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Bolivia - Death Road Mountain Biking

Michael Tyrrell - Friday, December 20, 2013

The Death Road Mountain Biking, Bolivia

Key Facts:

Cost: From 400 Bolivianos to 800 ($65-$130AUD)

Start time/End Time: 7:30am/7-8pm

Distance covered: Approximately 54km

Max/Min altitude:  4670m/1160m

Last tourist fatality: Reported to be in 2010

Fatalities: Before traffic was diverted to the new road, statistics showed there were about 100 fatalities each year

Items you must take: Layers of warm clothes, particularly something for your ears (beanie) and a first aid kit

Death Road Mountain Biking, Bolivia

Where is it?

The starting point is located 4670 metres above sea level and about 1 hour from La Paz, Bolivia.

You end at 1160 metres above sea level and the drive back to La Paz is about 2.5 hours. With the La Paz traffic, the return trip often blows out to 3.5 hours.

Death Road Mountain Biking, Bolivia

Who should you go with?

There were mixed reviews for many of the tours by other travellers. Like with most things, do your research before you book to see which company is performing the best at the time you want to go. 

Who did I use?

I used Altitude. The total cost, including entrance fee to the road was 495 bolivianos (about $81 AUD). 

Death Road Mountain Biking, Bolivia

Positives and negatives

Positives

1.    The guides spoke good English and were caring

2.    The driver of the vehicle was safe. This is very important as the roads are on cliff edges and he had to deal with ice, rain and landslides

3.    Each rider was provided with a mountain bike, jacket, pants, gloves, helmet, elbow and knee pads

4.    Amazing scenery and experience going from snowy mountains to the jungle

Negatives

1.    All items had considerable wear and tear - For clothing I suppose this is tolerable. My bike was in okay condition. The brakes were a little weak and the chain broke during the ride, but hey, I survived the death road

2.    We were not prepared for how cold it was - All riders were freezing for the first 30 minutes of the ride. The worst part was the cold fingers as the gloves were summer gloves. The catch 22 is that when you descend below the clouds, the temperature heats up to 25-30 degrees. You are given plenty of stops so you can strip off layers as you descend. Check the weather corresponding to the time of year you are doing the ride

3.    The positioning of the guides - We only had two crashes. On both occasions, there was no guide in close proximity. One guide is supposed to ride behind the last person. This was not actually practiced

4.    No guide carried a first aid kit with them - Yes there are support vehicles, however sometimes they are 5-10 minutes behind. The vehicles only had basic first aid equipment and they were not well organised 

What did I think?

This is a once in a lifetime experience where you may never have another opportunity to descend approximately 3500m over 55km on a tar road and then gravel road with barely any traffic, except for the odd cyclist. Be very careful as there are some slippery sections with loose gravel and large rocks and other sections have excessive mud meaning you need extra caution. 

Which First Aid KIT should you take?

The Traveller First Aid KIT. This is a very compact KIT that is packed with a lot of the items you would need for some of the accidents that take place on this ride. 

Death Road Mountain Biking, Bolivia

Summary

1.    Many travellers expectations are unrealistic. You have to remember you are in Bolivia where government regulations are not strong and safety practices are no where near the standard they should be

2.    Ride within your limits and be very careful on the 40 odd kilometers of gravel, mud, and deathly cliff edges

3.    Take your own Survival First Aid Kit with you like I did. If you don't need it, you are guaranteed that someone in your group will. Our guide said they regularly have broken bones, bad grazes and cuts requiring stitches. An instant ice pack is a must have item in your kit

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