Our first main activity in Bolivia: mountain biking down the World’s Most Dangerous Road, also known as Death Road and the Devil’s Highway.
The our experience included 65km of riding and a total vertical drop of over 3000m. The route covers a two different roads, one of which is the full length of the WMDR, as featured on numerous television shows, including Top Gear and a Discovery Channel documentary. It has definitely earned its moniker as dangerous: when it was in full use, an estimated 200-300 people died every year, mostly as a result of plunging over the unguarded sides of the road. The loose surface, lack of barriers and straight drops of up to 400m make this road an exciting and challenging experience.
Our day began at 6am in the hostel, where we silently awoke and got dressed, so as not to wake the others in our dorm (two of whom had pleaded with us the night before to be as quiet as possible, unless we want to find our beds booby-trapped!)
We walked from our hostel to the meeting point at Alexander Coffee and proceeded to do what we do best: snack.
At 7am our guide met us, and by 8am the rest of the group had arrived, we were on the bus and on the way. The bus journey included an entertaining briefing from our guide Steve and took us to our starting point at 4750m above sea level… that’s just over half the height of Mt Everest, by the way!
We arrived at the start at around 9am and were able to enjoy views of the snow-capped mountains and high-altitude lake. The staff kitted us out with our bikes and we all tried on the helmets, gloves, jackets and buffs that were handed out on the bus.
After an informative and useful briefing we offered a blessing to Pachamama (Mother Earth), and then we were off! The journey started with a short paved-road section to allow us to get used to our bikes and the riding style. After we finished the first stage we were loaded back onto the bus to skip a short uphill section (why pedal when there’s a minibus follow you anyway?) We were given bananas and chocolate bars on the bus… and then the real fun started.
We assembled at the start of the WMDR for a second instructional briefing, covering the different techniques needed for biking on rough, loose gravel roads.
We set off again, and within the first few minutes one bike had already gone over the side. (Thankfully the rider did not go with it.) The bike was recovered and we continued to travel down the road, pausing briefly half a dozen times to regroup and listen to warnings from our guide for the next stretch of road.
The ride itself was an incredible experience; I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was very, very impressed. The ride is relatively safe considering everything, but things certainly can and do go wrong. Our group had no serious accidents, but Steve told us many horror stories about previous accidents, most of which were caused by over confidence or ignorance towards instructions. I myself had a handful of scary moments, including one very, very close brush with the edge.
We reached the end of WMDR around 1pm, where we assembled together for our celebratory drink and to collect our commemorative t-shirts. After relaxing in the cafe/bar for a short while we loaded ourselves back onto the bus and drove 5 minutes around the corner to the Senda Verde animal refuge.
The refuge is the last stop of the day. We were treated to a fantastic buffet lunch of pasta and salad – two things I have not seen in a long time! After lunch many of us took advantage of the hot showers on offer to cleanse ourselves of the dust and sweat gathered on the ride
The bus journey back to La Paz took around 3 hours (part of which I used to write this). The journey was a relaxed affair allowing everyone to rest after a long day. Just kidding! The bus journey actually became a bizarre yet brilliant rave on wheels! After crashing the Gravity offices for a while we arrived at our hostel around 10pm, and promptly flopped onto our beds for some well-earned rest!
There are several companies offering WMDR trips; we went with Gravity (www.gravitybolivia.com) and paid 750 Bs for our package. They are not the cheapest option on the market, but I would absolutely recommend them.
Our package included everything we’d need: very high-end bikes, gloves, helmets, goggles, buffs, high-vis jackets, busses to and from the road, expert guides (English-speaking), sports drinks, water and snacks, a drink in the bar at the end of the road, entrance to the nature reserve, buffet pasta lunch, commemorative t-shirt, a DVD of photos and videos… everything.
Further, during the day we saw and rode past groups from other companies. I’m sure they were safe enough, but their bikes looked a lot less rugged, and their briefings were taken a lot less seriously.
All in all I would happily recommend Gravity and definitely agree that they are worth every Boliviano.