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DEATH ROAD BOLIVIA: IS IT WORTH IT & WHAT TO EXPECT?

The infamous death road of Bolivia, once known for causing 200-300 deaths per year, is now one of Bolivia’s most popular attractions for backpackers and thrill-seekers. The question everyone wants to know is – is it worth it? And what can you expect if you decide to do it?

WHAT IS DEATH ROAD?

Firstly, for those of you who have never heard of it, Death Road is a highway that connected La Paz to the north of Bolivia.

 

The narrow winding road etched into the cliff has been the scene of hundreds of fatal accidents over the years. Fortunately, the government built a new road for trucks and buses, and Death Road is now mainly used for tourism (mountain bike tours down the road).

 

While there’s still the odd accident (deaths average around 5 per year now), the road is nowhere near as dangerous as it used to be.

IS DEATH ROAD WORTH IT?

This depends on what type of activities you enjoy. If you are an adrenaline junkie and thrill seeker like us, then yes you will love it.

 

Aside from the thrills, the day has so much scenic variety as you descend from the snow-covered high altitude mountain ranges at 4,600m into the warm, lush jungle.

 

Riding down the newly built highway is exhilarating as you reach high speeds. Then riding down the Death Road is more challenging but is still great fun. You stop several times on the way to take in the incredible views of the valley and the waterfalls that are coming down onto the road from the cliffs above.

 

If you aren’t that confident on a bike and prefer a more laid-back experience, then it’s probably best to give the trip a miss.

 

Around 2-3 hours were riding downhill on a bumpy, rocky, winding road at fast speeds.

DEATH ROAD FAQ'S

Where is Death Road?

The start of the death road tour is around an hour’s drive from La Paz and is known as the Yungas road.

How Long is Death Road?

From the start of the road to the town of Coroico where you will finish is c.60km.

How High is Death Road?

You start riding at 4,650m and you will descend to an altitude of c.1,525m in Coroico.

 

As you are descending, altitude sickness isn’t an issue on this tour. If you have spent a few days in La Paz and are used to the altitude, you’ll be fine.

Is Death Road Dangerous?

As mentioned, there were 200-300 average deaths per year on the road back in 1995.

 

However, after the government built the new road, deaths dropped to around 5 per year. These 5 deaths come from careless drivers taking corners too fast or trying to overtake a lorry at the wrong time.

 

Some tourists have died. But again this is down to carelessness such as going too fast or not paying attention to the road.

 

Our tour guide mentioned a tourist who died because they were trying to film themselves on their phone rather than paying attention to the road. They sadly ended up riding off the cliff edge. 

 

Falling off your bike seems a pretty common occurrence. It happened to poor Koum (video below) and our tour guide mentioned that a lot of people fall off.

 

He said this was down to people being silly with friends, riding too fast into corners or using the wrong brake pedal. Just make sure you listen carefully to the guide’s instructions, don’t try to show off and ride sensibly and you’ll be fine.

WHICH IS THE BEST DEATH ROAD TOUR COMPANY?

When looking for a company to book the Death Road tour with, safety should be your number one factor when choosing.

 

You will want a company with well maintained and relatively new bikes to make sure the breaks and suspension are all in working order. Good breaks so you don’t go over the edge and good suspension, so you don’t get rattled. You also want to know that the tour guides are responsible, explain things clearly and manage the needs of the group.

 

The most well-recommended company for safety is Gravity. However, they are the most expensive.

 

We went with Barracuda Biking, who were cheaper and also have great reviews and reputation.

GravityBarracuda
Cost$125$85
Group Size147
Trip Advisor
Reviews
5 Stars, 2608 Reviews5 Stars, 1063 Reviews
Safety20+ year’s experience
Founders of the tour
Great Trip Advisor reviews
Great Trip Advisor reviews
Recommended based on our
personal experience.
ExtrasBuffet Lunch
La Senda Animal Refuge
Buffet Lunch
Swimming Pool at villa in Coroico

Our Thoughts

We went with Barracuda and would recommend them highly.

 

Their safety standards were tremendous, and the bikes were all in good working order. We tested the bikes out before setting off and were able to change our helmet based on fit. Our guide was informative and helpful, and managed the group well. They also took photos and videos during the trip, meaning you don’t need to.

 

We don’t see what else you’re paying for with Gravity except for their reputation. We doubt there’s much difference between them and Barracuda in regard to safety.

 

The only significant difference is the final stop at La Senda Animal Refuge, which sounds cool, especially if you are an animal lover.

 

Our opinion: save yourself the $40 and go with Barracuda.

WHAT TO EXPECT ON A DEATH ROAD TOUR?

Itinerary

  • 06-07:00 Pickup
  • 09:00 Briefing and bike test
  • 10:30 First descent down the new asphalt road
  • 11:00 Snack Stop / second briefing for the death road/drive to death road
  • 11:15 Descent down death road
  • 13:00 Stops at San Juan Waterfalls/lunch
  • 13:30 Final Descent to Coroico
  • 15:30 Arrive in Coroico for Lunch and swim
  • 17:00 Drive Back to La Paz
  • 18:00-19:00 Arrive at Hostel

The first part of the ride is the most scenic and the most fun.

 

If you have a clear day, you will be able to see the snow-capped mountains which surround La Paz as well as incredible views of the road winding down into the valley.

 

The first hour will be on the new asphalt road, and you will be able to reach high speeds as you bomb down, get aerodynamic and enjoy yourself.

 

This is a wide two-lane highway making it the most stress-free part of the ride. There will be lorries and other cars, so make sure you are being sensible and keeping to the side of the road. Only overtake if and when it’s safe to do so.

After a snack stop, you will hop in the van (which follows you the whole way) and drive to the Death Road.

 

From here you have 2 hours of downhill riding.

 

The road is a rocky dirt road meaning you need to concentrate more on what’s in front of you. The road is also narrower with some sharp bends.

 

You will need to pay more attention and keep your eyes out for any big rocks. Take the corners slowly to begin until you have a feel for the road.

There will be a few photos stops en route and your lunch stop is at a great viewpoint with waterfalls coming down onto the road from the cliffs above.

 

After lunch, you have another hour or so downhill before the road starts to flatten out. This final downhill bit is trickier as more waterfalls and rivers are running through the road. Take it easy and make sure you go slower on the wet parts of the road.

 

It will start to become hotter as you descend and there will be an opportunity to take off the large overalls. Do this if you’re getting sweaty but beware that these offer some protection if you fall off.

 

The final hour is on the flat part of the road to reach Coroico where you will need to pedal.

 

Once you reach the lunch spot, you can have a shower, jump in the pool to relax and most importantly, eat!

 

Barracuda’s itinerary is listed here if you want more detail.

Is Death Road For Beginners?

As this is all downhill, it’s not difficult to ride. Your comfort will be determined by how well you avoid the big rocks/gravel and take corners.

 

The best part is you can go as slow as you want. The guides are great at keeping the group together, and they plan in multiple stops for people to catch up.

 

If you get halfway down and decide you aren’t enjoying it, you can jump in the van and drive down.

 

Beginners can easily enjoy the death road. I’m (Bayf) not the most experienced rider, and I was fine.

What To Wear For Death Road

We would recommend wearing sports clothes for this activity – preferably sports shorts and a top you don’t mind sweating in. Your tour company will give you overalls, gloves and a helmet so best to not wear too many layers.

 

You will also be sweating buckets by the time you’ve descended. At 4,600m you will feel cold, but once you’ve reached 1,525m in Coroico, it will be hot and muggy.

 

Here are a few other things you will want to bring:

 

  • Change of clothes – for after the swim (you don’t want to put back on your sweaty clothes)
  • Towel – for shower and pool
  • Swimwear/flip flops – for the pool
  • Sun cream – you spend a good hour or so by the pool at the bottom and its hot!
  • Camera – your guide will happily take your camera and snap some photos for you, and there are multiple stops along the road to take shots
  • Cheap sunglasses – the road can get dusty near the bottom. Take a pair of cheap ones to protect your eyes

Because the van follows you the entire way, you can leave your bag in the van. So, you can overpack it slightly and not worry about carrying it.

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