Unicycling the Death Road

You might have heard of this particular route that’s touted as the World’s Most Dangerous Road(tm). Also known as the Yungas Road, the road is thus named for the 200–300 travellers who die yearly travelling along it as well as the steep drop into nothingness.

You’d start off from about 4650m above sea level and end at 1200m. That’s almost 3.5km of altitude change over the 65km route. Well, around 65km — I’ll explain.

I didn’t go to Bolivia intending to ride the route. In fact, I didn’t even know if it’s possible since I was riding a 24″ unicycle which I’d estimate myself to go at about 10kph max, offroad. That all changed the moment I got into my La Paz hostel.

The most visible tour option advertised was an MTB experience through the World’s Most Dangerous Road(tm). All over the tourist agencies were plastered with itineraries about the same. I inquired at 3 of the main agencies offering the tour and was told the following

  • If I had my own equipment, I might as well go on my own
  • It’s VERY touristy
  • It’s quite safe — the route is well-covered by a LOT of tour groups

While the tour agencies offered tours that cost roughly US$80–150, going on my own would cost something like US$6 for the return ride. Most tour agencies will offer a bike with front and/or back suspension from a reputable brand, a standard/full-face helmet, rain jackets, full body armor or knee/elbow guards, food/water and the promise of a support vehicle that can ferry all the crap you want to bring with you on the ride.

I had with me shin/knee guards, a unicycle, a backpack with a day’s food, a rain jacket, a warm jacket, a change of clothes and about 2 liters of water. With a 10kph speed and a 70–80km ride total (including the roads to/from the Death Road), I expected a 10h ride including breaks and knew I couldn’t make the last public transport in the late afternoon. My plan was to stay the night in Coroico which is really an interesting town with lots of diversions on its own, well worth the visit even if you’re not riding the route.

On your own, you’d take a mini-van from La Paz to the tourist checkpoint near La Cumbre, make your way to the start of the Death Road (that’s about 7km?) and then ride towards Coroico.

yungas

Start of the Journey

I started my day late, mostly because the journey to Villa Fatima, where the bus terminal was, took longer than I thought. The mini-van fits about 10 people and doesn’t leave until it is full so I had to wait over an hour before it would leave. That brought me to well past noon when I began my ride. Read the rest of this entry »