The Yungas road, el Camino de la Muerte, the road of death. Many names, one road. Dangerous. Very dangerous. One of the most dangerous in the world, even. So yes, it’s very beautiful, but before you go there, there are several things you should know. We hope this will make you think, and that you may take another path to enjoy the beauty of the Bolivian landscapes.
1. There are deadly dangers everywhere
A path sometimes only 3m wide, no railings, steep slopes, sharp turns, waterfalls cutting the road, muddy and slippery ground, narrow bridges over ravines that can go up to 400 meters deep, voids at 1000 meters altitude, fog… It is for all these reasons that the Yungas trail is nicknamed “death road”. A very pleasant little place, for a little digestive stroll, huh?
2. It was built by Paraguayan prisoners
This road is therefore awful in essence. From its construction, it had to mark our minds in the worst possible way. The first kilometers, built 80 years ago, were dug out of the cliffs by captured Paraguayans during the war between their country and Bolivia, from 1932 to 1935. Yes, it’s slavery. And yes, it’s supposed to not exist since 1851 in Bolivia. Unfortunately, we still find them, and in different forms, in the country, especially in the farms of Pando or remote Amazonia.
3. It has the longest stretch of downhill road in the world
The route starts from La Paz, the highest capital in the world at 3,660 meters above sea level. It then climbs again to the La Cumbre pass, at 4,650 meters. Then steep and continuous descent to Coroico, at only 1200 meters. Yes, yes, 3,600 vertical meters. It makes me dizzy just writing it.
4. The worst accident in the country happened on this road
July 24, 1983. A bus overturned and caused the death of a hundred people. Almost identical scenario in 2002. A coach is thrown into a ravine after reversing. 44 people lose their lives this time.
5. Hundreds of people don’t come back every year
Between 200 and 300 deaths are recorded each year on this road alone. About one fatal accident every two weeks. Dramas in the bus, as mentioned just above, but also various road accidents, hikers, or even cyclists. In reality, the deaths do not only concern tourists: the majority of the dead are Bolivians, in cars.
6. Hikers sometimes witness horror scenes
On Tripadvisor, several comments relate just terrible facts. Some witness the death of other hikers or cyclists. It freezes the blood. Moreover, the road is strewn with small wooden crosses, or bicycle mechanisms, in memory of all these fatal accidents.
7. The direction of the road is reversed
While cars normally drive on the left, a special decree imposes the opposite on the road of death. Objective: that the vehicles going up are on the cliff side, and therefore have priority. Downhill motorists, who have the void on their right, are extra careful. It must be said that, driving on this side, they end up with the steering wheel on the precipice side. And it’s freaking good. Same rule for cyclists. TAKE CARE.
8. Downhill biking is treacherous
The first kilometers of the bike routes (for which people pay!!!) are paved. Way to put tourists in confidence. But quickly: end of the tar. Earth, a thousand traps, and an impressive void a few centimeters away. At the same time, when you’re given motorcycle gear to ride a bike… There’s a ball somewhere.
9. The road makes you sick
In addition to mountain sickness (the puna), tourists who have taken it also speak of a feeling close to “seasickness”, as the road is winding and gravelly. Added to that the altitude and the fear of tipping over at any moment. It really doesn’t feel like it.
10. The climate varies, in an unbearable way
Along this road, you will pass from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, where it is very cold, to the thick tropical jungle, very humid. Simply put: you’ll go from freezing to choking, pretty quickly. Since it was obviously not enough, the road is exposed to a rainy season. At this time of year, the surfaces are even more slippery than they already are, usually. Here, here.
Fortunately, a new, less dangerous road has been created to avoid el Camino de la Muerte. It allows you to circumvent it, via several bridges and tunnels (which explains why its construction is so recent). Even so, many tourists brave the dangers each year to enjoy the scenery and the adrenaline that this trail offers. Some local residents have no other choice, as the new road does not serve all the villages.
If you’re planning a world tour and lots of hiking, you should also find out about the horrible things to know about climbing Everest before you go.