Death Road - El Camino de la Muerte

by John Bascombe on Thursday, May 14, 2015

Latin America

The World's Most Dangerous Road

Several websites have released lists of the roads that they consider to be the most dangerous in the world. Routes in many different countries including China's Guoliang Tunnel Road and the Trans-Siberian Highway in Russia are often mentioned. However, among all of the roads around the world, one stands out as particularly treacherous. It constantly features on the aforementioned countdowns and in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the “world's most dangerous road.” Its name is the North Yungas Road but it is commonly known by its nickname Death Road (el Camino de la Muerte). In this article we will answer the following questions: Who built it? Why is it so dangerous? Do people still use it? And finally, is there an alternative if you do not want to put your life on the line?

  • This route has featured in several different Australian, American and British shows including in an episode of the British Broadcasting Corporation's program entitled World's Most Dangerous Roads. The first ever commercial on this trail was shot by the car firm Mitsubishi showing their Outlander cars traversing the mountain pass.
  • Before driving the road the locals pour beer on the ground and make other offerings to appease Pachamama (Mother Earth).
  • The South Yungasor Chulumani Road which runs from La Paz to Chulumani is equally terrifying.

Also known as the Grove's Road this track, perched high in the Andes Mountains, runs between La Paz, the seat of Bolivia's government, and the jungle town of Coroico. In the 1930s Paraguayan prisoners constructed the road during the Chaco War (a war between Bolivia and Paraguay fought from 1932 to 1935).

There are several reasons why this road is so notoriously deadly. Climbing to an altitude of 4,650 meters this steep and winding track demands total concentration as some of its features include hairpin bends and sheer drop-offs of at least 600 meters without the protection of guardrails. Crosses and stone cairns indicate where drivers have lost their lives with many people going over the edge every year. The Bolivian rainy season which runs from November to March makes the road even more perilous as it creates a slippery surface which landslides could wash away at any moment while dust and fog contribute to poor visibility.

Considering the myriad of difficulties and challenges encountered by people who dare to travel this trail you would be forgiven for thinking that it is no longer in use. Admittedly, a lot of the traffic consists of tourists on bicycles however there are still some local trucks and buses whose drivers rely on this lifeline to make a living transporting products and passengers from one of the world's highest cities to the Golden Valley and back the other way.

 As mentioned above, numerous visitors choose to take their lives in their own hands and set out to defeat the road every year. Companies have emerged which offer thrill-seekers the opportunity to cycle down this track.

However, if you do not fancy embarking on this exhilarating and nerve-wracking drive or ride you can use the alternative highway, opened in 2006, which has modern infrastructure including drains, guardrails and bridges.

In conclusion, the Death Road is just one of Bolivia's top attractions. It is a country with so much to offer from the bustling jungle town of Rurrenabaque to the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) in the department of Potosí and the magnificent Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. If you go to Bolivia and you decide that you want to experience the Coroico road for yourself on a cycling tour, I would recommend that you choose your company wisely. Look at reviews of the different trips, check out what safety systems and procedures are in place and see what is included in the price.  This will make sure that you have a life-changing experience and that you come out the other side proudly stating that you have conquered the “world's most dangerous road” and that you have lived to tell the tale.


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