Google – cycling Death Road Bolivia – and you’ll find articles hyping the 15,000 foot descent, the sheer drop and the 300 yearly deaths. So undoubtedly when we arrived in La Paz the thought of cycling down Yungas Road – now better known as Death Road was on everyone’s minds. About 50 percent of the backpacker crowd at The Wild Rover Hostel were game, while the other half had absolutely no desire. For some reason I fell into the former group. For reasons unknown to me, cycling down one of the most dangerous roads in the world seemed pretty fun. Plus the road is hardly used by cars anymore making it a lot safer than it once was. Thinking about pulling on the helmet and gloves and taking on the infamous Death Road Bolivia? Here’s everything you can expect for your impending journey

Booking with the right company

As usual for any main tourist attraction there are hundreds of agencies selling tickets. As Death Road can be dangerous it’s important to take the time to look around and compare prices and bikes. You really do get what you pay for. And safety shouldn’t be something you scrimp on. So don’t just go with the cheapest price. After visiting a few agencies and talking with travellers who had taken the tour, we decided to go with Extreme Downhill. And as we were a group of eight, paid 350BOB (About $50USD) for the full day tour and the mid level bike.
A few things to think about when researching tour companies are:
  • The level of the bike they give you. We had front suspension bikes with hydraulic disk brakes.
  • The gear they lend you. At Extreme Downhill we received full-face helmets, elbow and knee protection, leather gloves and good quality pants and jackets incase you fall off.
  • How they provide the photos afterwards. Ideally they should be able to provide you the photos they take on disk or via wetransfer.com.

Once you’ve chosen your respected vendor you should get fitted for a helmet, gloves, pants and jacket the night before. This is important as you don’t want to be turning up in the morning and receiving ill-fitting safety gear. Also, most companies will want you to pay the full amount up-front. If you can avoid this and just pay a deposit do so. As the food in Bolivia is pretty shotty and we heard about a few people losing their money due to food poisoning.

packing list

According to the experts when cycling down Death Road Bolivia a little rain equals good weather. So suffice to say, you’ll most likely be freezing the entire time. The 15,000 foot descent also ends in the super hot jungle. So to avoid being freezing and then boiling I’d make sure you wear/pack the following:

  • Runners (that you don’t mind getting wet/muddy)
  • Warm socks
  • A pair of thongs (or flip-flops for the non-Aussies) to change into after
  • Leggings and t-shirt to ride in
  • Shorts and t-shirt to change into after
  • A warm jumper (you’ll need it at the start)
  • Thermals (again, you’ll need these when you start)
  • Some warm gloves to wear under the gloves they give you. My fingers were so cold they were stinging the entire ride.
  • A beanie to wear under your helmet. Trust me, it is that cold.
  • Towel, bathers and sunscreen for a swim where you have lunch
  • Bug spray. At the bottom of the ride the horse flies are insane!
  • A bit of extra cash for tip and a couple of beers
  • Your phone for photos. I’d only bring it if you’ve got a life-proof cover as it may get wet or damaged. While the tour company will take photos of you, their camera isn’t the best, so it was good to have some photos of my own

Getting there

You’ll be picked up from your hostel bright and early (7 am is bright and early when you’ve been drinking a few too many mini Guinness’s at the Wild Rover). And all pile into a mini bus with bikes on the roof. After an hour drive uphill you’ll stop on the side of the road, receive your gear, bikes and a quick breakfast. This will be the coldest point of the day. So layer up. You’ll have about 10 – 15 minutes to give your bike a test ride around the car park for height and to get used to the brakes. And then you’re off on your test run.

the Test run

The test run is basically a super-fast 30 minute ride down a really steep gravel road. With trucks and cars whizzing past and hitting speeds of up to 50/60km an hour I actually found this part more scary than the actual Death Road Bolivia. Luckily our bikes were excellent and no one came off. You finish off this part of the day with some off-roading to give you a preview of what you’re about to experience.

Cycling death road Bolivia

death_road_bolivia_friends
Akash, Alex and I sitting with our feet dangling over the edge of Death Road.
Once the test run is over, the bikes are piled back onto the roof of the mini-bus and you’re driven to the entrance of ‘El Camino de la Muerte’ (The Death Road). From here you get your final briefing. Basically; keep your eyes on the ground in front of you; watch out for large rocks that might make you come off your bike; yell out when you’re going to pass someone; and don’t go too fast. For some reason they also make you ride on the left hand side of the road – the side closer to the cliff face. Which was great news to all, seeing as it had just started raining and visibility was beginning to become strained.
With all of our bikes screeching from the rain we slowly took off one-by-one and formed a pretty orderly queue. And once we were actually riding on Death Road it wasn’t that scary. Everyone was able to go at their own pace and we stopped a few times to take in the magnificent views and hear some horror stories about buses careering off some of the more dangerous parts.
After about 2 hours of riding through some pretty steep sections, running rivers, under waterfalls and down narrow stretches of road (the narrowest being about 3 meters) we finally made it to the end and into the jungle. A quick spot of lunch, a couple of beers and a quick swim in the pool continued the highs of the day.

would I recommend it?

All in all, considering how nervous I was prior to taking the tour, cycling Death Road actually wasn’t that scary at all. As long as you keep your wits about you, go at your own pace and don’t try to show off. A guy in another group on our day broke a collarbone from trying to go too fast. The views are pretty incredible. And if you’re into ‘horrible histories’ the stories are really interesting as well. Topping the whole day off with a little splash in the pool after being in high altitude for 3 weeks was also a welcome surprise. Plus, now I can say I cycled Death Road… And didn’t die.


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