Officially the most dangerous road in the world, the "Death Road" leads from La Paz to the Yungas valleys without crash barriers along the almost vertically sloping mountain flanks of the Cordillera Real.
The Yungas Road in western Bolivia leads through the densely overgrown slopes of the Cordillera Real. Along steep mountain flanks, the single-lane road winds from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas valleys.
It is considered the most dangerous road in the world and is also called "The Road of Death" (El Camino de la Muerte). Over a distance of around 65 kilometres, it climbs 3450 metres in altitude and passes through almost all climatic zones of South America, from the cold, dry Altiplano near La Paz to the warm, humid rainforest.
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PICTURES: El Camino de la Muerte (Death Road)
Photo gallery: El Camino de la Muerte (Death Road)
Emergence of the Death Road
The Yungas Road was built by Paraguayan prisoners of the Chaco War. At the "Balconsillo", where the longest free fall (700 metres) along the road is located, the unfortunates were led handcuffed into the abyss after they had finished carving the road. Today, a memorial stone commemorates this cruel fate.
At that time, the Death Road was one of the few and thus important connections between Bolivia's Amazon rainforest and the seat of government, La Paz. The highest point of the route is the La Cumbre Pass at 4,650 metres, the lowest is at Yolosa just before Coroico at 1,200 metres above sea level.
The Yungas Road was completed in the 1930s and soon after its construction it gained a reputation as the world's most dangerous road. In 1995, it was officially designated as such by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Most dangerous road in the world
The steep slopes omnipresent on the narrow road are nowhere secured by crash barriers and landslides or stones can come down on the travellers at any moment. The single-lane road, which was busy until 2006, is also unpaved and turns into a muddy slide when it rains. If the visibility is also impaired by fog, the journey on the road of death becomes a daredevil undertaking indeed.
No wonder that the worst known traffic accident in Bolivia happened on this very road. On 24 July 1983, a bus with around 100 passengers plunged into the abyss. Countless crosses at the side of the road commemorate various other accident sites. According to estimates, the Camino de la Muerte claimed around 300 victims every year until 2007.
On the road to death
In 2006, a longer but well-built and much less risky bypass road was opened from La Paz to the Yungas valleys. Truck traffic, which contributed significantly to the danger of the Yungas road, has now been completely transferred to this alternative route. Since then, the Camino de la Muerte has mainly been used by tourists and daring downhill mountain bikers who cannot resist the thrill.
The danger of the Camino de la Muerte has decreased considerably, but a trip along it is still extremely spectacular. Several vantage points in the curves offer a glimpse into the eerie gorge, into which an average of 2 vehicles fell every month in the past. Exceptionally, left-hand traffic still prevails on the Yungas Road, so that the roadside can be better assessed during evasive manoeuvres.
Second Death Road to Chulumani
In addition to the northern Yungas Road, a second, more southerly Yungas Road leads from La Paz to Chulumani, 64km away. The route to the east is less known, but almost as dangerous as the "official" Death Road.