La Paz and the World´s Most Dangerous Road

I took a bus to La Paz on account of my broken rear rack. Besides, I was tired and I am behind schedule a bit so this saved me about a week and a lot of pain. But I felt a little like a wimp. Oh well.

At an elevation of around 11,000 feet, La Paz is no joke. I had a splitting headache for the first day and a half due to the altitude. The streets are utter chaos. Very steep, horrendous traffic jams, sidewalks overflowing with people, constant noise and smells. It´s great. What´s also fascinating is the mix of cultures. You see women in traditional Quechua or Aymara clothing walking past smartly-dressed businessmen shouting into cell phones. I found the traditional dress of the indigenous women fascinating. Here are some shots:

Absent in other cities until now, the shoeshine boys are ubiquitous. They wear masks for some reason. I must find out why. This poor guy was waiting for some business. Unfortunately I was wearing sneakers.

The transportation system is chaotic as well. These vans, called micros, drive past constantly, someone shouting out the destinations to passers-by.

The locals all chew coca leaves to mitigate the effects of the altitude, so I hustled down to the mercado de las brujas, the witches market, and bought me a bag for about 75 cents, as well as a dried llama fetus, which you are supposed to bury in your front lawn to bring good luck. Since I live in a condo I will have to do that at night so nobody notices. Here I am with my coca and fetus. I haven´t tried the coca yet. I am saving it for my next big hill.

The world’s most dangerous road

The road from La Paz to Coroico was built in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners of war in order to provide a transportation link between La Paz and the northeast interior. Many perished during its construction. The road descends over 12,000 feet in 40 miles. Much of it is unpaved and cut into the side of the mountain range, in places only nine feet wide. There are bays in order to accommodate passing cars, trucks and busses, but even so, every year 200 to 300 people die on the road. In one year alone, 25 vehicles plunged off the road and into the ravine. The worst accident occurred in 1994 when a bus with 100 passengers slipped off the road. It tumbled hundreds of feet. There were no survivors.

Because of this record, in 1995, the Inter American Development Bank christened it the most dangerous road in the world.

Of course I had to ride this road, but not on a fully loaded touring bike. I joined a tour group that provided mountain bikes and gear, and a ride back up hill. It was thrilling–downhill for 40 miles, but a bit scary more than once, as I rode within a foot or two of cliffs which dropped straight down for 1000 feet, and not a guard rail in sight.

Here are some views of the road and me in my cool mountain-biking form. Ali Buchan,  eat your heart out.

10 thoughts on “La Paz and the World´s Most Dangerous Road

  1. Jim October 10, 2007 / 9:51 pm

    Just looking at your photos scares me. Keep your hands off those front brakes and don’t look over the edge!

    Question: you haven’t mentioned anything about “flats” on the trip. Any? Many? What width tires and tire style are you using? Tire liners?

    Your blog is fascinating…I look forward to reading the latest and have passed the link to my cycling friends. Stay safe.

  2. Debbie Black October 11, 2007 / 9:03 am

    Hey Kevin –

    I’m looking at these pictures of the most dangerous road in the world and my hands are sweating — literally! I was never too good with heights. I thought the roads on Santorini were bad — but THIS is bad! Did you look over the edge and see a pile of cars??? That picture of the trucks passing each other on the edge is incredible!

    So how are you doing? Have you gotten used to the altitude? Is your spanish getting you through most situations? I love that picture of the indigenous people with the city in the background. Their colorful traditional garb, the density of the buildings — what another world!

    And I REALLY love the llama fetus . . . Maybe it will bring you luck if you just bury it in your saddle bag.

    BTW — are you carrying a satellite phone for emergencies, etc? Are you blogging from Internet cafes? I don’t imagine they’re easy to find at 12,000 feet!

    Keep writing — this is the most interesting book I’ve read in awhile!

    I wish you flatter ground!



  3. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. October 11, 2007 / 3:59 pm

    Hei, hie, Kev (that’s a traditional Finnish greeting),

    Have you encountered and saunas along the way? Great for sore muscles.

    Your niece, Celia, is now a publisher. She publishes the “Japan Post,” a newsy, humorous, and interesting account of Trins and ira’s stay in Japan. Tooo bad we can’t get a copy to you on the road.

    Are you listening to any music with an iPod?

    Each of you new posts leaves me more excited than the last. Can’t wait to hear of you next exploit and by the way, forget the “wimp” stuff.

  4. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. October 11, 2007 / 4:00 pm

    I have to start re-reading my own comments before hitting the submit button. The mistakes drive me nuts.

  5. kkoski44 October 12, 2007 / 10:34 pm

    Thanks for all the comments everyone.

    As for flat tires, I am amazed that after 2500 km over some real bad roads I have not had a single flat. I had my wheels built by some expert in Boston (they cost a fortune), but they are supposed to be the best: Phil Wood hubs and Dyad rims, with rim tape. The tires are 32-622, regular road bike size. But they are Schwalbe Marathons, the best for touring.

    Deb, yes I did l peek over the side of the road once in a while. You can see wreckage and debris from the accidents. I didn´t look for too long though, I was terrified. My Spanish helps a lot. I am freaking out thinking about going to China. I brought my chinese books with me to study but I am usually too tired to read them!

    Funny you should mention the altitude. I am in the middle of some very high mountains and I am feeling the effects. You will read more in my next posting. No, I do not have a cell phone. I thought about it but I would have to buy a new one in every country, so that did not make sense I may buy one in Peru though since I will be there for about a month. Also in Colombia.

    Don, I have seen the Japan post. I wish I could get it electronically.

    Funny thing about iPods: You have to keep changing the music, which I have not done. Consequently, I don´t listen as much as I used to because I am sick of the songs. Anyone else have that problem?

  6. Nicole October 13, 2007 / 4:31 am

    Hiya Kev,
    I don’t suppose you have your USB cable for your iPod with you. If so, I’d be happy to email you some songs to download. Anyway, I’m glad you made it through the most dangerous road in the world…I know you laugh in the face of danger.
    Be safe. Love ya.

  7. DAD October 15, 2007 / 7:34 pm


  8. Bulletin News November 9, 2007 / 3:43 pm

    Kewl write up on La Paz and the World´s Most Dangerous Road! I enjoy your interesting posts.

  9. Alissa T Nembhard November 15, 2007 / 7:02 pm

    Hi Kev,

    Oh my, I would nevr drive on that road, oh my. Look at it! hell no

  10. jojo January 13, 2008 / 7:38 pm

    Man, a far cry from the Brockway Mountain Drive. I still get the heebie-jeebies just driving up that. I’m enjoying the shots of the locals. They all have that distant look and don’t seem to smile very much. Such a long way from our little hamlet.
    Stay Safe.
    love ya,

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