The ‘Death Road’ is perhaps the most famous bit of adventure tourism in Bolivia. Even before arriving in South America I’d heard all about the ‘world’s most dangerous road’ and the mountain biking tours that you can take down it. In the last 6 months I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s passed through La Paz without doing it. This in fact put me off. There are so many companies offering the ‘death road experience’ and like I say, everyone seems to do it – which kind of makes you feel obliged, and in turn makes the whole thing much less appealing. It also seemed to me to be disproportionately expensive. So it was only after being in La Paz for five weeks that I finally caved in and signed up…

What convinced me in the end was the fact that everyone I met who’d done it raved about it. People who’s opinion I’d grown to trust told me it was one of the best things they’d done in Bolivia – in the end I just couldn’t resist and on a whim, walked into ‘Pro Downhill‘ and signed up for the following morning. Pro Downhill are one of the mid-range companies when it comes to the cost – charging me 500Bs for the day (about £45). There are some cheaper options and 2-3 more expensive companies, but I liked the guy in Pro Downhill’s office (who it also turned out would be my guide the next day) and he was very reassuring about safety and equipment. There are also some real horror stories flying around when it comes to the really cheap deals – a young Japanese girl falling to her death only last month after her brakes failed (more about that later) – and I wasn’t really prepared to risk death to save £10.

The day started early with a 7am breakfast meet up, fortunately for us right next to our hotel. As it turned out the breakfast spot was too inconvenient for the rest of our group and we were the only ones who took advantage of the delicious free food. After breakfast we were whisked away to the starting point via 2-3 more hostels – picking up the rest of the group on route. It was about an hours drive out to the starting point and we were treated to some incredible views on what was a fantastic clear, sunny morning.

The first section of the route is on the new road – supposedly to allow you to get ‘used to the bikes’. As it turns out this section is the fastest and in many ways the most thrilling part of the day. Downhill, on perfect tarmacked roads (with some fairly scary traffic), you end up doing something between 40-45mph (not a guess, the official word from the guides) – trying not to get too distracted by the incredible mountain scenery you’re flying past. I’ve never really done much biking, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect – but after this I was really buzzing and would liked to have had another go at section one so I could have really gone for it from the start. There was no going back though and before we knew it the super fast tarmacked section had come to an end. Before moving on you have to pay an additional 25Bs fee to enter the death road. At this point we were also given snacks to eat as the guides explained that we’d get back on the buses for 10 minutes to avoid a nasty, uphill section between us and the death road proper.

On the bus we were all glad not to be cycling through this uneven, unfinished uphill road. It would have been hell! Within a few minutes we were back on the bikes and staring down the infamous road we’d all come to conquer. It’s hard to believe that this was once the main road going east out of La Paz – the road we’d have had to of taken back from Rurrenabaque. Barely wide enough for one car in places – let alone two 16-wheelers trying to pass – and with drops of hundreds of feet, it’s no wonder so many people were killed trying to use it. The altitude and climate also mean that more often than not the road is covered by dense cloud, apparently the most deadly element in it’s lethal mixture. Luckily for us we’d picked an unusually clear day and we were all really up for it as we set off.

Not as fast as the first section but scary in a very different way – we shot along this bumpy gravel road all doing our best not to cycle off the edge (which was always just a few feet away). Our guide stopped us at some significant points along the route to explain about some major accidents and bits of Bolivian history connected to them. After about a 45 minutes we reached a little memorial to two Israeli tourists who’d died on the road in 2010 where we stopped to have lunch. Here our guide told us some more stories connected to the road – including telling us about the most recent tourist death – the aforementioned Japanese girl. Apparently her brakes just failed as she approached a corner and she cycled straight over the edge to her death. She’d chosen to use one of the very cheap operators who’s bikes are often in very poor condition (perhaps not knowing the risks) and her decision had cost her her life. More shockingly when asked if the company was still running tours he said he wasn’t sure but possibly… you sign a waiver before doing the tour stating that you’re doing it at your own risk, and even though that waiver also states that it’s the companies responsibility to provide safe equipment his answer was “well… what are you gonna do? Sue a Bolivian!?” And that’s the truth of the matter, there isn’t the same comeback or liability here as there is in Europe or the US. It’s why things like this are possible – and also why you have to be so careful when choosing who to trust. All this talk of death was also a nice little way of keeping us focussed for the last hour or so of our ride…

Following this there was a tough, slightly uphill section to the journey. This provided quite a tough little work out and as the altitude was dropping rapidly we did it as the temperature got hotter and hotter. By the time we got to the final rest stop everyone was gulping down water and pealing off layers. The final part of the ride was maybe the most fun, down hill on bumpy terrain with loads of turns (and no traffic) – it was challenging and exciting and over way too fast. Before I knew it we were packing the bikes back onto the bus and handing back our pads and gloves.

The day was finished off with a nice buffet lunch and the chance to have a quick swim in the restaurant’s pool. I didn’t fancy the water particularly, but it was nice sitting around in the baking jungle heat (a sharp contrast to the freezing cold La Paz night’s I’d got used to). It was also a good moment to reflect on one of the coolest things I’ve done since arriving in South America six months ago.

Here are some of the best photos from the day, the rest of them can be seen here.