We have done some crazy things on our travels but this may be the most stupid, most fun, most frightening and most incredible experience so far. If you’re a strong cyclist or you like to putt putt along like us then Yungas Road should be on your bucket list.
Yungas road stretches from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas region of Bolivia, South America. It is a mostly single-lane dirt road with no guard rails, and it snakes along steep hillsides of lush rainforest and cliffs reaching 600 metres high. In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank named it the “world’s most dangerous road” and the locals have dubbed it “the death road”.
An unwritten local rule is for uphill drivers to give right of way and to move to the cliff’s edge to allow the faster, downhill driver to pass. There have been over 300 lives lost on this road, mostly from vehicles falling off the edge. In 2006, an upgraded route and road was developed so this road could be avoided by travellers, but many locals still use it. Yungas Road is now very popular for tourists and downhill mountain bikers. Everyone who tries their courage on this road are called “thrill seekers” – just remember, since 1998 there have been at least 18 people that have died from falling off the edge while riding.
Go on the road
Who to go with: We traveled with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. The company has been in operation in Bolivia for 10 years. There were local guides as well as a main western leader. They have a fantastic safety record, fairly new bikes that are serviced after each ride and helmets are provided. After meeting at a cafe early in the morning (for a bite to eat and coffee) we were driven two hours out of town to the top of the downhill bike ride. We were put onto our bikes and followed by the safety van the whole way (and at any stage you could get back in). There is always a guide at the front with those who are comfortable enough to go faster, and a guide stays at the back for those who need to build their confidence. A half way snack stop is included before continuing to the bottom of the hill where you are greeted at a local Animal Rescue Shelter (La Senda Verde Animal Refuge) where hot food and a hot shower is provided before returning back in the mini van (along the new road). It is a full day trip from La Paz, Bolivia.
When: The best time is from April – October so you avoid the wet season and therefore a muddy track, rain and fog.
What to bring: The guys at Gravity will give you an idea when you book but the top of the hill can be very cold at times of the year. It is best to bring layers and take them off as you go (you will leave/put all belongings into the safety van during some of the many breaks and photo opportunities provided). A camera and enough water is a must.
*Images by Jared ‘Crunky’ Crunkhorn