written by Mark
Don’t tell Leila’s mum, but one of our highlights of our time in La Paz was cycling down the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” (a.k.a. “Death Road”, whichever makes you feel more comfortable). The numbers vary depending on who you ask, but we heard that on average around 13 people died each year when the road was the major route over the mountains to La Paz.
Thankfully, they built a new road in 2007 so this old 64km WMDR route is only used by cyclists, tour buses and the odd other vehicle. Still, our guide Jubi was aware of about 24 cyclists who had died in the last 14 years, so the name “Death Road” is no false moniker.
So, armed with this information, our group was just itching to set off.
Given the infamous WMDR history, safety is given the utmost priority. Barracuda Bikes gave us high quality Kona steeds with hydraulic disk brakes and full suspension.
We were given a good briefing and even made an offering to Pachamama to bid us a good trip: a drop of 96% strength alcohol for our bikes and the road followed by a drop for ourselves.
Then we were off. The first 25km or so was down a tarmac road, good to give us all a feel for the bikes.
Then the 37km down the Death Road itself began. The road is narrow (often only one car width wide, with vertical 200-300m drops on one side and a cliff on the other. The surface is gravel, and loose in parts.
Those who have seen the Top Gear episode where they drive on this road will know it can easily crumble away beneath the vehicle. For that reason it is the only road in South America where it is customary to drive on the left – so drivers can more easily see how close they are to the edge.
The dust kicked up by cars was often suffocating; we were caked all over by the end of the ride.
The road is littered with crosses and graves, a good reminder to check your speed.
We took care to stop for regular breaks and take lots of photos. Jubi was a bit of a joker.
The ride was great fun, with just enough danger to keep it interesting. I’m pleased to say everyone in our group got back in one piece.
Annoyingly, we left La Paz the next day before we could pick up our “Death Road Survivor” tshirts, but Leila did come back with one souvenir after taking a tumble.