Death Road in Bolivia – myth busted!

Death Road in Bolivia is a legend itself. Everybody heard about killer road without railings leading over the cliff of the canyon, where many people died every single year. It was considered as The World’s Most Dangerous Road… but not anymore. See what has changed!

 

Bolivian government in 1995 drew an attention to the dramatic accidents on just a 56-kilometers stretch of the road nearby La Paz. It’s estimated that 200-300 people were killed in accidents every year. The narrow road climbs in the jungle-clad mountains to a height of 4,650m, winding and turning all along a deep canyon below. Dozens of vehicles went off the road each year. Crosses at every corner don’t allow to forget about victims. The road is also known as: Grove’s Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, El Camino de la Muerte, Road of Death, Unduavi-Yolosa Highway.

Touristy Death Road – in grey, new built road – in blue.

 

Old Death Road – a new tourist attraction

In 2006, a construction of a new asphalt road on the opposite side of the canyon has been finished and all traffic redirected through it. The legendary gravel Death Road is only 32 km long now and left only for tourists! The name has remained, but it would be misunderstanding to call it the Death Road. All previous accidents were caused by crazy drivers of trucks and buses… but now they simply don’t drive there! It’s become a must-see Bolivian attraction and the path is full of cyclists now. When we’re driving there, we’re the only car. Yes, of course, the views are still stunning, but not for views we visited this place! We wanted an increased heartbeat, jumping adrenaline and sense of danger – all we’re thinking about when planning our visit there! Unfortunately, nothing like this has happened. Just an ordinary ride on the gravel road on the edge. πŸ˜› ( nothing special after thousands of kilometers done in South America). Only one spot was quite interesting and made an impression on us, a cliff overgrown with ferns.

 

New Death Road

We left Death Road disappointed a little bit and totally unaware of what was waiting for us around the corner. We planned a further route from Yolosa to Caranavi and then continue through the jungle to Mapiri and Sorata. Behind Yolosa we saw signs of a mandatory change of side of the road from right to left. We didn’t understand why – the road was still in a very good condition, two-lane tarmac with guard rails. But as soon as tarmac gone we knew why, the road narrowed down to 2.5-3 meters, in a really bad condition, literally falling apart. Few hundred meters deep gap was on the left and rocky wall on the right. Drivers were always at the edge side so that made passing easier and “safer”.

Route Yolosa – Caranavi could be considered a New Death Road. We turned towards Mapiri in Caranavi, but heard the continuaton of the road up to Yucumo has also much to offer.

 

After a few kilometers we had to stop as in the front of a road barrier. Locals informed us that a further part of the road is closed, open only from 5 pm until 7 o’clock in the morning. So we sat in a local restaurant nearby and waited for the opening. Luckily, we had time to make some photos of the road in relatively safe conditions, without cars on it…

 

We came to the gates on time… It was a disaster!!! There were many other cars. Just before 5 drivers were warming up the engines like rally drivers and waiting to the man wave checkered flag to begin the race. We were somewhere in the middle of this mess and two times we thought it was the end for us.

First time: We stopped at the edge of the cliff to let a bus pass. We could see parts of the road falling apart under a load of our car. If a not-really-wise bus driver had stopped sooner, we would have made it without problems as there was more room to do it but they don’t seem to use brain at all and just push through the road without looking at others.
Second time: It was very dark, it was raining a little bit so road got slippery. We noticed a big lorry in front of us, so stopped at the first ”wider” spot of the road. Rear wheels of the lorry had lost traction and while passing us it started to slide toward us. On the left side of the car – 400m cliff, the right side of the car – lorry filled with rocks. No chance to move forward or reverse. It was close call and after that we decided we would never ever do it again! Lorry driver didn’t seem to be moved at all.

Before entering the road we planned to do a lot of pictures and shoot video. Unfortunately, the track was too dangerous, and we were focused on driving. Photos and the first part of the video were made while waiting for the opening of the road, and the second part was shot in the evening, when the traffic was reopened. Then it was just only worse…

See how the REAL Death Road looks like! Sorry for quality of the video but we’re recording it on bubble gum! ;p

 
 

Travel tips

 

1. Touristy Death Road

  • Death Road bike tours can be arranged in La Paz. There is a lot of travel agencies providing this kind of activity, especially along Sagarnaga Street in the city centre. Downhill on this part of the route is fantastic! The price is about 600 BOL;
  • Road of Death can also be reached by public transport. Just jump into a small bus (collectivo) on Av. Ramiro Castillo in La Paz going towards Coroico, and then ask the driver to stop by the turn to the Death Road (you will see the road sign). After a few hundred meters you’ll reach a gate which is an official start of the legendary road. Of course, the entire route is too long to walk, but you can go for a short walk and see how it looks;
  • you can enter the Death Road in your private car/ motorbike or bicycle;
  • admission fee is 25 BOL/person. It likes to rise up very quickly though. It used to be 25 BOL/car. Don’t be surprised that might be 35 BOL/person already (3 months later)… After the payment you should receive an official ticket. You can access Death Road from one of its ends. Depending on what direction you came from, either end of the road is an entrance or an exit. You pay only once at the beginning. Watch out for scammers! Many people traveling there in their own vehicles complained they were asked to pay at random unofficial checkpoints in the middle of the road and at the exit (without getting a new ticket or invoice!). It also happened to us. They closed the road and were trying to force us to pay a second time and at the exit. We didn’t pay, of course. Chev threw temporary gate away so we could carry on. They were trying to get us scared by saying they would call the police and some other stories. We hate scammers!
  • If you want to visit the Road of Death on your own, without tour guides, the best time to go is after 2 pm, when all cyclists end their tours.

 

2. New Death Road

  • If you love adrenaline and don’t mind to die sometimes just drive a real Death Road from Yolosa to Caranavi. Don’t wait and do it now! The route is still under construction, but they plan to complete works in 2018.