According to the Inter-American Development Bank, the Death Road in Bolivia is statistically the most dangerous road in the world. It has of course been turned into a tourist attraction, with twelve separate ‘adventure sports’ companies in La Paz offering Death Road mountain biking trips.
I decided to attempt it myself whilst in La Paz. The day began with a guest house pick-up at about 8am, and we drove from La Paz up to the starting point – ‘La Cumbre’ – at about 4,700 metres altitude. We’d imagined a nice sunny day, but for the last 30 minutes of the journey, we drove through sleet and snow, and we feel silent.
The company I’d chosen – El Solario – had promised to supply a waterproof raincoat, which turned out to be little more than a porous rag, and the state of the Trek mountain bikes left rather a lot to be desired – with chains falling off and brakes not working before we even began. These kind of ‘mechanical issues’ don’t inspire confidence when you’re about to descend 3,500 metres (in altitude) down the Death Road!
The first 20KM were spent freezing and wet, hurtling down rainy sealed roads with very low visibility as we passed through the cloud line. Soon we headed off-road onto the real ‘Death Road’ which is unsealed, and has no crash barriers at all along its nearly 40km length. We would intermittently stop whilst our guide described who had died (and how) in particular spots along the way. The worst accident involved a head on collision between two buses in the 80s. Both went over the edge, and sadly all 102 people lost their lives. There have also been 12 mountain-biking tourists killed over the years.
As a biking trip it was great fun. The views were superb, and biking downhill for nearly 60KM (and 3.5KM in altitude) was definitely a huge adrenaline rush. But was it really dangerous? On one occasion I came close to losing control on a bend, with a lethal drop to one side. This slowed me down immediately and for the rest of the trip but on several occasions I still nearly flew off the bike on as I connected with a rock or two. I’m sure a lot of people are considerably more reckless than I was and I’m also sure that for these people the Death Road could easily bring about a sudden and premature end….