Death Road is a terrifying and deadly road in Bolivia connecting the Andes Mountains to the Amazon rainforest. In fact, it’s often referred to as known as “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. Hence the nickname it developed, Death Road.
Located near the capital city of Bolivia, La Paz, Death Road was once the only vehicular route down to this region of the Bolivian Amazon. Finally in 2006, a new & safer paved road was developed so that cars would no longer have to risk driving down Death Road. Yet that old treacherous road still exists and it now attracts curious thrill-seekers who go biking down Death Road Bolivia!
Always on the hunt for incredible adventures around the world, we simply had to experience first-hand what cycling Death Road Bolivia 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 Death Road tour companies, we ultimately put our trust in Barracuda Biking to get us down safely. A portion of this post will detail a Barracuda Biking review to let you know exactly how that went.
We survived biking down Death Road Bolivia. But it was not without incident. During our Death Road Bolivia tour, two riders did not make it. Accidents do regularly happen on Death Road. We witnessed it firsthand, as two cyclists returned to La Paz in an ambulance.
Thankfully, we lived to tell about our experience, provide a Barracuda Biking review, and relay some cycling safety tips about biking Death Road.
What Is Death Road Bolivia?
Death Road is a 55-kilometer (34-mile) stretch of a narrow dirt road in Bolivia that descends from the high Andes down into the Amazon basin. The treacherous road straddles the edge of steep mountain cliffs, which have lead to many fatal accidents. Officially known as Yungas Road, this roadway near Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, has been nicknamed “Death Road” due to the number of deaths that have occurred here.
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 Bolivia claimed more lives than any other road on record.
In fact, it is estimated that Death Road Bolivia 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 offer evidence of such deaths all along the way.
Death Road is extremely hazardous! Some parts of this rough road straddles 600-meter (2,000-foot) cliffs that drop straight down, with no guard rails in sight. Death Road Bolivia is quite narrow too. Often it’s only wide enough for a single car even though the road is used for two-way vehicular traffic.
Yet those are only a few of Death Road’s many challenges. Death Road Bolivia is often covered with clouds and fog, completely obscuring visibility. The terrain is loose and the edge of the road often appears eroded away. Add rivers and waterfalls plunging onto the road. It’s all a recipe for accidents.
Once the safer road was complete nearby, the old Death Road soon became a popular pursuit for dare-devils wanting to go mountain biking down the legendary road.
With the growing popularity of cycling down Death Road, deadly accidents are still occurring. It’s estimated that about 30 cycling-related deaths have occurred on the road since mountain biking trips began here, although confirmed death figures are hard to pin down. Most recently (January 2019), an unfortunate Death Road accident occurred in which a traveler from New Zealand tragically plunged 100 meters off the side of Death Road. You can read more about that tragic incident reported here on NZ news site, Stuff.co.nz.
Mountain Biking Death Road Bolivia: What to Expect
So what’s it like to actually go biking down Death Road?
To have some idea of what to expect, be sure to watch our Death Road video below. Our personal account of our experience follows, detailing our excursion with Barracuda Biking, a tour operator based out of La Paz.
Building the Confidence to Begin 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. Our Death Road tour day was now here and we were almost too nervous to eat the hearty breakfast that lay before us, at the meeting point.
Ever since Death Road began being put to use for this daring mountain bike descent, tour guides estimate there are approximately 2-3 cycling deaths per year. That’s 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 Bolivia’s busy capital up to the serene mountaintops of the high Andes. At the 4,700 meters in altitude (nearly 3 miles high), our Death Road Bolivia tour began on a very chilly note for what would ultimately prove to be a chilling experience.
The Alcohol Ritual: A Death Road Bolivia 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. This ritual 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.
It’s known as blue cap and is basically straight rubbing alcohol. So you can only imagine the burn and the 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.
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 a swig of the same alcohol and then meticulously splashed it around each tire and on the van itself.
Bolivians can be 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 start this insane adventure. The first 22-kilometers of the mountain biking trip is on a good paved road. It’s actually the main road used today for vehicular traffic. This paved portion is used as somewhat of a test-run before getting onto the much more treacherous dirt road that has claimed so many lives.
This portion of the ride has fairly smooth pavement and even guardrails. But don’t let that provide a false sense of security. This highway is steep and the asphalt can allow the bikes to easily build up speed. It’s a fast and fun ride. But cyclists 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 determined on this downhill route. That way everyone can cycle down at their own comfortable pace, rejoining the group at the break spots.
Even though our adventure had just begun on this paved highway, this Death Road biking tour was living up to its accident-laden reputation. We were waiting at a checkpoint, but someone in our group hadn’t arrived. Time ticked by and we all began to grow worried. The support van trailing our Death Road tour group also hadn’t reached us.
This wasn’t a good sign.
It turns out, the girl we were waiting for had fallen while speeding down the mountain road. 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 a hospital back in La Paz.
Meanwhile, a guy cycling Death Road with another tour 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. The both ended their day in a Bolivian hospital.
While they were being rushed back to La Paz, we felt a bit uneasy as we continued our descent down this paved stretch leading up to the actual Death Road.
It 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 accidents! It was a strange feeling having just been making cheery 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 Bolivia
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.
Our arrival eerily coincided with thick fog cover. We were prepared by our guides with careful briefings and instructions before beginning to 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 the rationale. It was explained that driving on the left makes it easier for cars traveling up Death Road. It supposedly gives them a better view of the car’s tires when passing oncoming traffic.
But the straddling the left-hand side for those of us cycling down Death Road, means that we are riding on the same side as that steep drop-off! We were surprised to learn that we would be cycling on the edge of the cliff side of the Death Road, rather than the seemingly right side. Our natural inclination is to drive on the right, which is further fueled by the fact that there is a scary-as-hell death-drop on the left. Yet, it is this left-hand side of Death Road that you are supposed to ride on. Gulp!
Off we went though. The bike ride down this infamous Death 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 unfortunate 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. Some of these tales, as sad as they often are, 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 during the Death Road Bolivia tour.
Many of those who are mountain biking down Death Road Bolivia tend to cluster here. It also acts as a good checkpoint, 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 nerves of steel and pinpoint accuracy!
If you are not feeling comfortable biking Death Road Bolivia, you always have the option to throw your bike on the roof of the van and ride down inside this support vehicle. But we honestly felt safer on our two wheels! And we continued to build our confidence as we rode onward down Death Road.
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 to soon be amidst a lush tropical jungle. You can really notice the elevation change. It’s joked about that you can experience four seasons in one day when biking Death Road Bolivia.
Over the 55-kilometer downhill ride, cyclists descend from 4,700 meters in elevation (about 3 miles high) all the way down to 1,200 meters (0.75 miles high or ~4,000 feet). That’s a 3,500-meter descent in elevation loss! It feels like the world’s ultimate rollercoaster, every bit of the way!
By the final section, we began to feel most comfortable, as the steep drop-offs subsided. But our Barracuda Biking guides, who had gotten us this far down Death Road, 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.
Surviving Death Road Bolivia …and the Afterparty
We successfully survived Death Road.
But the fun was not over yet. Unique to Barracuda Biking’s Death Road trip, cyclists 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 ultimately wrapped up with an excellent and satisfying buffet of local food.
After filling our bellies with beer and dinner, it was time to dry off and begin the long van ride back to La Paz. But the party continued!
The journey back to La Paz takes nearly 3 hours. Yet it seemed that the adrenaline from the day remained in our systems. 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 of Death Road
When considering mountain biking Death Road, we were in search of a safe, trusted, and reliable Death Road tour company that also offered excellent value.
There are plenty of budget operators, offering attractive prices. But some of those also had rumors, horror stories, and safety concerns.
Meanwhile, Gravity has been widely regarded as one of the most trusted and often-recommended Death Road tour companies. But we also found them to be the most expensive Death Road tour operator.
In our research, we found that Barracuda Biking to have safety practices we could trust in, a track record of good reviews, and a moderate price. Barracuda Biking claims to be the “best of the rest.” This value proposition among Death Road tour companies proved absolutely true from our experience.
Barracuda Biking Death Road Bike Conditions
The condition of the bikes was great. Barracuda Biking uses Kona bikes with a dual suspension system, which we found to be 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).
A minor injury that happened during our trip 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 off his bike! It wasn’t anything bad and he was able to complete the ride. But this just gives an example of how great their brakes are maintained.
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 thoroughly inspected and maintained.
Meanwhile, we saw groups who went with a more budget-friendly Death Road tour company who were 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.
We noticed one girl using another tour company so (justifiably) scared of the condition of her brakes that she demanded her bike get fixed. But this other Death Road tour company wouldn’t do anything about it. We couldn’t believe it! It was at that point, we were so thankful to have chosen Barracuda Biking for our Death Road tour.
Barracuda Biking Death Road Safety
The good condition of Barracuda’s bikes themselves helped to appease much of our safety concerns. Yet there are further protocols to consider, such as safety gear and the presence of an ambulance.
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 Death Road tour companies that hire an ambulance every day to be on standby in case there are any injuries. Thank goodness for that, since there was indeed an accident on our trip!
Barracuda Biking also provides all the essential safety gear. Full-head helmets were available. Yet we were also offered regular bike helmets too. We chose the latter because we find that the full-head helmets can sometimes obscure our peripheral vision. That’s just our preference. Others feel more secure opting for the full-head helmets, which are more protective.
The Barracuda Biking driver was also top-notch and we felt very safe with him behind the wheel on these dangerous roads.
When assessing tour companies, we often look for the best deal. But with something called “Death Road,” you must also shop around for safety. Your life is on the line. So when researching Death Road tour companies, we found that Barracuda Biking had nice combination of safety and value.
Barracuda Biking Death Road Guides
The other aspect we really liked about Barracuda Biking was our guides. Given how crazy of an experience it is to bike down Death Road, you need to have a balance of safety and 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. Yet we thought that Barracuda’s guides on Death Road struck the perfect balance between fun and safe.
Barracuda Biking provided two guides for our group, in addition to the support driver. Both of our Death Road tour guides 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 if needed. Yet the guides still kept a lighthearted vibe throughout the day and told us many interesting stories as we journeyed down this insane road. They also helped us to party and celebrate our survival at the end of the day. We appreciated their fun-loving spirit just as much as their careful professionalism throughout the ride.
Barracuda Biking Death Road Price and Costs
Barracuda Biking Price: Currently the cost for the entire Death Road trip is $85 USD. This includes:
- full suspension bikes,
- safety gear, guide,
- bottled water,
- a big buffet meal at the end of the trip,
- pool party at jungle lodge
- photos throughout the day (emailed), and
- an “I Survived Death Road” t-shirt.
You can save some cash by reserving a front suspension bike. That comes out to $65, instead of $85 for the full suspension bikes. Yet we wholeheartedly recommend spending the extra $20 for the increased stability front suspension bikes can provide while descending.
Additional Death Road costs: There is an additional mandatory fee of 50 Bolivianos (~$7) that you must pay to access Death Road on the day of your trip. Other optional expenses you may encounter on Death Road are:
- 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 this tour by going directly to the Barracuda Biking website.
Death Road Tips: How to Survive the Deadliest Road in the World
Death Road Bolivia can be risky, scary, and dangerous. Here’s a list of tips to help you survive Death Road and enjoy the ride!
⛰️ 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. You may want to ask if there’s been any deaths on their tours. It’s a legitimate question. But the answer could be from a careless rider rather than anything of the operator’s fault. Here are some key questions to ask to help ensure your safety:
- Are bikes full suspension?
- Dual/full suspension have increased stability going downhill compared to front suspension.
- Is there an ambulance on standby in case of emergency?
- Surprisingly, not all companies have one on contract. Use a company that does.
- How often are the bikes used on Death Road?
- Biked used every single day endure more and may not have time for a thorough inspection. Look for bikes used every other day or less often.
- What safety gear is provided?
- Ensure helmets and proper gear is included.
Of course, recommend Barracuda Biking, who was able to answer each of these questions to our satisfaction.
⚠️ Have travel insurance that covers Death Road. 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 carries emergency evacuation up to $300,000. Their coverage not only includes mountain biking as a covered activity but also specifically includes coverage for Death Road / Yungas Road as part of their Standard policy.
Yet we must be careful to note that is for the US-based policy and we’ve discovered that World Nomads coverage varies based on nationality. When getting a quote online, take a look at the coverage to verify that mountain biking is covered and that Death Road isn’t listed as an exclusion. Check here based on your country of residence.
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 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 on the way down Death Road, you’ll want to fuel yourself for the day. If doing a Death Road tour with Barracuda Biking, the meeting point is at a cafe that serves big, full breakfasts. Eat it!
🚲 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 checkpoint 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 biking Death Road Bolivia, 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 safer interior, you could end up in a collision with an oncoming vehicle. But you also need not flirt with danger on the left, cliffside. 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 biking Death Road Bolivia. If you need to stop suddenly, use the back brake while also applying moderate pressure to the front brake.
👂 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 them.
🤳 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, head strap, or handlebar mount. Don’t try to record or take pictures with your hands.
😏 Don’t become overly confident. Particularly during the third and final section, it’s easy to get overly comfortable, go fast, and let your guard down on what may seem like an easier section. Don’t become complacent. This is still “Death Road” after all. Continue using extreme 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 Death Road Bolivia accidents sustained while mountain biking Death Road. Know that this adventure does have significant risks involved that you must personally judge on your own and accept the risks involved.
Ready to Bike Death Road Bolivia?
We hope this Death Road Bolivia review of Barracuda Biking, the video, and the travel tips we’ve left here have all been helpful to plan your own crazy adventure while visiting La Paz.
But wait, don’t go yet!
If you’re continuing to travel in Bolivia, you may also want to read our other two Bolivia travel posts:
- Bolivia Salt Flats Tour of Salar de Uyuni: Easily the most otherworldly off-road adventure we’ve taken anywhere in the world.
- Travel Tips for Isla del Sol Bolivia: It’s worth staying overnight on this relaxing island in Lake Titicaca.
If you enjoy biking and traveling South America, be sure to check out these other incredible mountain biking trips in the Andes:
- Biking Mount Chimborazo: It’s an incredible ride down Ecuador’s highest mountain and the closest place on earth to outer space!
- Inca Jungle Trek & Biking: The most adventurous way to Machu Picchu includes a full day of downhill mountain biking from the Andes to the jungle, in addition to whitewater rafting, zip-lining, and hiking!
- Cotopaxi Mountain Biking: It’s also possible to go mountain biking down one of the tallest active volcanoes in the world!
Also, if you’ve gone biking down Death Road Bolivia, please share your experience in the comments. We’d love to hear and so would other travelers!
Is mountain biking Death Road Bolivia on your bucket list? Or is this way too daring? We’d love to know, so please drop us a comment. Or let us know if you have any questions about this crazy adventure in the world!