Riding The World’s Most Dangerous Road
Back in La Paz, and with a day up my sleeve before I was due to fly back to Buenos Aires, I had the chance to do something I’d heard rave reviews about from some fellow travelers: mountain biking the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”!
The road in question is that which connects La Paz to Coroico, north-east of the city. Until the new bypass road (two lanes wide, sealed the whole way, an engineering marvel given the steep terrain it covers) opened just weeks ago, the old gravel road was the major thoroughfare connecting the capital to the northern reaches of the country. It isn’t just any old gravel road however! Outside of La Paz the road climbs to the mountain pass at La Cumbre, some 4,600m high, and then plunges deep into a mountain valley. About half way to Coroico, which lies at 1,600m altitude (3km below!), the road begins to follow an old Inca trail cut into the mountain side. Back in the ’30s the road was widened to accomodate a single vehicle at its narrowest sections, and what resulted was the “World’s Most Dangerous Road”. This label was given by the Inter-American Development Bank due to the number of fatalities that occurred along this particular stretch of road. And we’re not just talking about the odd car plunging off the cliffs here, we’re talking about buses ands trucks with sometimes 40, 60 and even 80 people aboard! Yikes!!
Numerous tour operators to mountain biking trips along the road, but I’d heard a few great reviews about “Downhill Madness” (one of the higher-end tours) so I chose to go with them (thanks Sarah for the heads-up!). The tour started early in the morning and we got kitted out in jackets, protective pants, helmets and gloves, and of course our bikes. We piled onto the bus and drove about one hour up out of the city to La Cumbre (4,600m). Our guide for the day was Aaron, a pretty mad Englishman who reminded me of those two “extreme” guys from BBC’s The Fast Show with his cries of “let’s offroad!” and “yeah, hardcore!”
Once we were all ready to go we started the descent along a nice section of sealed road with twisting corners. We roared along at 60+km/h and were descending at something like 50m/min in parts, and I can honestly say that for the first 30 minutes at least my feet didn’t touch the pedals! After about an hour of riding we arrived at the junction where the old “dangerous” road peels off from the newer bypass road. After a safety briefing from Aaron we started flying down the old road. Even though the weather was crap the views were outstanding as we rode along this “ledge” cut into the mountain side with overhanging greenery above us and a good 500m drop off the other side. With all the rain the rocks and gravel lacked some solid traction, but with front suspension and disc brakes on the bikes it was easier just to keep some speed and bounce over the bumps at a fairly frighful pace.
It was a good couple of hours roaring down this track until Coroico came into view. As we descended we noticed the vegetation change, and the scenery around Coroico was lush and green. The temperature rose too, from decidedly cool at 4,600m to hot and steamy down at 1,600m. Once we finished the ride we packed the gear back onto the support vehicle and drove to a hotel up near Coroico. We had lunch there and chilled out for a couple of hours before driving back (along the new road) to La Paz. The hotel was situated on the hillside with expansive views down to Coroico and the valley floor below and green hills and snow-capped mountain above. They had a decent sized swimming pool, and a sauna which I took great advantage of. It would be a great place to spend a couple of days!