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“Death Road” itself should be enough to tell you this is a fun place. And the name does not come from some old legend based on superstition. No, it originates in recent history and, more than anything else, in numbers. Let’s get to know the place.

car in motion on Death Road in Bolivia

The Death Road

First of all, there are two different routes of the Death Road. The road was under works for about 20 years and the new features include some wider sections, bridges, guardrails, asphalt pavements and an entirely new section that bypasses the most victim-claiming part of the old road. Now, all these made the Death Road much safer and took over some of the traffic that was on the old road, but the old road is not closed. In fact, now it is raided by extreme tourists who enjoy adrenaline rush that comes from near death experiences. Ok, many of the extreme sports are not really near death experiences, but cycling, or even worse driving down the old Death Road might easily be called near death. The road takes some 200 to 300 lives a year and that is a lot. This is also the place of the worst Bolivian road accident, since in 1983 a bus went off the cliff killing over a hundred passengers.

aerial view of Death road in Bolivia

Death Road – Aerial view

A bit of history

Apart from the numbers we just mentioned and the improvements we discussed, maybe you’d like to know that the road was built by the Paraguayan prisoners during the Chaco War in the 1930s. It is understandable that they weren’t very safety-conscientious when it comes to busting their backs for free in order to build a road in a very hostile environment that their enemies would be using.

view of a cliff near Death Road in Bolivia

A cliff on the Death Road in Bolivia

The look

The road is about 40 miles long and mostly downhill with a very short uphill part, so it is great for riding bikes, since you can focus on staying alive and not on turning pedals. Driving here is even worse due to the fact that the old road is very narrow with only one lane. This is the reason for the change in driving rules that include just this road. Apparently, the uphill driver always has the right of the way (this is logical anywhere) and, on some parts, the drivers drive on the left, as opposed to the rest of the country (this only sounds illogical). This is due to the fact that the driver switches to the side of the fall which makes it easier for him to see where his outer wheel is. You see, I told you it was logical.

a car trying to pass a parked truck on the Death Road in Bolivia

“Ok, car, now just two more feet to the left and that should be enough”

The Death Road also features big changes in elevation since it ranges from 15,260 ft to only 3,900 ft. This adds loads of fog, rain and dust that can’t be good at this place. Many places on the road have muddy surface and rocks that are not firmly placed, so they tend to fly out when you hit them.

team of cyclists in motion on Death road in Bolivia

Cyclists on the Death Road in Bolivia

So you see, the old road with one narrow lane, no guardrails, fog, dust, slippery mud, its own driving rules and even climate variations is not a very safe place. Great for cycling, right? Many tour operators offer these tours, guides and equipment. The guides are very useful since they know every inch of the road rather well and can tell you what to pay attention to. Nevertheless, 18 cyclists are known to have died on the road since 1998, but that number could easily be greater.

view of Death row from a head camera

This seems scary. Now imagine driving a bus through here.

The scenery is also amazing, since you will travel from cold Altiplano region to the rainforest but you will not have much time to admire the sights. If you like something you better stop and have a look.

aerial view of cyclists on Death Road in Bolivia

Beautiful aerial ascenery of this Death Road adventure

You don’t have to be very sporty or fit, or even like cycling in order to enjoy the Death Road. You just need to love the adrenaline rush and you will love the Bolivian Death Road.


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