• Claire

I Survived Death Road in Bolivia! Mountain-Biking Down 'The World's Most Dangerous Road'

Updated: Jun 16

One of the most popular activities for visitors to the city of La Paz is a mountain-biking thrill ride down ‘Death Road’. The idea of taking on a 3,800m vertical descent down the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ intrigued me. Somehow, while backpacking in Bolivia, I found myself – a first-time mountain biker – gripping the handlebars for dear life and hurtling down 'Death Road'.

The day began with a pickup from my hostel in downtown La Paz. I was pleased to find out that it would only be me and one other girl in our group along with our support car driver and guide for the day. The four of us drove two hours out of La Paz and up a winding highway into the Andes mountain range.


We began our 64km ride at La Cumbre Pass at an elevation of 4,700m. At this high altitude, it was freezing. Beautiful snow-capped mountains loomed in the distance. We got geared up in a car park at the beginning of the ride. They gave us pants, jacket, knee pads, elbow pads and a helmet – I felt pretty bad-ass in all the professional-looking gear. Our guide gave us a short safety briefing, twice (as the other girl didn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak fluent-enough Spanish), and showed us techniques on how to fall safely. Honestly, at this point, I had no idea what I was in for. I’d never mountain biked before and was worried that I’d bitten off more than I could chew...


Beginning of the ride at La Cumbre Pass

Beginning of the ride at La Cumbre Pass


The first part of the ride was on a windy and steep paved highway that's not technically part of Death Road. This first hour-and-a-bit was a good opportunity to get used to the bike on a relatively smooth surface. However, it was still quite dangerous – the side of the road dropped off down into steep cliffs. You could get up a fair bit of speed and crazy Bolivian drivers passed us a bit too close for comfort.


Paved section of the ride

Paved section of the ride

Paved section of the ride


Pretty much instantly I grabbed the brakes with a death-grip and barely let them go the whole way. I chose to take it slow – I didn’t feel comfortable or experienced enough to go for it at the speed that many of the other riders were going. However, I did take comfort in the fact that the support car was following along right next to us the whole way.


Our instructor would be the perfect Instagram boyfriend – he stopped us regularly for photo opportunities and directed our poses and shots with expertise.



After just under two hours of riding, with many frequent stops, we arrived at the official beginning of ‘Death Road’. ‘Death Road’ is less-grimly officially named 'Yungas Road'. The road was built in 1930 by Paraguayan prisoners and until 2006, was the only road connecting the town of Coroico to Bolivia's capital La Paz. Yungas Road got its ominous nickname from the staggering number of vehicles that have plummeted over the edge of its cliffs over the years. The perilous switchbacks, steep slopes, lack of guardrails and frequent bad weather made this road famous for danger. In 1983, 100 people were killed when an overcrowded bus veered off the side of the road into a canyon. Nearly 300 people were killed on the road every year up until 1994. It was quite unnerving to ride past countless crosses and shrines that line the edges of the cliff – they made me grip the brakes even tighter…


Thankfully, an alternative route, safer route that was finished in 2006 replaces the most dangerous section between Chusquipata and Yolosa. A two-lane, paved highway with guardrails winds around a different mountain range. Today, the original 'Death Road' is no longer open to buses or trucks and is mainly only used for tourists and mountain-bikers.


'Death Road'

'Death Road'

Biking 'Death Road'


The terrain got more challenging, the further we got down death road. The road is unsealed and at many points, waterfalls run down onto the road from the mountains above creating slippery and uneven conditions. The lack of guardrails means that one wrong move could have you plummeting down the steep cliffs. It is estimated that twenty-two cyclists have lost their lives while doing the thrill-seeking mountain bike ride in the last twenty years!


Biking 'Death Road'

Death Road'


We made many stops for photos along the way, including the iconic cliff-edge photo. Our tour company also made us a packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit, chocolate and drinks and we stopped on the side of the road for many rest breaks.


'Death Road'

'Death Road'


As we were descending at a rapid rate, the further down we went, the warmer it got. The closer we got to the Amazon jungle, the sweatier we became. Between 5-6 hours of riding later, we finally completed death road. I was kind of over it by the end of the ride - my hands were killing me from gripping the brakes and it's exhausting, you have to be constantly on the lookout for obstacles on the bumpy track and concentrating on not riding off the edge. This activity is definitely not for the faint-hearted and it was safe to say, that I was extremely relieved that I’d survived Death Road…


Our support van picked us up from the bottom and we drove to a nearby hotel for a well-deserved lunch and a shower. We then made the drive back to La Paz using the new highway and each received a t-shirt to mark our achievement.


I cannot stress enough that this bike ride can be seriously dangerous. My guide waited until afterwards to tell me that less than a month earlier, a New-Zealander had died after riding off the edge of a cliff. He told me that multiple tourists die per year biking death road and many break bones or end up in comas each month. I’m not sure if it was a good or bad thing that I only found this out afterwards… It’s not a race and it’s really important that you go at a pace you feel comfortable with. It’s not worth risking your life to show off and you shouldn't exceed a speed that you're comfortable with, especially if you’re only a beginner - this ride is no joke


Additional Info / Tips


I went with Vertigo Biking Company who I was really happy with. I really liked that they operate in small groups – it was only me and another girl with our guide who encouraged us to go at our own pace. Other companies had huge groups of up to thirty people. Also, Vertigo gave us full protective motorbike helmets. Other groups only had thin, bicycle helmets on – I felt much safer with the extra protection.


The whole experience cost $80 USD and included transportation, guide, support car and driver, all equipment hire, snacks during the ride, lunch afterwards and a t-shirt. We also had to pay an additional tourist entrance fee of 50 bolivianos ($10 AUD) to the Municipality of Coroico to enter death road.


Wear sunscreen! Although it was cloudy, I got really burnt on my face in the outline of my helmet because I forgot to put on sunscreen. I would recommend wearing layers (including a rain jacket) as the weather changes dramatically throughout the ride.


If you can, opt to do the ride on a day that it's not raining.


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You can read more about my adventures in South America on my blog or by following either of my Instagram accounts: claire_brack / chasingafterclaire