By Kach Medina
Co-Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group.
Have you heard of the Cycling Death Road Bolivia? Just outside of La Paz, the highest administrative Capital city in the world and nestled in the Altiplano Mountains of Bolivia, lies the world’s most dangerous road. Built in the 1930’s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners, the Yungas road from La Paz to Coroico was the first ever connection from the mountains to the Amazon. Starting at 4650 meters and descending to 1200 meters, the deadly combination of up to 600 meter drops, no guardrails, large vehicles and landslides claims on average 300 lives per year, including buses, trucks and even tourists transiting the deadly route. Whilst parts of the road have been modernized with concrete, drainage and bridges, the old section of the North Yungas Road remains the most dangerous in the world.
We chose to tackle the route with Barracuda Biking Bolivia, one of the best known and longest running companies offering mountain biking tours of Death Road. We chose them because they have a solid reputation and only use the most experienced guides and drivers. All of their bikes are the latest full-suspension Kona models and are fully checked and serviced after each use.
What was really important for me was that they adjust your bike to your own specifications before you set off. There’s nothing worse than being a British rider and having backwards European brakes! Their tours include all transport, safety equipment, food, water, photography, guides and instruction. Oh yeah, you get a free T-shirt and DVD of your adventure as well!
Here’s how it went…
Approximate Itinerary –
6.45am – Meet at Little Italy Café for some breakfast and a coffee, so you’re fully fueled up the day ahead.
On the bus and 7.30am
7.30am – Jump on the bus to the starting point of the ride, at a whopping 4600 metres! After being given your bikes and a comprehensive safety talk, you ride for the first hour on tarmac roads, through stunning mountain scenery, to get the hang of your new bikes and prepare yourself for what’s to come!
9.00am – Back on the bus for a long uphill stretch and munch a complimentary sandwich en-route to the beginning the World’s Most Dangerous Road. Here you’ll receive more expert instruction and advice, including; ‘No selfies on the bikes’; and ‘Don’t be a f#cking idiot!’ Very sound advice on a narrow, dirt track road with up to 400 metre drops to one side!
10.00am – Time to go! Set off nice and slow as you negotiate rocks, holes and waterfalls, not to mention giant trucks dominating most of the track. Plenty of stops for photos and resting your shaky nerves, with a few confidence inspiring stories from your guide about those who have tried-and-died before you! The sobering sight of crosses and tombstones on the side of the road keep your confidence in check and remind you how this road has earned its title over many years of tragic loss-of-life.
2.30pm – You’ve survived your Death Road experience! Roll down the Barracuda’s very own riverside hostel and restaurant for a shower and delicious hot meal of spaghetti with Bolognese or pesto. This is where you say goodbye to your bikes to feel free to start on the beers and celebrate surviving one of the world’s most dangerous adventures.
4.30pm – Drag your weary bodies back onto the bus fo. the final ride home. You now have the group decision of driving back along Death Road the same way you rode, or taking the newer and far less terrifying, tarmac road home. Provided your guide decides that conditions are safe enough, then we recommend choosing Death Road, as riding in a bus around the steep, narrow curves and passing large trucks on narrow corners gives you an entirely new perspective of the route. And it’s freakin’ awesome!
Here’s what we thought about it…
Two Monkeys 5 Point Rating (5 = Awesome! / 1 = Far from awesome)
Quality of Equipment and safety – All of the bikes are top of the line Kona, full suspension mountain bikes with hydraulic disc brakes, which are fully serviced after every single use. They also adjust your bike to your specifications before setting off. Safety equipment includes helmet (full face or open), gloves, protective knee and elbow pads, windbreaker jacket and trousers. The guides are first aid trained and carry medical equipment to patch up any minor injuries and will coordinate your evacuation / rescue in more serious cases. Only drivers with extensive experience of driving heavy vehicles on Death Road are used; our driver, Oscar, has around 25 years under his belt!
Score – 5/5
Organisation – Everything ran smoothly from start to finish. The registration process was super-friendly and efficient. At every stage we felt confident that the guides and driver had everything under complete control. Anything that could have delayed our schedule or upset the experience was dealt with so that you barely even noticed. Very impressive and an example for others to follow!
Score – 5/5
Guides – Our guides, Eddie and Jose, and driver, Oscar were awesome throughout the whole adventure. Both very experienced off-road bikers, guides and mechanics, Eddie and Jose were with us every step of the way to ensure we were safe and having a great time. Eddie manages to perfectly balance the roles of guide, authority figure, comedian and friend extremely well. Thanks guys!
Score – 5/5
Overall Experience – Riding with Barracuda, you get the feeling that every last detail has been considered. Safety and experience are balanced so that you feel that you are taken care of without being excessively controlled. The quality of equipment and organisation give you confidence to really enjoy yourself. We highly recommend Barracuda Biking!
Score – 5/5
Special thank you to Dayana, Eddie, Jose, Oscar and everyone in our group for an awesome day!