Epic Drives: The Death Road in Bolivia

This post is part 3 of 3 in the series Epic Drives

This 23 mile (37 km) stretch of dirt road in the mountains north of La Paz, Bolivia may be the most notorious death road in the world.

Beginning of North Yungas road, Bolivia's death road.

The North Yungas Road, aka the Death Road, in Bolivia was once the most dangerous road in the world.

Driving the Death Road in Bolivia

Right out of La Paz, the paved highway climbs to 15,260 feet (4,651 meters). After cresting La Cumbre pass, we traveled 19 miles (30 km) down the highway to 10,433 feet (3,180 meters) and the beginning of the North Yungas Road, also known as Bolivia’s Death Road.

Driving north yungas death road Bolivia

The entrance to Bolivia’s Death Road.

There are two entrances to the Death Road and they’re very close together. They both get you there, but the first turn off you come to when traveling from Lima (you’ll see a beat up old sign) seemed slightly less rough.

Check out our video, below, taken with our Brinno camera mounted on the dashboard of our truck as we drove Bolivia’s Death Road.

The 23 mile (37 km) road drops about 6,820 feet (2,080 meters) and ends in the valley below the town of Cocoiro where the dirt North Yungas Road rejoins the paved highway.

Vehicles in both directions are required to travel on the left hand side of the Death Road so that the driver is on the outer edge of the road instead of the center-line. This allows drivers to more safely maneuver as close as possible to the cliff-edge or mountain wall when passing another vehicle. If you’re traveling from Lima toward Cocoiro you will be driving on the cliff side of the road.

North Yungas Death road Bolivia

The scenery is stunning along Bolivia’s Death Road.

The road is all dirt but it was in very good condition when we were there. It’s single-lane in many places, there are some blind corners, and there are areas were water is cascading onto the road from the hills above.

However, the road also has guard rails now and we saw just two other vehicles during the 1.5 hours we were on the road. There are a few tiny settlements along the way and there’s a 5 BS (about US$0.72) fee per car to drive the road. 

Our receipt for the 5BS per car fee you have to pay when you drive Bolivia’ Death Road.

A new paved highway to Cocoiro was built in 2007 which greatly reduced the number of vehicles on the old Death Road. This means that Bolivia’s infamous Death Road, where hundreds of people died in traffic accidents, is really not all that dangerous anymore. 

Before the new highway was opened in 2007, the North Yungas Road, aka the Death Road, carried a lot of traffic and was the most dangerous road in the world. Photo: Wikicommons

The Death Road is now used almost exclusively by travelers who’ve signed up for a downhill biking adventure. A dozen or so bikers still die on the road each year and if you drive the Death Road in the morning there will be bikers on the road along with your vehicle. Most bikers are gone by the afternoon.

Biking Bolivia's death road.

Travelers on a guided downhill bike trip make up the majority of traffic on Bolivia’s Death Road these days.

A chilling Death Road back story

Bolivians we’ve spoken with say that the Death Road is called that not because of the substantial number of fatalities from accidents on the road fatalities but because opponents of the government were thrown off the road in to the gorge to certain death below during Bolivia’s bloody revolution in the 1950s.

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

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Eating Our Way Through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants (Part 2)

When we published our first post about eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants we included a hit list of ranking restaurants that we hoped to visit soon. We’re delighted to report that our travels have taken us to three of the heavy hitters on that wish list including Maido which is the #1 restaurant in Latin America according to the 2017 list.

Eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

When the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants was released we were happy to see Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa’s Restaurante Leo continued to rank high. She also took home honors as the Best Female Chef in Latin America for 2017. Harry Sasson Restaurant, also in Bogotá, moved WAY up the list and in Lima, Central dropped one spot to #2 to make room for Maido to rise up to #1.

Maido restaurant Lima Peru

Maido – Lima, Peru

We were excited to finally get a tasting menu reservation at Maido just a few months before it took over the #1 spot (and #8 on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.

We’ve had a lot of tasting menu meals in Lima and around the world and they’ve all had one thing in common: a story that’s subtly told as the meal becomes a journey guided by the hand of a chef with a point of view. Sadly, our 13-course tasting menu at Maido (one of the most expensive in Lima) was little more than a long series of small plates (you can see some of them above) brought quickly and mostly without much explanation, context, or a sense of Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura or his vision.

Don’t misunderstand. The food was very good. The famous fish hot dog was playful and satisfying and the raw fish courses (toro nigiri topped with a quail egg, for example) were so outstanding that we wished we’d skipped the tasting menu and booked two seats at the bustling sushi bar instead. The skill and top-notch ingredients in the kitchen were very apparent. What was missing was soul.

Even great restaurants can have a bad night and we’re willing to attribute our disappointment at Maido to an off night and, perhaps, a touch of over hype.  But no customer should leave one of world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants feeling rushed so they could turn the table. 


Casa do Porco - Sao Paulo, Brazil

A Casa do Porco – Sao Paulo, Brazil

This place rose to #8 from its debut last year at #24. That’s a big jump but we’re not surprised. When we ate at A Casa do Porco we were blown away by the porky goodness being created by Chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above with some of his plates) who cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else.

Pork sushi rolls (yes! raw pork!), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes topped with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans…We could go on and on.

Insider tips: Go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do and they do not take reservations). And though all menu prices are remarkably reasonable, if you’re on a tight budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s a delicious steal.

And find a way to save room for dessert. Saiko Izawa, the pastry chef at A Casa do Porco, was named Best Pastry Chef in Latin America for 2017.


La Mar – Lima, Peru

This chicly casual cebicheria, created by Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio, is an institution in Lima. And for good reason. The ceviche we ate at La Mar puts all other ceviches on notice. The Tiradito Andino (sliced marinated raw trout with artichokes, bamboo sprouts, and avocado), sizzling huge shrimp in clarified butter, grilled octopus…it was all amazing (as you can see, above).

The inventive chilcanos (a classic Peruvian cocktail made with pisco and ginger ale) were fun without being foofy. The restaurant, #15 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, only serves fresh and sustainable fish and seafood sourced from like-minded fishermen and co-ops, so chef Andrés Rodríguez’s menu changes based on what’s available. The sommelier was amazing and the waiters were knowledgeable and proficient in English (if you need that). We would eat at La Mar every day if we could.


Astrid y Gastón – Lima, Peru

Gastón Acurio is the only chef with two restaurants on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. In addition to La Mar, his flagship restaurant, Astrid y Gastón is ranked at #7. This place is an enduring classic for a reason: historic building, eclectic design, great people watching, and impeccable Peruvian favorites. Standouts from our nine-course tasting menu (some of which you can see, above) included guinea pig Pekinese, confit suckling pig, and a ceviche made with sour orange.

It’s a lot of rich and complex food and at one point we were so stuffed that we took a break and wandered around the 300-year-old mansion to marvel at original tiles and breezy gardens. Then came an avalanche of desserts created by Gastón’s wife Astrid (the box in the photo above is bursting with chocolates). This is not a complaint, just fair warning.


Gustu - La Paz, Bolivia

Gustu – La Paz, Bolivia

The #14 restaurant is in La Paz, Bolivia and is that country’s only ranking restaurant. Gustu is almost militantly Bolivian, using and serving only ingredients grown or made in Bolivia. This is not a limitation but a challenge to the talented staff, many of them trained at culinary schools opened by the philanthropic arm of Gustu.

We ate at Gustu twice, first for their 10-course tasting menu (many of those courses are pictured above) which featured raw llama, quinoa, dry aged beef, amaranth “caviar”, and much more in dishes that were somehow rustic and polished at the same time. We later returned for lunch which offers a choice of three appetizers and three mains including meat, fish and veg options, then dessert for 95BS (about US$14). It’s an incredible value. Eat lunch at the bar to be closer to Gustu’s excellent selection of Bolivian craft beers, spirits, and wines.


Rafael restaurant Lima

Rafael – Lima, Peru

It took us a strangely long time to get to Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling’s eponymous Rafael restaurant, even though there’s one in Bogota and one in Lima. Rafael in Lima is #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and during a recent dinner visit we fell in love with the casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art (loved the 1960s canvas folding beach chair folded and hung on the wall in all it’s graphic and utilitarian splendor).

The bar (where a tapas menu is available) has an impressive selection of libations including a number of bourbons (a rarity in much of Latin America). This inspired us to order a Wonder Woman cocktail with Buffalo Trace bourbon and smoky Laphroaig Scotch. It was splendid. The menu is wide-ranging with something for everyone and a long list of daily appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork.

With so much choice, placing our meal order took some time, but wait staff was patient and helpful (including English) and we never felt rushed. We shared a tuna tiradito started that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella.

The extensive dessert menu is full of temptations. Go for it, but leave room for the small bites of elegant sweets brought before your check.


Next up: Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants hit list

We’re still hungry. Here are some of the restaurants on the 2017 list that we’re looking forward to visiting soon.

Lima has 10 restaurants on the 2017 list – the most of any city in Latin America. We’ve eaten at seven of them. Other Lima restaurants that are squarely in out sights: Amaz (#47) and Malabar (#30), both from Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, and Fiesta from Chef Hector Solís (#46).

Sao Paulo, Brazil has six restaurants on the 2017 list and we’ve only eaten at one of them. On the top of our Sao Paulo hit list is D.O.M. at #3 on the Latin list and #16 on the 2017 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. But we’ll be saving room for Maní (#9), Mocotó (#27),  Esquina Mocotó (#41), and Tuju (#45) as well when we return to Sao Paulo.


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Our Latest Work: Manaus, Lima, the Galapagos, Machu Picchu & More…

We just realized that we haven’t published a post about Our Latest Work in a really, really long time. We can fix that. Our most recent freelance travel stories are about Lima, Peru for the Delta Sky Magazine, Manaus, Brazil for CNN Travel, and the Che Guevara trail in Bolivia for the website for the Biography channel.

Delta Sky Magazine - Lima

If you’re on a Delta Airlines flight this month, check our first story for Delta Sky Magazine which where to eat, sleep, and enjoy in three great neighborhoods in Lima. Or read it here

CNN Manaus

This guide to the best things to do in Manaus, Brazil is our first story for CNN Travel. 


Bio.com che in Bolivia

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, Bio.com published our story about touring the tiny Bolivian town where he was secretly buried


T+L Guide to galapagos Islands

Here are some favorite stories of ours which were published earlier in the year, including our all new Travel Guide to the Galapagos Islands for Travel + Leisure


Good - Peruvian chef Ocampo

We were delighted to write about Peruvian Chef Palmiro Ocampo and his quest to reduce food waste and hunger for Good magazine. 


T+L Guide to Machu Picchu

We also updated Travel+ Leisure’s Travel Guide to Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous (and most complicated) destination. 


Afar - Travel Fails

Then there was our quick and funny (we hope) piece about real-life Travel Fails for Afar magazine. 


And if going green (er) is your thing, check out our story about cutting-edge eco measures in the Galapagos which was published in newspapers across Canada. 


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Where We’ve Been: October 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Bolivia, Chile & Peru

In October 2017 we were ready to leave Bolivia and re-enter Peru. Then we checked our math and discovered a calculation error which meant we would need to briefly enter Chile before entering Peru. Whoops. This means that we visited three countries and crossed two borders in October. In total, we drove 1,462 miles (2,353 km) in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, including a massive chunk in just seven long days. Here’s out October 2017 road trip driving route.

driving Isluga Volcano National Park

Where we’ve been: October 2017 road trip in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru

We began the month in La Paz, Bolivia where our allotted 90 days were coming to an end on October 7. We had planned to leave Bolivia and re-enter Peru near Lake Titicaca so that we could drive to Lima via the most direct route. However, just 48 hours before our scheduled departure from Bolivia, we realized we didn’t do our math properly and we would not be able to re-enter Peru for another week. So: we had to leave Bolivia but we weren’t yet allowed to enter Peru. What to do? Head to Chile, of course.

Polloquere Hotspings Vicunas National reserve, Chile

So we changed plans entirely and drove to the border at Pisiga, Bolivia to enter Colchane, Chile. This silver lining? This sudden detour allowed us to explore a remote corner of Chile that we missed when we were there at the beginning of the year. So, from Colchane we were off on an epic 2-day off-road drive through Isluga National Park (named for its active volcano), Las Vicuñas National Reserve (with its giant salt flat, elegant vicuñas, flamboyant flamingos, and natural hot springs), and Lauca National Park before reaching pavement again in Putre, Chile.

Las Vicunas National Reserve, Chile

From Putre we drove to the city of Arica on the coast, returning to sea level for the first time since June. After passing a bit more than a week in Arica we were able to re-enter Peru and resume our original plan, albeit with a much longer drive to Lima from the Chile border.

After two and a half long days of driving up the coast, we arrived in Lima where we settled in for two months to catch up on work. We won’t be moving again until the beginning of the year so there won’t be a November or December “Where We’ve Been” post… unless of course, our plans change again.

Our complete road trip driving route map for September 2017 is below:

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru in October of 2017 in our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.


Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about travel in Peru

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Border Crossing 101: Pisiga, Bolivia to Colchane, Chile

Border crossings are a tricky but essential part of road trip travel. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you negotiate the border between Pisiga, Bolivia and Colchane, Chile smoothly with or without a vehicle.

Pisiga, Bolivia - Colchane, Chile border crossing

From: Pisiga, Bolivia

To: Colchane, Chile

Date: October 7, 2017

Lay of the land: This border crossing is at 12,120 feet (3,695 meters) near the Salar de Coipasa. That’s low compared to other Bolivia to Chile border crossings like the Hito Cajón crossing near San Pedro de Atacama which is at 14,698 feet (4,480 meters). Both countries do immigration and customs formalities in the same building at this crossing. 

Elapsed time: 2 hours (12:15 to 2:15). We arrived just after a bus full of student so we had to wait behind them in line for more than an hour to get our Bolivian entry and Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) canceled. Once we reached the window, that process was quick and free. After that it took just a few minutes to get our Chile entry stamp (also free). It took another 15 minutes to get our Chile TIP sorted out. Aduana (customs) agents had a golden retriever named Luke who sniffed our truck inside and out. Agents initially wanted us to remove everything from the truck and pass it through their x-ray machine, but they ultimately settled for x-raying a few bags and peaking inside some plastic bins.

Chile flag

Number of days given: 90 days for us and for the truck

Fees: none

Vehicle insurance needed: You need to buy SOAT insurance to drive in Chile, however, there is no place to buy SOAT at this border. Luckily no one asked us for proof of SOAT at the border because The closest place we found to get SOAT was in Arica.

Where to fill up: There are gas stations on the Bolivian side where, presumably foreign plated cars can only fill with fuel at the official foreigner price of nearly US$5 per gallon (US$1.30 per liter). There are no gas stations in Colchane. We believe fuel is unavailable on the Chile side until you reach the Pan-American Highway.

Need to know: Posted signs said this border’s hours of operation are 8am to 8pm. There were money changers on the Bolivian side but not in Colchane. In fact, there’s not much at all in Colchane — no restaurants or stores and we only saw two hotels. Hotel Isluga is clean and has matrimonial rooms with private bathrooms for 36,000 CLP (about US$56) or for 25,000 CLP (about US$39) with shared bathrooms. Breakfast, hot water, TV with cable, parking, and Wi-Fi (when the electricity is working) are included. Our dinner of chicken, rice, and French fries (4,500 CLP, about US$7) at the hotel was fresh and tasty. Inca Hostal in Colchane has rooms with private bathrooms for 30,000 CLP (about US$47). Be aware that the time changes between Bolivia and Chile from mid August to mid May (we lost an hour when we crossed into Chile) because Chile is one of the few South American countries which observes Daylight Savings Time, so factor that in. 

Duty free: nope

Overall border rating: Good. If we hadn’t gotten stuck behind the bus full of student we would have been in and our in around an hour with very little hassle regarding our truck.

Isluga church, Chile

The church in the town of Isluga which is not far off the main road and worth a quick stop as a side trip or as you’re driving across Isluga Volcano National Park toward Arica.


Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Chile



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Photo Essay: On the Che Guevara Trail 50 Years After his Death in Bolivia

On October 9, 1967 Ernesto Che Guevara, an Argentinean doctor and a driving force of the Cuban Revolution, along with Fidel Castro, was killed in a tiny town in Bolivia. Fifty years after his death, the Che Guevara legend remains vivid around the world. But there’s a lot about his death that we didn’t know (including a helicopter ride, amputated hands, and a secret burial site) until we traveled to Central Bolivia and took a guided tour of the town of Vallegrande where his body was brought after he was killed in nearby La Higuera.

50th anniversary Che's death banner La Paz Bolivia

This mural, on a college building in La Paz, Bolivia, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara with a message that seems like a dig at Bolivian President Evo Morales, reflecting the still-political nature of Che’s legend in Latin America.

On the Che Guevara Trail in Bolivia

First of all, the so-called Che Trail isn’t a trail at all. It’s a grab bag of sites that mark the end of Che’s life and form part of his lasting legacy. In the town of La Higuera, where he was killed, you’ll find an imposing bust of the revolutionary. But the main sites, including the Señor de Malta hospital where his body was taken and the Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum which memorializes the spot where his body was unceremoniously buried, are in the town of Vallegrande. Here’s our photo tour.

Ernesto Che Guevara Mural Vallegrande Bolivia 50th anniversary Che's death

A Che mural in Vallegrande, Bolivia where his body was taken on October 9, 1967.

Che Morgue Hospital Senor de Malta-Vallegrande, Bolivia

The morgue where Che Guevara’s body was taken after he was killed in nearby La Higuera, Bolivia following his captured by local forces who were being aided by the CIA.

Laundry Hospital Senor de Malta Vallegrande, Bolivia

Che Guevara’s body was washed in this laundry room behind the Señor de Malta hospital in Vallegrande, Bolivia.

Vallegrade Hospital Laundry Che Guevara body displayed

The old hospital laundry room where Che Guevara’s body was washed has become a makeshift shrine.

Photo of Che Guevara body being displayed in Vallegrande Bolivia hospital laundry (credit - Freddy Albert)

Some people who saw Che Guevara’s body shortly after his death remarked on his lifelike and even Christ-like appearance. Some even said they felt his eyes following them. (credit: Freddy Albert)

Che Ernesto Guevara Mausoleo VillaGrande Bolivia

The Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum marks the spot where his remains, along with six other revolutionaries, were secretly buried in 1967. In 1997 the bones were found and Che’s body was sent to Cuba for burial.

Che Guevara Mausoleum Villagrande Bolivia

The Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum in Vallegrande, Bolivia.

Che Gvevara grave buried Vallegrande Bolivia

Stone plaques now mark the spot where the bones of Che Guevara and six comrades were found in Vallegrande, Bolivia. Che’s plaque reads “Argentino Cubano”.

Che Gvevara handwritten diaries - Che museum Vallegrande Bolivia

Some of Che’s diaries are on display in the recently-renovated Che museum next to the Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum in Vallegrande, Bolivia.

What you won’t see in Vallegrande is any sign of Che merchandise, like the t-shirts which have become as common around the world as Bob Marley t-shirts.

Get all the travel details you need to do the Che Trail in Bolivia and read even more about what we learned about the life and legend of Che Guevara during our tour (including that bit about the helicopter and the amputated hands) in our complete story about the Che tour for Bio.com (the website for the Biography TV channel).

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia


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