The only thing I knew about Bolivia was Death Road. So when the chance came up to mountain bike down it I was not going to miss this opportunity. We checked out a few different companies but settled on Gravity Bolivia who were more expensive but had the best reputation online. We were made aware that the new road was having some maintenance after a few separate land slides and there was more traffic than usual on the old dirt road. We would be descending on the cliff side of the road and cars and trucks coming uphill had right of way.
We arrive at the pick up point the following morning for a 7:30am start and a 1 hour drive to our starting point La Cumbre where we take a few photos before being briefed and kitted out with our helmets and riding gear. It’s pretty chilly at our starting point which is at 4700m so we keep plenty of layers on for the first part of the descent. The ride starts at 4700m and descends down to 1100m over 64km. The first section of the ride was about 25km on a bitumen road. A beautiful windy road with stunning views. You had to ensure that you stayed on your side of the road as cars were frequently passing trucks on the wrong side as you rounded a bend. I am not sure what speeds we were reaching but I had the full down hill spec Kona down hill bike wrung out. It didn’t feel very fast as they were pretty heavy bikes with major off road tyres that didn’t roll very well. The guide took off down the windy road in the full tuck position so I copied and gave chase. I couldn’t quite keep up as I was a little unsure of the roads and the amount of traffic that would be on the wrong side. After about 5kms we make our first stop to pay the fee for permission to use the death road. Permission to take you life into your own hands. A further 15kms down the road we arrive at another check point for cars, trucks and buses. They are being checked for bulk chemicals and petroleum that are used in the production of Cocaine. Anyone carrying an unusual amount of these chemicals is stopped and if found guilty jailed. We are obviously let through. 🙂 During the stop we are advised that there is a short uphill section of approximately 8kms but we can jump in the van if we prefer. I am not sure that I am up for an 8km climb at 3200m. Just walking around at this altitude is hard. Anyway our guide says he won’t do the uphill unless he has 3 takers. I wait to see which hands go up in our small group of 5. Three takers straight away so it’s on. I then feel like I have to go as I didn’t want to hang out in the van and or be out done by some hippy back packer. Rachael also puts her hand up so I am now stuffed. The guide takes off and he is riding a single speed mountain bike and relays that he doesn’t want to be the only one to make it to the top. I drop down a few gears and just get my cadence to a comfy level and take my time. I get passed by everyone straight away including Rachael. I am now thinking I am either so out of shape because I haven’t trained for so long or these guys can all ride. One by one I pick them off and only have one guy and the guide still in front of me. I pick up the next guy and he speeds up and passes me again only to the hit the wall on the next steep climb. I catch up to the guide and get past him on the steepest part of the climb as he struggles with his single speed. I am not taking any glory passing a guy on a single speed up a hill. As we near the peak of the last climb he passes me and starts the descent. It’s a welcome rest for my little legs. Our guide stops a few kms down the road at the beginning of the dirt section. We wait for everyone and have a quick lunch break. The first section we ride on the inside of the road against the cliff but the road soon swings around and we are now descending on the outside edge with a drop of who knows how big. The scenery is amazing. we have plenty of stops to re group and take photos and take in the beautiful view.
As we make our way down we encounter a few cars and motor bikes coming in the opposite direction. They leave a trail of dust for the next few hundred meters as we pass. One section of the road is only 3.5m wide and covered in water from the waterfalls spilling over the cliffs above. You have no choice but to ride through them and get wet. This is the most dangerous section of the road and where a bus went over the edge with 97 people on board. The bus still lies on the valley below today. There are various sections of road where other accidents have occurred but you can’t help but think they could have been prevented with a little care. During the 90’s apparently over 300 people per year died on Death Road.
The ride takes you through the most amazing scenery from water falls, to snow capped mountains in the distance and small villages at over 3000m. We pass through one small village where they have all their coca leaves outside drying out ready to be rolled up and shipped. Everyone is really friendly along the way and a polite “hola” is always returned with a smile and a wave.
We finally reach our final destination La Senda Verde and enjoy a cold beer. We stop into the local animal rescue shelter and shower and have lunch before hitting the road again. This time it’s back up the death road in the van for a 3 hour drive back to La Paz. We stop for a few more photos at the narrowest sections of the road where you can virtually look out the side of the van straight down. It’s pretty amazing. We finally arrive back in La Paz at about 7:30pm and we are shattered. One of the best things that I have done in my travels and some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. A must do for anyone with a sense of adventure.