In Bolivia, near the capital of La Paz, lies a terrifying road that connects the Andes Mountains to the Amazon rainforest. This is Death Road Bolivia, and it is “the most dangerous road in the world.” For decades this stomach-churning gravel road on the side of a cliff was plagued with hundreds of fatal accidents. This was the only vehicular route down to this region of the Bolivian Amazon. With a new & safer paved road having opened for cars in 2006, the old Death Road has since become popular with thrill-seeking travelers. While the road is still used by cars, curious travelers are now coming in droves to go mountain biking down Death Road!
Always on the hunt for incredible adventures around the world, we simply had to experience first-hand what cycling Death Road is all about. Yet given the road’s notoriety for so many Death Road accidents, we were extremely nervous about this escapade. We love a good adventure, but it’s not worth our lives! So after extensively researching the many companies who offer Death Road cycling tours, we put our trust in Barracuda Biking to get us down safely.
We survived Death Road Bolivia. But during our trip at least two people did not. Death Road accidents do happen. Two unfortunate riders returned to La Paz in an ambulance during our trip. This road is no joke. But we have lived to tell about our experience, provide a Barracuda Biking review, and give you travel tips on how to survive Death Road.
Mountain Biking Death Road Bolivia Video
Before we get deep into this crazy experience, here’s a quick video we put together to give you a taste of what this adrenaline-inducing experience is like.
A Brief Background About Death Road
There have been so many Death Road accidents that it has earned the designation as “the most dangerous road in the world.” This isn’t just a title that someone randomly made up. The Inter-American Development Bank performed an investigation in 1995 and found that Death Road, more formally known as Yungas Road, had claimed more lives than any other road on record. It is estimated that Death Road has averaged 200-300 fatalities each year! This finding led to the support for a new road, which was finally completed in 2006. Thousands of people have died on Death Road over the decades due to cars falling right off the side of the road. Dozens of graves and memorials are evidence of this along the way.
Death Road is absolutely treacherous! The dirt road hugs the edge of a cliff with shear 2,000-foot drop-offs. Death Road is quite narrow too. Often it’s only wide enough for a single car, but the road is used for two-way vehicular traffic.
Yet that’s only one of Death Road’s many challenges. The road is often covered with clouds and fog, completely obscuring visibility. The terrain is loose and the edge often appears eroded away to the widening valley below. Now add rivers and waterfalls that are plunging down onto the road. It’s all a recipe for accidents.
Our Experience Mountain Biking Death Road
We woke up terrified. The night before, we had confirmed our participation with Barracuda Biking, acknowledged the risks involved, and signed our lives away on their waivers. The day was now here and we were almost too nervous to eat our breakfast.
Since the road has been used for a daring mountain bike descent, there tends to be about 2-3 cycling deaths per year. That’s still a pretty alarming stat. If you were about to go bungee jumping and someone told you the cord snaps 2-3 times per year, would you still jump? Probably not. Yet every day people still take the risk of soaring down Death Road on bikes hoping not to become the next victim. And now we were joining them. Butterflies were churning in our stomach.
But we packed up, jumped in the van, and journeyed from the busy capital of La Paz up to the serene mountaintops of the Andes. At the 4,700 meters in altitude (nearly 3 miles high), the day begun on a quite chilly note for what would ultimately prove to be a chilling experience.
The Alcohol Ritual: A Death Road Tradition
We nervously put on our safety gear and became acquainted with the dual suspension mountain bikes that would take us down this horrendous road. But first, there was a ritual we had to follow that seemed just as important as the safety checks. We had to make an offering to Pacha Mama (mother earth) by giving her a pour of pure alcohol. Then we were to take a swig ourselves, to help provide courage.
This is straight rubbing alcohol, so you can only imagine the burn and awful sensation of attempting to ingest what is not advisable for human consumption. But we reluctantly followed tradition and hence took a nip of the potent firewater before flying down the Andes. At first this all seemed like a fun little shtick put on as part of this Death Road tour. But we witnessed firsthand that this is taken very seriously. The driver of our support van took the same alcohol and meticulously splashed it around each tire and on the van itself.
Bolivians are deeply superstitious. And there are a number of rituals you should follow on Death Road to help ensure your survival. So, yes, that includes subjecting yourself to ingesting pure alcohol.
And So It Begins …Two Death Road Accidents!
With that alcohol burn still lingering in our throats and beginning to warm our bellies, it was time to begin this insane adventure. The first 22-kilometers of cycling down Death Road is actually on a good paved road, which is the main road used today for vehicular traffic. This paved portion is used as somewhat of a test-run before getting to the treacherous dirt road that has claimed so many lives.
But don’t let the pavement and guardrails give you a false sense of security. This highway is steep and you can build up speed easily. It’s a fast and fun ride, but you must use caution. With Barracuda Cycling, the guides give you a careful briefing of what to expect and where to use caution. There are also specific meeting points that are pointed out, so that everyone can cycle down at their own comfortable pace.
Our adventure had just begun, but already Death Road was living up to its accident-laden reputation. We were waiting at a checkpoint, but one girl in our group hadn’t arrived. Time ticked by and we all grew more worried. The support van trailing our group, also hadn’t reached our checkpoint. This wasn’t a good sign.
It turns out, the girl we were waiting for had fallen while speeding down the mountain and it resulted in a broken arm. Thankfully Barracuda Biking had an ambulance on standby in case of accidents like this. So this poor girl was at least taken care of and rushed off to the hospital.
Meanwhile a guy cycling Death Road with another group also had an accident during this stretch. Apparently, his accident was even worse and resulted in a head injury. The ambulance transporting the broken arm victim was nice enough to pick him up too. So they would both be ending their day in the emergency room.
While they were being rushed back to La Paz, we continued our descent. At the end, sandwiches were distributed throughout our group and we realized there was one extra. It was for the girl who was now being rushed to the hospital. This was a stark and sobering reminder that Death Road accidents do happen. We hadn’t even reached the crazy sections, yet there were already two serious Death Road injuries! It was a strange feeling having just been making introductions with this girl, and now she was gone from our group. There would be at least one empty seat on the van ride back to La Paz. Hopefully we wouldn’t add to that.
Mountain Biking Down the Old Death Road
Despite these accidents, our journey continued. After a bit of pedaling, we reached the beginning of the old Death Road. There would be no more pavement, nor secure guardrails. And our arrival seemed to coincide with thick fog cover. Our guides prepared us with careful briefings and instructions, before we began actually mountain biking down Death Road. Eek!
We were briefed about some peculiarities to the road. For example, although driving in Bolivia is always on the right side of the road, Death Road has a rule that uses the left side of the road. We don’t entirely understand it, but apparently this somehow makes sense so that it is easier for cars traveling up Death Road to be on the left. It supposedly gives them a better view of the car’s tires when passing oncoming traffic.
But the left-hand side for those of us cycling down Death Road, is the same side as that steep drop-off! So we were surprised to learn that we would be cycling on the edge of the cliff side of the Death Road. Our natural inclination is to drive on the right, which is further fueled with the fact that there is a scary-as-hell death-drop on the left. Yet, it is this left-hand side that you are to ride on. Gulp.
Off we went though. The ride down this infamous road began as frightening as we had imagined. We cautiously hugged the brakes and tried to stay towards the middle of the road rather than the flirt with death on the left side.
Fog was rolling in thick. Our Barracuda Biking guide pointed out a bend in the road that was obscured by fog. Apparently on that very turn, a driver didn’t realize the road curved to the right, so he drove right off the cliff. This is exactly how many unfortunately souls have plunged to their deaths. We would hear many more crazy stories like this throughout the entire ride down Death Road. Part of the fun of Death Road is the thrill of the ride. But some of these tales, as sad as they often were, were just as jaw-dropping as the terrain we were riding through.
Throughout the ride there was always constant terror in the back of our minds. Yet with time, we grew more comfortable biking Death Road. But that didn’t stop more challenges from coming our way. We pedaled across rivers and even under waterfalls!
After many tight corners, blind curves, and over the wet, rock-strewn ground, you eventually arrive at an iconic fern-covered cliff. This makes for a nice photo op. Many of those who are mountain biking down Death Road tend to cluster here. It also acts as a good check point, giving the support vans that follow a chance to catch up since they are also carefully navigating down this sketchy terrain.
Speaking of which, biking down Death Road seemed a difficult feat in itself. Yet I couldn’t imagine taking some of those tight corners in a car, or worse, a big van! The drivers of the support vans that were trailing us must have absolute nerves of steel and pinpoint accuracy!
If you are not feeling comfortable biking down Death Road, you always have the option to throw your bike on the roof and get into the van. But we honestly felt safer on our two wheels! And we continued to build our confidence as we rode onward.
Also the further we descended, the warmer it got. We were thankful for the support vehicles risking their lives so that we could shed some layers. It was strange having just been among the freezing snow-capped Andes and suddenly the fog was clearing to a lush tropical jungle. You could really notice the elevation change. Some people say that you experience four seasons in one day when biking Death Road. It’s true!
Over the 55-kilometer downhill ride, you descend from 4,700 meters all the way down to 1,200 meters. It is the world’s ultimate rollercoaster, ever bit of the way!
By the final section, we began to feel most comfortable and the steep drop-offs subsided. But our Barracuda Biking guides who had gotten us this far down Death Road had cautioned us not to become complacent. They claimed that this is actually where most Death Road accidents occur. Riders become overly confident and get themselves into trouble. They were right. We found ourselves going faster here than other sections. Yet thankfully, we (and everyone in our group) got through the final stretch without any accidents.
We Survived Death Road …and The Afterparty
We had successfully survived Death Road.
But the fun was not over yet. Unique to Barracuda Biking’s Death Road trip, you arrive to a jungle lodge that is complete with a pool! There are also plenty of cold beers for sale to help calm your nerves. One of the guides took to the role of DJ and the next thing you know, it was a full-blown pool party! The experience then wrapped up with an excellent and filling buffet.
Ultimately it was time to dry off and begin the long van ride back to La Paz. But the party continued! The journey takes nearly 3 hours, but it seemed that the adrenaline from the day had remained in our systems, as spirits were high throughout the entire ride back. This was, of course, further fueled by countless beers. We made many impromptu stops along the way to restock on cold cervezas, as we celebrated our victory of surviving Death Read.
Barracuda Biking Review
For mountain biking Death Road, we were in search for a safe, trusted, and reliable tour operator that also offered excellent value. There are plenty of budget operators, some of which we’ve heard horror stories about. Meanwhile, Gravity seems to be one of the most trusted and often-recommended operators but they are also the most expensive. In our research, Barracuda Biking seemed to be the most reliable operators that had a moderate price. Barracuda Biking claims to be the “best of the rest” and this value proposition proved absolutely true from our experience.
Barracuda Biking Bike Conditions
The condition of the bikes were great. They use Kona bikes with a dual suspension system, which is absolutely necessary for these roads. The gears worked smoothly and we never had any chains pop off.
Most importantly, the brakes were tight and worked extremely well. Perhaps they worked even too well (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on Death Road). One of the minor injuries for the day actually occurred in the parking lot. A guy in our group, who was getting acquainted with his bike, didn’t realize just how strong the breaks were and a tiny squeeze after his first pedal caused him to tumble down off his bike!
Barracuda Biking also rotates their inventory of bikes every other day. The same bikes are never used two days in a row. The bikes spend their off day getting inspected and maintained.
Meanwhile we saw other groups riding bikes with brakes that were in horrible shape. A full hard squeeze to the brakes barely slowed them down at all. It was reckless. One girl was so (justifiably) scared of the condition of her brakes and demanded her bike get fixed, but this other company wouldn’t do anything about it. We couldn’t believe it! It was at that point, that we were so thankful to have apparently chosen the right operator.
Barracuda Biking Safety
The Barracuda Biking office staff told us that they were only one of two Death Road biking companies who are legally operating these Death Road tours. And they’re one of the few who hires an ambulance every day to be on standby in case there are any injuries. Thank goodness for that, since there was an accident on our trip!
They also provided all the essential safety gear. Full-head helmets were available but we were also offered regular bike helmets. We chose the latter because we find that the full-head helmets can sometimes obscure our peripheral vision. That’s just our preference, but others feel more secure with the full-head helmets.
Our driver was also top-notch and we felt very safe with him behind the wheel on these dangerous roads.
When assessing tour operators, we often look for the best deal period, but with something called “Death Road,” you must also shop around for safety. Your life is on the line. We found both safety and value with Barracuda Biking.
Barracuda Biking Guides
But the other aspect we really liked about Barracuda Biking was our guides. For such a crazy experience like mountain biking Death Road, you need to have a balance of safe but fun. That can often be a tough balance to juggle. In other adventures around the world, we’ve had some really fun guides who ultimately led us into dangerous predicaments. Meanwhile, we’ve had some strict and overly safe guides who took any joy away from the experience. But we thought that Barracuda’s guides on Death Road struck the perfect balance between fun and safe.
They both spoke perfect English and professionally articulated all the precautions we needed to be aware of. They kept a good eye on us, were properly trained in rescue, and seemed ready to jump into action. Yet they still kept a lighthearted vibe throughout the day and told us many interesting stories as we journeyed down this insane road. And they helped us to party and celebrate our survival!
Barracuda Biking Price and Costs
Barracuda Biking Price: Currently the cost for the entire Death Road trip is $90 USD, which is inclusive of bikes, gear, guide, transportation, snack, bottled water, a big buffet meal at the end of the trip, photos throughout the day, and even an “I Survived Death Road” t-shirt. There is an additional fee of 50 Bolivianos (~$7) that you must pay to access Death Road on the day of your trip. Other expenses you may encounter on Death Road is any additional drinks or snacks, tips for the guides, and beers at the end of the day. You can check for up-to-date Barracuda Biking prices and book by going directly to their website.
Death Road Tips & How To Survive
We put together this list of tips to help you survive Death Road.
Death Road Tips To Know Before You Go
Adjust to elevation. You’ll be climbing to a height of 4,700 meters. If you just flew into La Paz, this is not the first activity you’ll want to embark on. Allow your body to adjust to the higher elevation before tackling Death Road.
Be comfortable on a bike. If you haven’t ridden a bike in years, sure, you can still give this a go. But we’d recommend perhaps reacquainting yourself with mountain bikes before this adventure.
Carefully choose a Death Road tour company. Be sure to do your research. We, of course, recommend Barracuda Biking but if you choose to look elsewhere, be sure to ask these key questions to ensure your safety:
- Are bikes dual suspension?
- Is there an ambulance on standby in case of emergency?
- How often are the bikes used on Death Road?
- What safety gear is provided?
Have good travel insurance. Be sure that your travel insurance policy covers mountain biking and includes emergency air evacuation to get you back to your home country in case of a critical injury. We use and like World Nomads for the combination of coverage and great value. Their Standard policy does include mountain biking as a covered activity and carries emergency evacuation up to $300,000. Reputable companies like Barracuda Biking, will ask for your travel insurance policy too, so be sure to have one! Enter your dates here to get a quick quote from World Nomads. (It takes less than a minute.)
Don’t get drunk the night before. Get a good night’s rest and arrive with all your wits. Death Road is an experience you’ll want to have a completely clear head for. Your stomach will also thank you as you round all those twists and turns.
Eat a full breakfast. While sandwiches and snacks are provided along the way, you’ll want fuel yourself for the day.
Death Road Tips To Use When You’re There
Ensure your brakes are configured. Front & back brakes vary by country whether they are on the left or right handlebars. If the breaks are reversed to what you’re accustomed to, the guides can easily switch them to what you are used to.
Get comfortable with your bike. Be sure to take time to get a good feel for how sensitive the brakes are. Many Death Road accidents occur from people getting scared and then over-applying the brakes.
Follow the many Death Road rituals & traditions. Whether you’re superstitious or not, it’s part of the local culture. Go with it.
If affected by the altitude, drink the coca tea. If suffering from the high altitude, there is a check point during the higher elevation section that has coca tea which should help.
Go at your own speed. You may notice others whizzing down the mountain. No worries. Let them go on ahead. You don’t have to keep up with the pack. Go as fast or as slow as you’re comfortable with.
Pass others with courtesy. Give others plenty of space. You may be comfortable on your bike, but other riders may not be. You don’t want to make someone scared and cause an accident. Verbally announce before you pass someone to give them a heads-up. Also, know that you pass on the right when cycling Death Road.
Stay on the left or center. While on Death Road, you ride on the left side, as nerve-wracking as it can be. There is occasional oncoming traffic that will be on your right. So if hugging the seemingly safe interior, you could end up flying right into an oncoming car. But you don’t need to flirt with danger on the left, cliffside either. Instead stay towards the center, yet slightly to the left of center.
Give the right of way to oncoming traffic. Vehicles that are driving up Death Road always have the right of way to downhill bikers and cars. Be sure to yield to anyone traveling up.
Don’t ever slam on the front brakes. You will flip and likely get injured. This is perhaps what may have caused the two separate accidents early in our journey down Death Road. If you need to stop suddenly, use the back brake while also applying moderate pressure to the front break.
Pay attention and listen to your guides. They will fill you with all the knowledge you need to know to keep safe and survive Death Road. If you’re unsure of anything, don’t hesitate to ask.
Don’t take Death Road selfies. Concentrate on biking. Your guides will take photos for you. If you insist on documenting the trip yourself, have a GoPro with a helmet mount, headstrap, or handlebar mount. Don’t try to record or take pictures with your hands.
Don’t get overly confident. Particularly during the third and final section, it’s easy to get overly comfortable, go fast, and let your guard down. Don’t. This is still “Death Road” after all. Use caution and keep alert throughout the entire experience.
**Legal Disclaimer** While these Death Road tips are meant to aid in keeping you safe, Roaming Around the World takes no responsibility for any accidents sustained while mountain biking Death Road. Know that this adventure does have significant risks involved that you must judge on your own.
Surviving Death Road
Have you survived Death Road? If so, how was your experience? Is mountain biking Death Road on your bucket list? Or is this way too daring? We’d love to know, so please drop us a comment below. Or let us know if you have any questions about this crazy place in the world.