we had no rain. It is an awesome experience. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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