Are You Mad, They Asked? Yes, I Said

In 2010 I set out on a world trip. In order to feed my love (read: addiction) for sport, I made sure that every stop had an athletic purpose. I went diving, I went running, I went punching stuff. Another one of my most memorable experiences came on a winding road in Bolivia.

Bolivia is known for its subtly named Road of Death (or Yungas Road), leading from La Paz to Coroico. In 1995 it was declared the world’s most dangerous road with up to 300 travellers being killed every year. Travel agents smelled an opportunity and turned tragedy into profit: 64 kilometres going downhill, starting at 4,670 metres above sea level, and all of that on a bike.

I was living and working in Arequipa, Peru, and decided I’d take two days off and jump on the bus to La Paz. My hostel downtown advised me to look up the tour operator Madness Bolivia. I paid them a visit and ended up booking a one-day mountain bike tour of the infamous road called “Downhill madness – Ride the difference.” The staff was friendly and explained the trip in detail. I was also convinced by the quality and safety of their Rocky Mountain bikes.

The next morning four of us went up to the summit, La Cumbre, in a minivan accompanied by a guide and driver. I was the only woman, which didn’t bother me. We unloaded our bikes, put on our gear, and listened to last-minute instructions regarding the upcoming road. It was going to be steep!

The first third of the ride was a nicely paved road. We headed downhill for about 20 km, picking up speed with fresh mountain air rushing over and around us. I focused only on the ride, and it felt like freedom ought to: Breathtaking.

Then we turned off the main highway and onto a dirt road—the real death road. Some of this cliffside path was only about 3 m wide, situated over steep 4,000-m drops. We’d gone from thin air at the summit to the warm Yungas jungle, passing beautiful waterfalls and ample greenery.

After spending about 5 hours on our bikes we arrived in Yolosa, where we were treated to hot showers, a pool, and food. A minivan waited to take us back to La Paz in the early evening.

The good thing about travelling is that it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do—thanks to the adventurous mood that surrounds the whole exercise. It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself. My dad likes to say that you need to do crazy stuff in order to make your trip an exceptional memory.

I loved every minute of the ride down Yungas Road. Crazy or not, I was careful to vet and choose the right tour operator, and after adequate preparation … I just let go and took in the beautiful scenery. Only now, looking back at the pictures, it sinks in why it is called the most dangerous road in the world.*

Would I do it again? … Yes.


Check out other travel adventures by this author!


* Since 2006, a new road close by directs the majority of the traffic from this path. This new route is safer than the original one due to its modern construction, and the traffic on Yungas Road has therefore been substantially minimized.

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