Hi guys! Welcome to my article on Bolivia’s famous Death Road. My name is Meike Helbig. I grew up in a well protected village in the Ore Mountains of Germany. When I was at school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and that is why I went to England as an Au Pair for a year after high school.
In the UK, I learned how to speak English and became more enthusiastic about other cultures, mentalities and countries. In my free time, I traveled to many places in England and also to Spain and France. That year, I decided to do an apprenticeship in tourism after returning to Germany.
Since then, I have worked in the travel industry. But I think I inherited my love of travel from my grandfather. He loved traveling and was a guest in many countries. My first backpacking trip outside of Europe was to Thailand. I love backpacking because it gives me the most freedom.
Two Weeks in the Beautiful Bolivia
I did a five month semester abroad in Asuncion, Paraguay and then had time for another month to travel. It was clear to me that I wanted to travel to Bolivia. I heard about a salt desert, lively cities and wonderful hospitality.
Also because of the border with Paraguay, it was clear that I had to go. So I flew from Asuncion to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, my first destination in Bolivia. I spent two weeks in this country. My itinerary was: Santa Cruz, Sucre, Potosi, Salar de Uyuni, La Paz and Copacabana/Lake Titicaca.
Booking Death Road from La Paz
If I don’t have a lot of time in a country but want to see a lot, I think about an itinerary and the associated sights that I want to see. So I read about the Death Road in Bolivia in travel guides and in some articles on the Internet.
Then I knew I wanted to do that! I knew anyway that I would visit La Paz because I wanted to travel to Peru after Bolivia. So I inquired about tour providers and then booked the tour on site as soon as I arrived in La Paz.
I booked the tour with a local company called Overdose. I don’t know if this tour operator still exists but I felt like I was in good hands and everything was safe. At the end we received a CD with photos and videos and a t-shirt.
But I know that one of the most renowned travel providers in the region for the Death Road is the company Gravity. They have been in business since 1998 and are rated highly with experienced guides, very good equipment, safe bikes, many years of experience and good safety precautions.
The best option is to either book your Death Road tour directly in La Paz or reserve it in advance online. Almost all of the companies that offer mountain bike tours are based in La Paz and the tours start from there. For me, the city of La Paz is one of the craziest places I have ever experienced.
You can find indigenous markets in the middle of the street where women with their black braids and bowler hats sell all sorts of things, small buses which squeeze through the narrow streets and just pure traffic chaos.
My Experience on the Death Road
My tour group and I were picked up at 7:30am and taken to the starting point of North Yungas Road. At 9:45am we received our briefing on the bikes, rules, clothing and protective measures. This happened at the starting point from a crazy height of 4,700 metres above sea level!
The Death Road adventure lasted from 9:45am to 1:45pm. We went from 4,700 metres to 1,200 metres – from the snow to tropics and heat. It was simply a breathtaking experience and one that I will never forget.
I had so much fun! The landscape changed so quickly and I was always hurtling myself downhill on my bike. In the beginning, it was an asphalt road with snow-capped mountains. Then it changed to gravel roads, steep slopes and oncoming traffic. We took plenty of photos along the way.
Biggest Challenge of Death Road
In my opinion, the events on this road have already shown that it’s one of the most dangerous roads in the world. I saw many crosses from crashed cars or cyclists on the way. Cars still drive on the road which is dangerous.
The most challenging thing for me was the altitude at the start and that the climate went from cold to hot. It was also difficult riding on the way down as we cycled over small puddles and wet areas from waterfalls.
Interesting Facts about “El Camino de la Muerte”
Death Road is called “El Camino de la Muerte” in Spanish. It has been considered the most dangerous road in the world for many years now. The road is about 60 kilometres long and leads from La Paz over the La Cumbre Pass at 4,600 metres above sea level and then down to 1,200 metres.
This single-lane road mostly leads along steep slopes without guardrails. Rain, fog and mud often cause poor road conditions with poor visibility. Small landslides and falling rocks can happen at any moment.
One of the most tragic events on the road was in July, 1983. A bus slid off the road and fell into the ravine. This incident killed 100 people and is considered to be Bolivia’s worst traffic accident. According to one estimate, two vehicles per month fall off the road and up to 300 people die each year.
Favorite Moments on the Road
One of my favorite memories from Death Road was when we took photos. The travel guides always came up with funny motifs, perspectives and cool locations. Otherwise, the whole tour was the highlight in itself.
The biking and landscape was just so invigorating. In the end, we were even allowed to chill in a hotel complex with a pool. And this happened just a few hours after I was struggling with the altitude and cold weather!
Need to Know Before you Go
A major challenge of this region in the Andes is definitely the high altitude levels. For example, if you are flying directly into La Paz, it’s extremely important to get acclimatized. Otherwise, you can get altitude sickness.
The most important things are no physical exertion and drinking plenty of water to get used to the altitude. A general rule of thumb is: take it easy and don’t overexert yourself. Slowly but surely your body will acclimatize.
You can search online before coming to La Paz to see which tour providers are available and at what prices they offer the Death Road. Maybe you will be able to book the tour directly from your hotel/accommodation in La Paz.
To see the best of La Paz, you should book at least two nights. After the Death Road tour, you will be tired from the adrenaline rush. This is the perfect chance to relax and see the sights of La Paz. Make sure you do the Death Road tour because this chance may never come again!