I (Barely) Survived the Death Road

I’m all for adventure and Death Road, locally known as the North Yungas Road, has no shortage of adrenaline rush. Had heard so much about it, I had to go for it.

  • Time: Pick up from hostel at 8 a.m. Return to La Paz at around 8 p.m.
  • The distance of ride: Around 64 km
  • Altitude difference: Starts at 4650 m and ends at 1200 m
  • Company I chose: Barro Biking

*Includes: Snacks at 11 a.m., lunch in a resort, T-shirt, CD of pictures, all the biking gear including the bike

My roommate from the hostel couldn’t stop bragging about it either. Sure enough, I decided to go for it. I probably would have given it more thought had I seen the death statistics of the road earlier.

The road goes downhill from 4650 m to 1200 m, has sharp blind turns and is pretty much without any handrails. Any fall on the wrong side can really be fatal.

I didn’t want to go around looking for my options as I read they all offer more or less the same things. I just went for the cheapest option which was the one I could arrange from my hostel – Barro biking.

Ride to death road:

They came to pick me up at around 8 a.m. We drove to the top, where it started to snow (My second snowfall). We changed into our oversized gears and listened to the instructions. We started to bike down, stopping every now and then to click pictures. The ride begins on a safe stretch that is decently wide and is paved. Although the guide takes care of photography, the camera was not very high quality so everyone used their cameras as well whenever we had access to them. Soon enough we reach this point – The beginning of death road.

The innocent beginning

I was not scared to death but an earlier short patch of dirt road had caught me off guard and I couldn’t imagine driving for hours on a similar road. This road seemed smoother than that but little did I know what was coming my way.

The beginning of ‘Death Road’

Death road:

I told myself not to speed. We started off well. Again, stopping every now and then to pose for our photographer/ guide. Riding through waterfalls would remain my favorite part. The ride is definitely about the adrenaline rush you get riding so fast downward on a narrow lane that has death written all over it on one side but it’s also an abundance of natural beauty. The valley is beautiful with tons of waterfalls found in every size.

It really was that petrifying
Contemplating whether to take shoes off or continue riding in drenched shoes

We were told that ‘it’s the last dangerous 8 km’ After this the road is wide and flat. I told myself ‘wow, I made it without falling’ (I’m the clumsiest person the world has ever known). At that moment Nature responded with ‘Challenge accepted’.

That elevation and those rocks can make a lot of difference

The fall:

In what I guess was our last km of the ‘difficult’ stretch, My bike picked up the pace and somewhere it’s front tire twisted along a rock which resulted in me being flung off my bike and I then landed on a boulder the size of a human head. I had fallen right on my chest and it left me disoriented. Everyone stopped behind me. I had this strong pain in my chest as someone had stabbed me. I also, knew my right hip bone was injured with more than minor scratches. I was petrified of thinking about the real damage that has been done. No insurance covers injury during an adventure sport. I was thinking already about how am I going to make it look like a random injury to the doctor.

One cross less owing to my direction of fall in the ‘right’ direction

We started riding again once I felt I was good to go but my fall kept replaying in front of my eyes. At the first opportunity, I used the toilet to assess the damage. Very surprisingly there was not much visible damage. I decided to wait for a day or two before seeing a doctor.

Me faking a smile after the accident

This accident is what makes me give the organizers an upvote as even though the gear looked in bad shape, it was fixed everywhere, but it was good quality. I had a really bad fall but came out of it with no major injuries, it could have been only because of the good quality gear.

The only thing that could have made the experience better:

A different group maybe. There were 7 people in our group and I was like the odd one out. Everyone else had a partner. We interacted but the quality of our interaction remained at a superficial level. Plus my Salar group has really set the standards very high for a group tour.

Happy souls after a filling lunch

We ended our day with a CD of all the pictures and a free T-shirt.

It was a very fulfilling day and I would have had a very satisfying sleep if I didn’t have to figure the right angle to sleep all night in order to avoid sleeping on my injuries.


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