By S. Ancín
For years the Yungas road has been considered to be the worse amongst the most dangerous roads in the world. Also known as the Road of Death or Death Road, it comprises 80 km that join La Paz with Coroico at the Yungas region in northeastern Bolivia. Its reputation is well deserved; well into the nineties an average of 200 travellers were killed every year along the road.
The route starts at the capital at 4.700 meters altitude, and finishes at the Coroico village some 1.200 metres above sea level, a difference of 3.500 metres. It crosses a lush landscape (at some points you can see the Huayaina Potosi mountains) and the climate changes rapidly as the road descends. The Road of Death reaches Unduavi after 30 km. At this point it turns into a soil road and it is here where the closest bends start. The road is here dotted with crosses signalling the sites of previous accidents and its extreme layout and conditions require the driver’s maximum concentration. Shortly after, the traveller comes across the beautiful Velo de la Novia, a 200 meter waterfall. Taking a little break to enjoying the view is a must.
No more than 3 meters wide
This non-tarmacked stretch is the one that gives the road its reputation of Road of Death as it is here where most accidents occur. Also, during the 90’s, it was not uncommon for road bandits to hide in the narrowest parts to surprise and rob the merchant trucks. This tragic encounters would usually end up with some casualties. The road is no wider than three metres (trucks must drive as close to the wall as possible to avoid the floor giving in under their weight) but despite this it is still a two way track, flanked by deep cliffs and regularly battered by rain and fog.
The road was built by Paraguayan prisoners that were captured during the Chaco war which both countries fought between 1932 and 1935 after a territorial dispute. In 2007 another road was opened to join La Paz with Coroico which is now mostly used for vehicles going up, whereas the Road of Death has been left for vehicles going down. But above all, The Road of Death has become a very popular route for mountain cyclists. At some of its steepest tracts, these can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h.
Photos: peru.com, lanacion.com, upsocl.com