If you ever find yourself in La Paz, Bolivia, home of the worlds highest seat of government in terms of elevation (13,000 feet) then an absolute must do is one of the day trips to the world’s deadliest road AKA Death Road! I never planned on doing this and actually before starting this particular South America adventure I didn’t even know about the death road. It was only through travelling around Peru and Bolivia and talking with other backpackers at the various hostels I stayed at that I learned of this awesome adventure! Everyone that I met who had just come from Bolivia and La Paz all highly recommended doing it! I love extreme, death defying activities so there’s no way I couldn’t take this advice from my fellow travelers!
Arriving at the La Paz bus terminal just before sunset on May 18, 2015 I headed to my hostel (Loki Backpackers) which was only about 10 minutes away and got checked in. Arriving this late in the day in La Paz I feared that the bike companies would be closed or all booked for their death road tours the following day on the 19th. Fortunately Loki backpackers also has a travel agent division called Loki Travel with a desk right in the hostel.
I headed to the girl sitting at the desk who was in charge of helping guests book tours and packages in and around the La Paz area during their trip. I only had a few days in La Paz so I really wanted to do the death road trip the next day on the 19th to fit it in to the schedule nicely. There are several companies in La Paz all offering basically the same tour. Three of the bigger and more well-known companies and the ones which Loki Travel booked for guests are:
Prices between and within the companies can vary widely based on two main factors including:
- Age and quality of the bike
- Number of people in the group
If you opt for a newer bike or a bike with better suspension then it’ll obviously cost you more. For example, Altitude Biking offers three different price points depending on how new of a bike you want and the suspension of the bike. If nothing else, make sure you get a bike with FULL suspension. it will make a difference and will make the experience that much more enjoyable. Most tours operate in groups of around 15-20 people to keep costs down. There are some companies that offer smaller groups but they will cost you more too. It all depends on your personal preference. At the end of the day, you all bike down the same road and arrive at the same destination.
The tours also vary slightly in the destination you visit at the bottom of the death road. Some packages take you to a hotel where you have a buffet lunch and a pool to cool off and go for a swim (all included) while others take you to an animal reserve where you also have a buffet lunch but instead of a pool you have the animals to check out on the reserve.
I was trying to keep to a strict budget for this trip so decided to opt for the cheapest option offered which was by Altitude. I also preferred this one because it ended with the swimming pool option. I’m not really in to going to reserves or zoos at home or in foreign countries where animals are all caged up. The cost of the tour with Altitude was about 450 Bolivianos (~65 USD) for a 3 year old bike with full suspension. For reference, here are the prices with the various companies mentioned above:
- Altitude – 450 Bolivianos (65 USD) for a 3 year old bike to 700+ Bolivianos for a new bike with even better suspension. Tours end at the hotel with the swimming pool.
- Barracuda – $74 USD – tour ends at a jungle house with a natural pool in the river to cool off in and an option (at additional cost) to do a 1.5km zip line.
- Gravity – 750 Bolivianos (~$110 USD) – new bikes, good suspension and tours end at the nature reserve. Gravity offers smaller groups too hence the higher price.
So I finally had my tour booked by about 8PM on the 18th of May and I was scheduled to be picked up from the hostel the next morning on the 19th at 7:00AM!
The next morning came, I was picked up at 7:00AM and we made a few more stops picking up some more people before heading on our way. We drove for about an hour stopping outside La Paz at about 8:30AM for a quick pit stop and to grab some food if you wanted.
We drove for about another hour to arrive at the starting point of the ride! Here we were provided with some coffee and cake as a complementary breakfast while the van driver and tour guides prepared the bikes and equipment.
Here is what was all included with the Altitude tour:
- The Bikes
- Full face or open face Helmet
- All the water you want
- 3 snacks
- A nice ending place where you can enjoy the pool and hot showers
- All You CAN EAT BUFFET
- A T-shirt to attest that you rode the most dangerous road!
- CD with the pictures and videos of your ride
It was shortly after 10:00 AM when we were ready to get going. Armed with some safety instructions and our bikes, we were set. The journey from start to finish is about 56 km of biking but don’t worry, you don’t need to be in amazing physical shape to bike this. It is 95% downhill with the other 5% being flat road, no uphill riding!
The ride starts at an elevation of 15,400 feet surrounded by wind-swept landscape and snow-capped mountains all around. There isn’t a whole lot of vegetation that can grow at this height and let me tell you, early in the morning when we started it was FREEZING! Make sure to take layers with you which you can remove and put in the vehicle along the way (the van does follow the bikers down the road the entire way).
The adventure has you descend an incredible 11,800 feet over the 56km journey to an elevation of 3,600 feet at the bottom. it is an incredible ride starting at the top with the snow peaked mountains and descending through tropical rain forest’s and waterfalls by time you reach the bottom.
At the beginning we descend quickly for about 20 minutes on an asphalt road. This is a good chance to get accustomed to the bike before beginning on the dangerous dirt roads of the death road. After 20 minutes we ride a bit of dirt road around a tunnel that goes through the mountains and then continue for another 10-15 minutes on the asphalt road. At this time we come to a security/drug checkpoint where we are required to pay a fee of a couple of dollars to cross. At this time we stop for about 15-20 minutes for a more proper breakfast/snack of juice, fruit, yogurt and sandwiches as well as a bathroom break if anyone needs it (although out here the word “washroom” is used VERY lightly). The guides also pack the bikes back on the the van during this time and then we get back inside too. Reason being is there is a 15km uphill at this point to get to the start of the death road so to save time and energy we’ll take the van up this!
Once at the top, we arrive at the official start of the death road. It is quickly apparent how it got its name and why there used to be so many deaths on this road. I do say “used to” because there has now been a new road opened so the need and use of the death road has substantially declined as of late. There was an accident a couple weeks before our ride where a van fell over the edge and 7 people unfortunately died. Apparently at that time the new road had a land slide on it and was closed so people were forced to use the old death road again. Two vehicles met on the road and tried to pass each other but the one passing on the outer edge did not have enough room and fell over.
We got our bikes out again and started on our way! To be honest, the road was not that bad and was quite easy for biking. It just gets its name from the fact that it is narrow and therefore a lot of vehicles fall over when using the road but it is more than wide enough for biking. We actually rode near the left side of the road about 1 foot from the edge of the cliff where a 1000+m drop threatens you the entire way down. This is actually the smoothest place to ride and is safest because vehicles coming up the road will be riding on their left (your right) against the side of the mountain and when you go around any of the many bends the last thing you want is to come face to face with a vehicle in a head-on collision high up in the mountains where the nearest hospital is hours away.
We made several stops along the way to take in the incredible scenery, to have a drink of water or a light snack and to take off some of those layers of clothing from the earlier morning cold. It was an absolutely incredible experience to be out here in the outback of Bolivia surrounded by amazing tropical jungle, the Andean mountains and waterfalls that came down over the road and you had to bike through it! What an experience!
It took about 3 hours in total to arrive to the bottom where we were now in the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun. tired, dirty and hot, the pool was looking sooooo good right about now! We headed to a hotel/lodge located in the little village located out here in the jungle for a delicious lunch of bbq chicken, rice and other fixings and enjoyed a couple hours lounging around the poolside before a 3-hour drive back to La Paz.
If you crave adventure and excitement then this is definitely something you need to do at least once in your life, especially if you are ever in Bolivia! Like everything else in Bolivia, it is not very expensive considering the value you receive and worth every penny! You will not regret this one! And hey! You get an awesome t-shirt as proof of your amazing adventure! Can’t say no to that! 🙂