Cycling the Death Road in Bolivia

Close to La Paz exists a road, named the Yungas road, connecting La Paz to the Yungas region. But, you probably know it as the famous ‘Death Road’ of Bolivia. It’s one of the tours you have to do as a traveller visiting Bolivia (next to the Uyuni Salt Flats, of course!), although, it’s not only fun and games (in my opinion, haha, will explain more).

The basics

The Death Road is around 64 kilometers long and you’ll cycle downhill, and the difference in altitude at the finish line will be a whopping 3500 meters! That’s right, over 64 kilometers, you’ll descent 3500 meters. With this descent, also comes a pretty nice temperature increase; it will be around 25 degrees at the end of the road.

The agenda for the day will look something like this:

  • Pick up between 7:30 and 8:00
  • Drive to the spot in the mountains where the guides will explain the bikes you’ll put on the clothes they give (over your own clothing)
  • The downhill practice run on the bikes
  • Get back in the van and drive to the start of the Death Road
  • Cycle the Death Road (inlcuding many stops for photos and rest)
  • Lunch and pool time
  • 3 hour drive back to La Paz

Which tour agency for your Death Road experience

Walking through the center of La Paz you’ll see signs for this tour everywhere! Also, prices vary wildly from agency to agency, so make sure to look around a bit before commiting to the first one.

One of the things to consider is of course price, but, there’s also material to look at. I’ll say flat out that we were more concerned about the price, and ended up with not great materials (the bike, helmet and clothing) during the tour. It was all functional of course, but not fantastic. The clothing they gave us was not water proof for example, and of course we got rained upon (majorly) and everything was soaked.

Also, they didn’t have us try on the clothing at the shop in advance, so we definitely had the correct size. Because of this, the pants they gave me based on the size I told them, were too small, which turned out to be very annoying on the bike. So, feel free to ask about these things when you’re looking in to doing the Death Road tour.

For reference, we paid 150 bolivianos each for this tour (around €20), so a better one will most likely be a tad more expensive.

Still happy at this point…

The Death Road Tour

Pick up

After a good breakfast at our hostel (we loved Hostal Iskanwaya!), we got picked up around 8 for our Death Road tour. It was a bigger bus that could fit around 20 people if I remember correctly, and it had all the bikes mounted on the top. As soon as the bus was full, we left the city. Turned out we had a bus full of chatty people, so everyone was just talking to eachother and enjoying the mountain scenery.

Bike intro

As soon as we made it to our first stop, next to a lake and surrounded by snow covered mountains, all the gear came out. Everyone got a pair of gloves, pants, jacked, and a helmet. And a bike of course. They explained the brakes (during which it started to snow!!!), and after taking some pictures, we set off for our practice run.

Death Road, Bolivia

Practice run

The snow turned to cold, cold rain very quickly as we were driving down the road, making me realize this clothing wasn’t doing anything to help with that, unfortunately. So within minutes… maybe even seconds, I was soaked and so, so cold. Especially my hands had gotten cold to the point I decided not the cycle the 2nd practice part. Bike went back on top of the van, and me back inside. I wish I could say it was a warm van, but also that wasn’t the case, haha. Most of the people cycled the 2nd part as well, and thankfully for them the sun came out shortly after, which made it a lot better I can imagine.

At the end of the practice run, everyone got back in to the van and we drove to the starting point of the Death Road. This is when the real fun begins, of course.

Totally soaked after cycling through pouring rain…

Cycling the Death Road

Some final instructions are given, before everyone jumps on their bikes and heads off. I took it easy for this first stretch, as this road is nothing like the road of the practice run. The Death Road is obviously not paved, but simply consists of many, many (often loose) rocks, making it a bumpy ride. Some stretches are (a lot) worse than others, but in the beginning it was mostly fine.

Death Road, Bolivia
First view on the Death Road

At some point, I think about halfway through, my arms and wrists were so sore from all the bumps in the road (there is literally no avoiding it), it became.. not so fun anymore. Every rock I hit with the bike meant pain in my arms and hands. At some point I had even developed a blister on the side of my palm. So yeah, I was ready for it to be over, haha. As soon as I saw the van, 20 minutes from the finish line, I gave them back the bike and hopped in the van to sit the final part of the ride out. At this point we had already passed the most beautiful scenery, so I wouldn’t be missing out on much.

Death Road, Bolivia

Promises vs reality

When you get information about the tour they tell you that the van will follow you at all times, so you can sit in the van for a bit if you’re tired and need a little rest. However, for us, this wasn’t the case, even though they told us it was when we were booking the tour.

The van was unable to follow us down the road, as a roadslide had blocked the road in one place. We were going to be able to pass with the bikes, but it was too narrow for cars. This meant that we had to drive basically the whole thing, as we would only see the van again about 20 minutes from the finish line.

This road block, however, also meant we had no incoming traffic (besides some motor bikes) during our descent, which was a benefit.

Would I cycle the Death Road again?

Probably not.

I have no idea if there is another way of seeing the death road (especially now with the landslide), but personally, I would have been happier seeing it from the window of a car or something. Getting out of the car at the miradors and enjoying the view that way.

Considering the road quality and the speed you need to maintain, you need to have your eyes constantly on the road to make sure you don’t fall. Because of this, it’s kind of hard to really look at the scenery a lot of the times, which is too bad because it’s insanely beautiful.

Would you like to cycle the Death Road?

Traveller 'in heart and kidneys' (as we would say in Dutch), currently on the road with no end in sight. Started in Brazil, making our way through South and Central America.

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