A view from Death Road, Bolivia
“Death Road”, “Road of Fate” and “Slaughter Alley”…these are the better known names for the stretch of the Camino de las Yungas in Bolivia.
I must admit to not being much of a risk-taker, and I’m definitely not a thrill-seeker, so the fact that I have traveled on both the North and South stretches of the Yungas Road in Bolivia seems a bit silly in retrospect. The road stretches for 61 km to the north to Corico, and 64 km to the south to Chulumani, and for the most part is perched on the side of mountanous cliffs up to 600 metres high.
So why does this road have such a bad reputation?
By some estimates, around 200 – 300 people are killed each year while traveling on this small stretch of road, when their vehicles fall of the side of the mountain. The road itself is only around 10 feet wide in many parts, only wide enough to permit a single vehicle. However, traffic travels in both directions, which means that when vehicles approach each other from opposite directions, they must find a portion of the road that is wide enough to have both vehicles pass. That means that one vehicle is often forced to reverse to find a wider part of the road.
To make matters worse, the road transitions from high plateau terrain into rainforest, which means that there is often significant precipitation or cloud cover and fog, which makes visibility poor or terrible in many parts.
While riding in a van on my way to Chulumani, I recall encountering a dense patch of fog with almost no visibility. Our driver slammed on his brakes and we were bumper-to-bumper head on with another van traveling the opposite way. Hearts pounding, I quickly understood why so many vehicles are lost to the dense bush below never to be found again.
If you are a thrill-seeker, you can hire a mountain bike and engage in a 60 km downhill descent down the Death Road. This has become a popular tourist attraction in Bolivia and there are many tour operators who now offer guides and equipment so that you can experience the dangers of the Road of Fate.