Photo: Flickr/Galia & Yoav
The road that leads from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas region of Bolivia goes by many names — Grove’s Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas — but its most descriptive and telling is easily El Camino de la Muerte, which translates to “The Road of Death.”The official death toll for the road is unknown, but in a conservative estimate at least 1,000 people have lost their lives here.
Let’s take a look at the “most dangerous road in the world.”
The journey begins in La Paz, the de facto capital of the nation of Bolivia. The city is unique for its incredible height above sea level (roughly 12,000 feet) and its mix of indigenous and modern cultures.
Climbing out of the bowl that cradles the city, the road ascends to around 15,000 feet at its highest point. The altiplano climate is home to the Andes mountain range, which runs all the way to the bottom of the continent.
Leaving the city, the road itself is a sight to behold: a winding path, often just a single lane, that climbs to La Cumbre Pass in the altiplano, only to dip back down into the Amazon rain forest over the course of roughly 40 miles.
The road weaves back and forth as it descends, and the thick green underbrush tends to obscure portions of the track and mask how steep the drop off really is.
Then the sharp turns really begin, on paths that range from paved to dusty to loosened rock. Not every turn is as clearly marked as this one.
To make matters worse, the extreme climates also delivers extreme weather, like pouring rain and blinding fog.
Newcomers to the road must adjust to driving on the left side — unlike everywhere else in the country — and coming to a complete stop when passing other cars. Cars travelling downhill always have the right of way, but sometimes there isn't enough room for manners.
First constructed by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s, the road remains one of the only paths from the country's administrative capital to northern Bolivia. For decades, cars and trucks had no choice but to brave conditions like these — their livelihood was at stake.
Many times these deaths happen all at once. In 2002, a bus carrying a group coming from a religious festival plunged hundreds of feet over the edge, killing 25 passengers.
Despite the danger, mountain biking tour groups are a common sight along the road. Over 25,000 tourists visit the course each year, and the road has managed to claim a handful of their lives as well.
Thankfully, in 2006 a 20-year revision brought some modern conveniences (bridges, paved concrete, the occasional guard rail) to part of the passage, including a new route that bypasses the most dangerous portion altogether. But thrillseekers can still journey along the old path.
But whether you're a bicyclist or a truck driver, arriving in Coroico at the end of the road has to be one of the greatest feelings in the world. Surviving El Camino de la Muerte is both a relief and a part of life for Bolivians.
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