Yeee-ha! The world´s most dangerous road by bike

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Where I stayed
Don Quixote Hotel

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, January 21, 2006

We'd been told it's an absolute must-do in Bolivia... hurtling down "the world's most dangerous road" on a mountain bike! Always up for a challenge, we signed up with one of the many agencies in La Paz who offer this adrenaline-filled one-day adventure, and early on Friday 20 January, five of us, with two guides, set off in a van with bikes strapped to the roof.

So, what's so special about this bike ride? Well, it starts about 40 minutes' drive out of La Paz at La Cumbre, altitude 4,700m. From there, you ride for about four hours down a very steep, twisting, single-track road notorious for the number of vehicle accidents it causes. The road is cut into the steep mountainside - it is overhung by sheer cliffs and terrifying drop-offs loom on the left side all the way down. The descent in altitude is rapid - from the starting point at 4,700m, you go to 1,100m (a drop of 3,600m) over about 74km of road.

Thick fog and sleet enveloped us as we climbed out of the vehicle at La Cumbre. "Arrggh," we thought, "it's gonna be a long day on a bike in weather like this!". We kitted up in waterproof gear supplied by the tour operator, and hopped on our bikes (with front suspension and all-important disc brakes).

For the first two hours or so we rode in wind, fog and rain, miserably cold and wet despite the waterproofs. Thankfully, the first stretch of the road is paved; nevertheless it's pretty nerve-racking negotiating tight corners and controlling your speed on the constant downhill in these weather conditions. My hands were frozen to the brakes! We stopped for a rest every now and then, and huffed and puffed our way up the three or four short uphills (totally out of breath due to the altitude, of course!).

Shortly after, the asphalt petered out and we found ourselves on gravel... the Death Road itself. The incline was nowhere near as steep as I was expecting, but, as promised, it was a narrow, eroded and bumpy gravel track that clung precariously to the mountain. As the fog lifted, a dramatic drop-off revealed itself on the left... best not look over the edge if you suffer from vertigo!

By now it was getting warmer around us and the vegetation had changed from windblown altiplano scrub to lush cloud forest. As we continued our descent, the clouds disappeared altogether and we found ourselves surrounded by the most magnificent and dramatic scenery. Tropical valleys unfolded below us, and up ahead we could see our little road wind its way down the steep mountainside covered in emerald green forests. Here and there, a waterfall cascaded over the road from above us... we got wet a few times!

There were plenty of stops to take in the breath-taking scenery and take photos. Our guides and support vehicle were happy to wait for us and let us stop as often as we liked; they fuelled us with sandwiches, bananas, chocolates and drinks. Though we found the ride technically challenging, the surroundings were just magnificent and the pace was relaxed enough. This ride is really only as dangerous as you want it to be...

Having said that, one member of our group had a narrow escape. German, an Argentinian student, had been riding up ahead with one of the guides. The rest of us rounded a bend to find him standing in the road, bewildered and without his bike. We asked him where his bike was and he pointed to the drop-off... we looked over the edge and sure enough, there it was about 10 metres down! Apparently he'd lost control, tumbled over the handlebars and fallen off, while his bike shot over the cliff! Phew, he was shocked but in one piece, and continued the ride on a spare bike.

As we neared Yolosa, the end point, a number of other groups caught up with us and there was quite a festive atmosphere for the last 20 minutes or so. The final hurdle was a substantial drift with strong, fast-flowing river... most of us didn't have quite enough momentum to make it through and ended up with our feet wet.

We finished at Yolosa (1,100m) at about 2.30pm, sweaty and dirty but exhiliated. It had been the most amazing bike ride of our lives... the cold, tough start, the dramatic change in climate and vegetation, the mountain scenery, and the adrenaline rush provided by the crazy road itself made this one of our most unforgettable days.

The outing ends with a tasty buffet lunch at Hotel Don Quixote in the village of Coroico, about 20 minutes on from Yolosa. We all had showers (bliss!) but unfortunately the swimming pool we'd been told about looked a bit green, so no-one swam. Rich and I had decided to spend the night at Coroico and continue on to Rurrenabaque the next day, so at about 6pm we said good-bye to our group and our guides, and settled down for a relaxing evening of reading books and watching the hotel's pet macaws and toucans in the garden. Ahhhh, a blissful end to an unforgettable day!
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