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Conquering ‘Death Road’ in Bolivia

by Lindsay Langstaff
Study Abroad Participant Reviews "Death Road" Tour in Bolivia | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Buenos Aires, Argentina

The name makes it sound as ominous as it is. Death Road is 43 miles of the most famous and dangerous bike trail in the entire world located on the Yungas Road in Bolivia. You begin your ride at 15,260 feet and gradually descend to 3,900 feet by the end of the journey. An average of one person dies a year on this trail, but there have been instances of large numbers of deaths as well. In 1983, there was a bus of 100 people driving down the road and the bus fell off, killing all 100 people.  Nothing about the trail is very safe since it is rough and gravely with some very slippery parts underneath waterfalls. With absolutely no mountain biking experience, I indulged in this once in a life time opportunity, survived, and am still here to tell you all about it.

I was not planning on doing Death Road when I came to Bolivia because I knew nothing about it, other than it was dangerous and 43 miles long. While I am in decent shape, I knew I could not bike for 43 miles. There was a travel agency called Altitude located in the hostel I was staying at to assist guests with any activities they wanted to participate in. The most popular activity by and far was Death Road tours, so there was a tour leaving every single day of the week. One fateful night I was spending time with some people I had met at the hostel who had just returned from Death Road. They told me about how incredible their adventures were and how beginners and experts alike could survive the treacherous roads with experienced tour guides. After a bit of convincing, I gave in and told them I would sign myself up for a tour.

The tour I went on through Altitude consisted of a $2,400 mountain bike, transportation, a light breakfast, a full biking outfit, snacks, water, a t-shirt, photos and videos of the tour, a bilingual tour guide, and a buffet lunch complete with showers and a pool at a hotel at the end of the ride. In total, it cost me around $100. I had been under the impression that this sort of adventure would not be for beginners, but I was quite wrong. The tour guides were very helpful the entire time and we always stopped every 20-30 minutes to take a short break. We had a tour group of around 10 people with varying skill levels, but nobody ever got left behind because our tour bus would stay behind the last person. If someone needed a break or felt that the road was too dangerous, then they could stop and ride in the van for however long they felt they needed. I would say that the hardest part of the tour was simply staying on the bike and dealing with the hand cramps from clutching the breaks. It wasn’t very physically demanding because most of it was downhill, but I was completely unaccustomed to traveling down rough paths at high speeds. By the end of it though, my confidence had increased tremendously, and it was an incredible feeling to know that I had completed the most dangerous bike path in the world without falling off the bike.

Now with that being said, it is still very important to think through if this is the right adventure for you. While I did say that it was for beginners as well as experts, I don’t recommend it if you haven’t ridden a bike in 10 years or aren’t very comfortable using one. I also don’t recommend it if you have any physical ailments or a fear of heights. In general, use common sense when deciding whether or not you should participate in a Death Road tour. If you’re unsure of anything at all, you are always more than welcome to ask the tour agency that you’re working with and they can answer any and all questions. Overall though, if I had the option to do it again, I certainly would in a heartbeat.  This is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and do something adventurous, different, and exciting!

This post was contributed by Lindsay Langstaff, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Study Abroad Participant Reviews "Death Road" Tour in Bolivia | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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