One of the main attractions in La Paz, Bolivia is biking the Death Road, Bolivia through the Andes.
This is the iconic road that winds along the incredibly steep slopes while busses pass precariously close to the plunging valleys below.
Now, to be clear, I am not a high-octane, extreme sports type of person. My sports usually involve stretchy pants and little to no hand-eye coordination.
This was a downhill ride, if it were uphill, it would have been a different story.
We left La Paz at 7:30 AM and drove to 15,000 feet of elevation. Each bike had its own name. Mine was Nuts which the tour guide got a kick out of (those who know me know I’m way too mature and dignified for such jokes).
Before we left the guide had us make a sacrifice to Pachamama, the Earth Goddess, so she wouldn’t sacrifice one of us on the ride.
This sacrifice turned out to be pouring a drink of 96% alcohol on our bikes (the same one the miners drink), the ground, and then taking a drink for ourselves.
Rubbing alcohol, breakfast of champions!
We will soon be biking down this
Now, here’s the thing that surprised me; you have to pay to enter the Death Road because it a sort of national park but that doesn’t mean the bikers have the road to themselves. Although a new road was finished in 2006, many people still use the Death Road for day to day life.
Busses and cars pass you as you zoom down the steep grade. Also, you have to ride on the left side of the road which is the cliff side and there is no guard rail. I had a bus pass me on the right while I rode along the edge of the cliff. Tourists in the bus hung out the windows and took pictures.
Feet dangling over the edge of the road.
Two girls crashed into the gravel as we descended into the jungle. One fell painfully, landing on her face. Both girls were scraped and bruised but generally ok.
Apparently, tourists do occasionally go over the edge.
It’s so steep that if you do fall off the edge, you chances of coming out again are fairly slim.
The guides are trained in rope rescue but unfortunately, sometimes serious accidents do happen.
A few years ago a tourist was killed when she went over the edge while taking a selfie.
Do not take selfies while biking the death road!
The air became more and more humid, hot and tropical as the road descended.
We ended the ride at a jungle lodge at 4,000 feet of elevation. When we reached the bottom we weaved through small towns, avoiding chickens and children.
We ate dinner and hung out in the river. Howler monkeys swung through the trees. As we started for home we stopped at a market along the road. The guide repeatedly suggested we buy him some rum.
It was a great day and I would definitely suggest this to anyone going to Bolivia.
However, I would also say it is dangerous and if you aren’t comfortable on a bike DO NOT do it. It was a tricky ride and the guide said about one person per group gets injured.
That’s a lot when you consider a group is only 14 people! Our guide assured us it had been two years since a tourist died on the road but there had been several close calls since.
This is okay in Bolivia. In the U.S., this would be shut down by lawsuits in no time.
For me, the really great thing about biking the death road of Bolivia, was just being able to experience so many changes in elevation in one day; starting in high altitude cold and finishing in the jungle was amazing.