The Bolivian Road of Death!
(El Camino del Muerte)
This South American mountain road is so treacherous that the Internet is lined with one horror story after another about buses, trucks, vehicles and cyclists plunging to their death. But people have no choice - this road is the only connection between several small Andean villages and the outside world.
From Wikipedia, the Internet Encyclopedia
The North Yungas Road, also known as El Camino de la Muerte (Spanish for"Road of Death"), is a 43 mile road that leads from La Paz to Coroico, 35 miles (56 km) northeast of La Paz in the Yungas region of Bolivia.
A second Yungas Road,known as Chulumani Road connects La Paz to Chulumani, 40 miles (64 km) east of La Paz. It is considered to be nearly as dangerous as the north road.
The Yungas Road is legendary for its extreme danger
In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank christened it as the "world's most dangerous road". One estimate is that 200-300 travelers are killed yearly along the road, or one vehicle every two weeks. The road moreover includes Christian crosses marking many of the spots where such vehicles have fallen.
Upon leaving La Paz, the road first ascends up to around 5km, before descending to 1079 ft (330 m), transitioning quickly from cool altiplano terrain to rain forest as it winds through very steep hillsides and atop cliffs.
The road was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners. It is one of the few routes that connects the Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia, or Yungas, to its capital city. However, an alternative, much safer, road connecting La Paz to Coroico is nearing completion
Because of the extreme drop-offs, single-lane width, and lack of guardrails, the road is extremely dangerous. Further still, rain and fog can make visibility precarious, the road surface muddy, and loosen rocks from the hillsides above. NOTE: See UPDATE at end of page.
The group riding on the death road
(I believe those stone cairns in the picture above mark a spot where vehicles have gone off the road.)
Two trucks passing - no room for error!
Tapón (traffic jam) on the Death Road
On July 24, 1983, a bus veered off the Yungas Road and into a canyon, killing more than 100 passengers in what is said to be Bolivia's worst road accident.
One of the local road rules specifies that the downhill driver never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road. This forces fast vehicles to stop so that passing can be negotiated safely. The danger of the road ironically though has made it a popular tourist destination starting in the 1990s. Mountain biker enthusiasts, in particular, have made it a favorite destination for downhill biking.
Bus crash kills 29 in Bolivia
Updated: 5:35 p.m. CT Oct 21, 2006
LA PAZ, Bolivia - A bus plunged off a mountain road in central Bolivia early Saturday, killing 29 people and injuring 25, police said.
The crash happened as the bus was attempting to make room for a vehicle heading in the opposite direction along a narrow dirt road near Chulumani.
The bus slipped off the edge and tumbled down the side of a cliff 50 miles east of the Bolivian capital of La Paz, said an official with the regional police speaking on condition of anonymity according to official policy.
The driver was among those killed in the crash.
The injured were taken to hospitals, while five of the dead remained trapped in the wreckage. More deaths were possible given the severity of injuries, the official said.
A bus wreck in August killed 24 after the driver apparently backed over a cliff on another mountainous Bolivian road known as the "Highway of Death" for its frequent fatal crashes.
Deadly wrecks are common in the Andean region, usually involving inexpensive, unregulated buses traveling fast on poorly maintained mountain roads.
The World's Most Dangerous Road!
Written by Mark Whitaker, BBC News, Bolivia
"Every year it is estimated 200 to 300 people die on a stretch of road less than 50 miles long."
It seems perverse that one of the main roads out of one of the highest cities on Earth should actually climb as it leaves town.
But climb it does - just short of a lung-sapping five kilometres (three miles) above sea level, where even the internal combustion engine is forced to toil and splutter.
Then it pauses for a while on the snow-flecked crest of the Andes before pitching - like a giant white knuckle ride - into the abyss.
The road from Bolivia's main city, La Paz, to a region known as the Yungas was built by Paraguayan prisoners of war back in the 1930s.
Many of them perished in the effort. Now it is mainly Bolivians who die on the road - in their thousands.
In 1995, the Inter American Development Bank christened it the most dangerous road in the world. And, as you start your descent, and your driver whispers a prayer, you begin to see why.
The bird's eye view is on the left, on the front seat passenger's side, where the Earth itself seems to open up.
Crosses at the roadside mark the locations of fatal accidents.
A gigantic vertical crack appears. Way below, more than half a mile beneath your passenger window, you can see - cradled between canyon walls - a thin silver thread: the Coroico River rushing to join the Amazon.
On the driver's side there is a sheer rock wall rising to the heavens. There is no margin of error. The road itself is barely three metres wide. That is if you can call it a road.
After the initial stretch to the top of the mountain it is just dirt track. And yet - incredibly - despite no guard rails and hairpin turns, it is a major route for trucks and buses.
Drivers stop to pour libations of beer into the earth - to beseech the goddess Pachamama for safe passage.
Then, chewing coca leaves to keep themselves awake, they are off at break-neck speeds in vehicles which should not be on any road, let alone this one.
Perched on hairpin bends over dizzying precipices, crosses and stone cairns mark the places where travelers' prayers went unheeded. Where, for someone - the road ended.
But even these stark warnings are all too often ignored. As first one - and then a second impatient motorist - overtook our car on the ravine side of the road, my own driver - who hardly ever spoke a word and only then in his native Aymara - intoned loudly, eerily and in perfect English..."You will die."
It is not a rash prediction to make.
Extreme weather conditions make driving more hazardous.
Every year it is estimated 200 to 300 people die on a stretch of road less than 50 miles long. In one year alone, 25 vehicles plunged off the road and into the ravine. That is one every two weeks.
It is the end of the dry season in Bolivia. Soon the rains will come - cascading down the walls of the chasm. Huge waterfalls will drench the road - turning its surface to slime.
Then will come those heart-stopping moments when wheels skid and brakes fail to grip. There are stories told of truckers too tired - or too afraid - to continue, who pull over for the night, hoping to see out an Andean storm. But they have parked too close to the edge. And as they sleep in their cabs, the road is washed away around them. Perched atop the cliff edge, this is not a good place to drop off.
But for now the road is a ribbon of dust. Every vehicle passing along it churns up a sandstorm in its wake.
Choking, blinding clouds obscure the way ahead. Around one hairpin, a cloud of debris was beginning to clear.
Further down the road we passed a spot where a set of fresh tire tracks headed out into the void.
As it did, I could see people milling around in the road. Passengers from one of the overloaded and decrepit buses which run the gauntlet of this road.
It seemed at first that they had got off to stretch their legs, while their driver argued with another vehicle coming in the other direction about who should give way. (Reversing is not something you undertake lightly on a cliff edge.)
It transpired instead though, that the bus driver was dying. Blinded by the dust, he had run into the back of a truck. The bus's steering column had gone through him - severing his legs.
There was nothing anyone could do. Mobile phones do not work here. In any case, who would you call? There are no emergency services.
And no way of getting help through, even if any were to be found. The bus driver bled to death.
We edged past the crumpled bus, and headed on.
Further down the road we passed a spot where a set of fresh tire tracks headed out into the void. They told their own story.
High in the Andes, they are building a new road, a bypass to replace the old one. But this is Bolivia, and already it has been 20 years in the making.
Who knows when it will be complete? Until it is, people will have to continue offering up their prayers, and taking their lives in their hands on the most dangerous road in the world.
Bolivia's "Road of Death"
(This was taken from an article written by a man who had finished traveling this road. Here he warns others about the dangers of tourists traveling this road)
The North Yungas Road is hands-down the most dangerous in the world for motorists.
It runs in the Bolivian Andes, 70 km from La Paz to Coroico, and plunges down almost 3,600 meters in an orgy of extremely narrow hairpin curves and 800-meter abyss near-misses.
A fatal accident happens there every couple of weeks, 100-200 people perish there every year.
Along the route there are many visible reminders of accidents, wreckages of lorries and trucks lie scattered around at the bottom... (read BBC article)
The buses and heavy trucks navigate this road, as this is the only route available in the area. Buses crowded with locals go in any weather, and try to beat the incoming traffic to the curves.
It does not help that the fog and vapors rise up from the heavily vegetated valley below, resulting in almost constant fogs and limited visibility. Plus the tropical downpours cause parts of the road to slide down the mountain.
Apparently some companies make business on the road's dubious fame by selling the extreme bike tours down that road. "Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking" is one of them.
I read a scary account of a biking accident. The cyclist hit a rock going downhill and flipped over his handle bars. He landed face first on the ground. As he lay writhing in agony, a car coming around the curve missed hitting the man by a mere 6 inches. The driver later said he swerved as much as he could, but any more to the right and he feared his own car would go over the edge!
If you are nuts enough to consider it, please be advised that you will be only adding to the road hazards, as it's hard to spot a cyclist on the road's hairpin curves, and your shrieks (as you fall down the abyss) will disturb the peace and quiet of the villagers nearby.
The Final Word: A Letter regarding the Road of Death
Monday, November 27, 2006, 12:14:27 PM
To Mike Cannon,
I drove on the Bolivia Yungas road a few times when I lived in this country. On this road, you drive on the left for the driver to be on the downhill side and see exactly where you put your wheels.
In many places, the road is too small. There is only one lane. As a result, when the vehicle going down comes across a vehicle coming up, it has to BACK UP to the passing area to allow the climbing vehicle to proceed. It is very dangerous to back up. Cars and trucks have actually fallen while trying to back up because there is so little room for error!
It is then much better to be on the left hand side of the road and lean outside the window to check where your wheels are: less than 50 cms away (a mere 20 inches!!!) from the road's edge! Needless to say that you do not open the left door unless you want to risk falling down a few hundred meters.
I am not sure I would ever have the guts to drive on this road ever again!
Down below across the valley is the winding Road of Death as seen from the village of Coroico. Unbelievable.
The Yungas Road was modernized during a 20-year period ending in 2006. The modernization included enlarging the carriageway from one to two lanes, constructing asphalt pavement, and building a new section between Chusquipata and Yolosa, bypassing to the north one of the most dangerous sections of the old 'Death Road'.
This new route features modern construction (bridges, drainage, etc.), multiple lanes, pavement, guardrails and many other elements that make it considerably safer than the original route. The original North Yungas Road is currently much less used by traffic, although an increasing number of adventure travellers and tourists make the journey by car or bicycle.