The Death Road, or Camino de la Muerte is often called the most dangerous road in the world, with hairpin turns and blind corners. Both vehicles and cyclists have veered off the narrow, winding gravel roads into the precipitous drop offs of at least 600m; crosses on the verges mark the sites of fatal accidents. The spectacular scenery and continuing thrill of the road draws hundreds of bikers – yours truly amongst them.
As I mount my bike at the start of the 64km downhill section open to cyclists, I am both apprehensive and excited about what’s to come. Our starting point is at La Cumbre, about 4,700m in elevation, surrounded by ice-capped peaks. It is cold with mist, desolate and windswept. Visibility is poor but the road is paved, at least for the first section.
We test our trusty steeds on level ground before peeling off in single file, into thick fog and onto the Death Road. Our support van brings up the rear with the promise of food and rest – any cyclists wanting to rest simply has to wait for the van to pick him or her up.
The views are a magnificent distraction as we wind our way through bend after bend in the road. The precipitation fogs up my sunglasses, and it’s hard to see very far ahead, but the road is smooth and I click into the highest gear on my bike and cruise downhill.
Our first real pit stop is the police check point at Unduavi, where we pay our Bs25 entry fee and stop for yoghurt, fruit and chocolate. From here, there are two uphill sections, but these are closed to cyclists due to the high amount of accidents that occur – instead, we all load up into the van and drive the next 8km.
Here, the road turns from smooth tar to bumpy gravel. We follow the track, hugging the edge of the cliffsides, navigating our way underneath waterfalls and rocky overhangs. We’ve dropped about 2,000m in elevation, and the wind is not as biting here as it was at the start. The road is isolated and without the sound of traffic, tranquil.
The views open up into a verdant, lush valley of cloud forest. The road ahead is stony, untarred, carved out from the steep side of the mountain and ribbons its way along, out of sight. After a few quick adjustments, we’re off again, flying down the downhill gradient.
Since the new road to Coroica has been built there is virtually no traffic on the Death Road. We pass only other support vans and a family on a scooter. It is thrilling enough riding the Death Road with no traffic coming and going – with two way trucks and buses, the road would have been truly frightening to navigate.
We’ve descended from cold, stony peaks into cloud forests and now we’re in the tropics. We pass underneath cool waterfalls, then skid our way through scary, tight turns. The road jars all my bones, and my hands ache from constantly applying the brakes. The adrenaline rush is magnificent, as is the wind from my acceleration as I swerve round corners, avoiding rocks and muddy puddles.
The last few kilometers of the trail is humid, and hot. The support van of another cyclist group raises clouds of dust ahead of us – the best of the downhill sections are now behind us. We’re nearly there at the end of our journey, with the prospect of cold beers and a hot lunch. I maneuver around one last rock, turn one last corner, hear the tyres crunch over gravel and sand – and there, I’ve made it! Our guide gives me a high five. I’ve just survived the world’s most dangerous road.