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. Here’s how to drive it.
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.
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.
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 where 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.
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.
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.
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 into the gorge to certain death below during Bolivia’s bloody revolution in the 1950s.
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia