Last year when I visited Bolivia I wanted to go downhill with a bike on the “World’s most Dangerous Road” also know as North Yungas Road, Grove’s Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, El Camino de la Muerte, Road of Death or Death Road. I have done it and I am still here. It was a great experience and the scenery is just amazing. I am used to the roads here in alps and the cliffs but mostly there is some safety features on the road, that is not the case in Bolivia. The only thing that might save you if you drive over the cliff are the trees and the jungle that might soften the fall, but the walls are so steep that probably you would fall several hundred meters down. Let me tell you a few facts about the road.
The Road of Death is a 69-kilometre long road leading from La Paz to Coroico, 56 kilometres northeast of La Paz in the Yungas region of Bolivia. It is legendary for its extreme danger and in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the “world’s most dangerous road”. One estimate is that 200 to 300 travellers were killed yearly along the road. The road includes crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles have fallen.
The road was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners. It is one of the few routes that connects the Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia, or Yungas, to its capital city. Upon leaving La Paz, the road first ascends to around 4,650 meters at La Cumbre Pass, before descending to 1,200 meters at the town of Coroico, transiting quickly from cool Altiplano terrain to rainforest as it winds through very steep hillsides and atop cliffs.
Because of the extreme dropoffs of at least 600 meters , single-lane width – most of the road no wider than 3.2 meters and lack of guard rails, the road is extremely dangerous. Further still, rain, fog and dust can reduce visibility. In many places the road surface is muddy, and can loosen rocks from the road.
One of the local road rules specifies that the downhill driver never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road. This forces fast vehicles to stop so that passing can be negotiated safely. Also, vehicles drive on the left, as opposed to the right like the rest of Bolivia. This gives a left hand drive vehicle’s driver a better view over his outside wheel, making passing safer.
The danger of the road ironically made it a popular tourist destination. The road is popular amongst tourists since there is a 64-kilometre stretch of continuos downhill riding with only one short uphill section.
Since 2006 The North Yungas Road aka. The Death Road in not used anymore as a main road and is mainly used by the tourists who want to ride downhill. There is a new road which was modernized and includes 2-lane asphalt pavement, bridges, drainage, guardrails and many other elements which make it considerably safer than the original route. This new section of road bypasses the most dangerous section of the old road.
Driving down the Death Road was an experience I will never forget. Bellow you can find the map and gps data from the whole trip I made that day. We started in La Paz and head up to La Cumbre Pass and there we started our descent to Bolivian jungle and the town of Coroico. On our way back to La Paz we ascended with a car on the new part of the road which is clearly visible on the map below.
Top Gear on BBC also made a whole episode in Bolivia and it includes driving up the Death Road. You can watch the video on youtube (opens in a new window).