When thinking of Bolivia, adventure tourism is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. The Amazon rainforest, maybe, or the Solyar del Ulyuni salt flats, but those natural wonders are far from the fix adrenaline junkies are searching for. What if I told you there is a road in Bolivia like no other, with twisting dirt tracks barely wide enough for a car. A road with blind corners and guard-less ledges that drop hundreds of feet into the dense jungle below. A road that claims the lives of over two hundred travellers a year, and yet people still voluntarily hurl themselves down on rickety mountain bikes at break-neck speeds. Would you come along for the ride?
The North Yungas Road is hailed as the most dangerous road in the world. Running north west from La Paz, it climbs to a breathtaking 15,250 feet at the La Cumbra Pass before plummeting over 11,000 feet to the town of Coroico. What begins as a brisk sunny morning ride on the outskirts of La Paz quickly turns into a soaking wet adrenaline fueled race through the rainforest. During your descent through multiple altitudes you experience three climate changes before you reach the bottom. The clear blue skies in the top section quickly turn to thick fog as you drop into the rainforest section making visibility nearly impossible.
The route is studded with memorial flower bouquets and scribed monuments on the cliffs' edge, evidence that some of those before had failed to stay on track. It’s hardly surprising given the quality of the bikes and the condition of the brakes, or lack there of. Just to make it a little more interesting, this dodgy excuse for a road has a constant flow of traffic including trucks, cars, motorcycles and donkeys, all ascending and descending making for a dangerous game of Frogger and multiple sphincter tightening close-calls.
The ride down Death Road was so long that we stopped to rest half way, about 2 hours in, for a sandwich and a drink. Turns out dancing with the devil is very hunger inducing. Keeping food down while using someone’s monument as a resting place however, was difficult for some.
Over the course of the ride the road starts to get narrower, the turns sharper, the cliffs more frequent and noticeably more pronounced. One turn too wide you'll find yourself sliding on the loose gravel and going over the edge.
When I popped out of the clouds I was rewarded with breathtaking views of the lush valley in the third and final section. The road is just as winding, but the cliffs are less daunting. Or perhaps it's just the lack of ominous fog that makes them seem so. Towards the end of the ride is all fun, a cruisy track where you can take off your jacket, hit some twisty curves and work on your farmer's tan.
When you reach the bottom a final headcount is taken. If there were no casualties it’s off to a local restaurant for a late lunch, a cold cerveza, and a dip in the pool to celebrate your victory. Once everyone is fed and showered off, you pile into a van and catch a much needed nap during the long 3 hour uphill drive back to La Paz... thankfully they don’t make you bike back.
Tour Operator : Mayhem Adventures Bolivia - mayhembolivia.com