Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond has to be the Eight Incredible Places in Bolivia that aren’t North Yungas. Why may you ask?
‘Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond’ (and one that is)
Landlocked and lacking the tourist’s drawcards compared to its Pacific-facing neighbors, Ecuador and Peru. Bolivia ranks behind Guyana and Suriname as the least visited country in South America.
Admittedly, there’s no Machu Picchu equivalent in Bolivia (with its accompanying 1.5 million tourists annually). Nor does it possess a great wonder of nature as unique as Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.
And it isn’t just your stock-standard tourists who routinely skip past Bolivia on their Southern American sojourns. Plenty of adventure motorcycle tourers use the Pan-American Highway as a rough route to follow while traversing the Americas.
Somewhat inconveniently for Bolivia, the world-famous Highway 1 completely bypasses the entire country, crossing straight into Chile from Peru.
Understandably, tourist infrastructure in Bolivia remains comparatively basic, and the country remains one of Latin America’s poorest. On the upside. Bolivia-bound travelers diverging from the “Gringo Trail” will find a refreshing absence of annoying crowds of tourists, along with the inevitable touts and inflated prices.
Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond is more than just Mountain Biking and S**tloads of Salt.
If there are two things foreigners know about Bolivia. One is that it’s home to the infamous Carretera de Los Yungas, or “Bolivia´s Death Road.” (dramatic cue voice-over from every “World’s Most Dangerous Road” TV show.)
The second thing? Salt. In fact, it’s salt you can see from space. So vast is the crystal plains of the enormous Salar de Uyuni salt pan. If you’re imagining a vast sodium desert and are getting the impression that Bolivia is mostly, well… flat, you’d be very much mistaken.
At roughly 3,650m elevation, La Paz is the world’s highest capital city, perched atop a mist-shrouded plateau in the Andes. The Eastern Andes form a sweeping arc across the country, dividing it into three climatic zones.
North of La Paz, the Andes’s enormous peaks and canyons stretch to the borders of Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. Beneath the western slopes of the Andes is a wildlife-rich tract of the Amazon Rainforest. At the same time, the arid salt plains stretch across southwestern Bolivia into Chile. If you’re riding South America, don’t skip Bolivia.
Seriously, don’t. In a rush? Slow down. Bolivia is one of the continent’s most unmissable destinations. With gorgeous Colonial towns, incredible mountains, rainforest, desert scenery, and some genuinely incomparable riding.
On a budget? Relax, Bolivia is one of the cheapest countries in South America. Here, you can visit the Amazon, Andean volcanic parks, and cool Colonial cities for a fraction of the price compared to its more famous neighbors. Check out these beautiful Bolivian highlights and be convinced.
Please now read my list of outstanding destinations you will visit when on a MotoDreamer´s Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond Motorcycle Adventure Tour:
Stage 1 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
Salar de Uyuni
Bolivia has at least one record-breaking claim to fame up its sleeve. The Salar de Uyuni, a seemingly endless, wind and sunburnt plain at 3,650 elevations, is the world’s largest salt plain or playa.
The evaporated remains of a colossal prehistoric lake, covered coarse, crystalline salt cover some10,000 sq km. Pure white, looking almost like snow from a distance, the salt crystals blinking like gemstones baked beneath the desert sun.
However, due to dramatic seasonal shifts, the ‘Bolivian ice field’ isn’t always completely visible.
The region’s rain occurs almost entirely during November to April, usually short bursts but heavier downpours in January and March. After a good soaking, the pearly-white surface becomes overlaid with a clear liquid sheen.
This shallow “lake” acts as a natural mirror to the backdrop of the Andes. Reflecting its rugged cliffs and snow-strewn summits. The appearance of water also attracts pink armies of flamingos who flock from the coast to roost relatively protected in-land.
Salar’s photogenic lake and seasonal wildlife are a major drawcard. Still, if your top priority is an adventure. Then summer is when the Solar heats up as a playground for motor-powered high-speed hijinks.
When the water evaporates, the salt plain’s beautifully barren land is exposed. Cracked into distinctly hexagonal shapes that stretch to the horizon. Covering almost 12,000 sq km. You can cover hours of ground tearing along the surface on a suitably kitted-up touring bike, dirt racer, or ATV.
Without leaving a single tourist group in your wake. Running out of a straight dragline is never a problem! Unsurprisingly, several land speed record attempts have been made and broken here.
Stage 2 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
We love La Paz, Bolivia’s modest (relative to other South American metropolises at least) mountaintop capital. But the city of 1.8 million deserves an article of its own. While La Paz (elevation 3,650m) claims to be the highest urbanized city in the world.
It’s the smaller, somewhat more charming city of Potosi (population 190,000) beats it quite a margin, sitting at 4,090m elevation. Spurred on by discovering alluvial silver deposits in the region, the Spanish Conquistadors shook off Potosi’s bone-chilling wind and weather.
Staking out a settlement region in 1545, the Iberian Settlers quickly enslaved the native population. Now forced to do the dirty and dangerous work of stripping their land of its mineral riches.
By the 17th century, Potosi supplied almost half the world’s silver.
It even enjoyed a brief 17th-century stint as the world’s wealthiest city. The boon paid for churches, cathedrals, mansions, and administrative buildings. Thus, making Potosi perhaps Bolivia’s loveliest Colonial city and earning it a UNESCO World Heritage listing.
After five hundred years of relentless exploitation starved most of the mines of silver. The Spanish settlers simply fled the town, leaving hundreds of indigenous workers to fend for themselves.
The precious metals remain locked inside Cerro Rico. A bizarre bald hill casts a cone-shaped shadow over the settlement’s squat-sized cottages. Thousands of local and migrant miners still scrape out a living here. Seemingly unprotected by safety regulations of any enforceable sort.
Non-claustrophobic tourists can explore Cerro Rico on a fascinating tour, where the miners’ daily duties hazards are frighteningly apparent.
Stage 3 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
Author´s Note: All that salt has left me with a thirst. Back in 5 mins with the rest of this article titled Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond. Also, I might even have a comfort break too.
Wow, now back, refreshed and ready to blast away.
Sucre was granted World Heritage status for the Colonial craftsmanship of its new historical center. Most people think of La Paz (Bolivia’s official seat of government) as the city’s capital. But much smaller Sucre is the country’s official capital.
With its signature whitewashed buildings. The central plaza of the “White City” is charming. You will also notice it is flanked by the Catedral Metropolitana, Liberty Building, and the excellent Museo del Toro.
Head to the bell tower of Sucre’s stunning Convento de San Felipe Neri. Then, climb up the stairs for a magical view of the white-walled city. Despite its capital city status. Sucre has a small-town air with a sophisticated touch, offering the best dining and nightlife outside La Paz.
TIP: Every Sunday, an hour southeast of Sucre, the village of Tarbabuco is where indigenous villagers gather to set up stalls of local foodstuffs, textiles, woodwork, and traditional clothing. As well as authentic handicrafts for tourists keen to experience an authentic Andean marketplace.
Stage 4 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
Torotoro National Park
Bolivia has five national parks, each of them astoundingly unique. There’s Amboro at the crossroads of the Andes. The northern Chaco and the Amazon Basin, Kaa Iya, one the last refuges of the majestic jaguar. Also, Samboro, where snow-capped volcanoes and bubbling hot springs sprout from the sweeping altiplano.
But, as this is a motorcycling article. We’ve got to hand the prize to Torotoro as Bolivia’s number one parquet Nacional for Motocycle Adventure Touring Riders.
Between 2,000m and 3,000 altitudes in the Western Andes, this is an ancient land of serpentine or winding canyons. Bizarre rock formations and cliffside caves. The Jurassic landscape is all the more appropriate when you consider over 3,500 perfectly preserved dinosaur footprints have formed 120-million-year-old trails inside the park’s sun-scorched plains.
Torotoro lies in a rock-strewn valley, interspersed by craggy peaks, caves, emerald pools, and waterfalls. Hence, its best viewed from the top of spectacular amber-hued Tortoro Canyon. 300m deep, the canyon’s walls and floors are home to endangered Andean condors and scarlet macaws.
Torotoro should be among Bolivia’s tourist hotspots – but there’s a hitch. Public transport from La Paz is a slow, painful, slightly terrifying two-day affair.
Of course, that inconvenience is obliterated when you’ve got a bike instead of a rickety bus to rely on. In fact, the 140 km road from Cochabamba represents unadulterated unpaved ecstasy. It alternates between half-finished pavement, rough gravel, and pure dust. With the odd water crossing, the road whips its way around the mountainside, one ridiculous bend after another.
Stage 5 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
While no ancient city in the Americas compares to Machu Picchu. The mighty Incan Empire may not have been so grand if Tiwanaku hadn’t preceded it. Now a World Heritage Site. The ruins of the once monumental city of the Tiwanaku civilization sit 3,900m above sea level.
Flanked by mountain ranges to the west and Lake Titicaca to the south. Between 600 and 800 AD, Tiwanuku’s powers extended across the southern Andes. The population swelled to an estimated 70,000 residents.
However, persistent drought (and it’s surmised, the odd violent uprising) brought the city to its knees. By 1,000 AD, the most important pre-Incan Empire in the Andes was no more.
While a succession of raids, looting, and botched excavations means much of the city remains buried or destroyed. An excursion to the ancient capital is still fascinating. With relatively few tourists, it’s easy to imagine yourself as a ghostly ruler.
Now, looking down on the desolation of a long-abandoned kingdom. Using skilled artisans and engineers. Just how the Tiwanuku hauled up the 25-tonne rocks that form the city’s fortified walls remain a mystery.
Stage 6 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
The Incas regarded Titicaca, South America’s largest lake, as the birthplace of their civilization. Witness its vast expanse of sapphire blue freshwater sprinkled with green and gold islets.
It plunges to a depth of 280m. The surface lies at 3,812m, straddling the altiplano of Peru and Bolivia.
Lake Titicaca is one of Peru’s flagship attractions. Hence, the number of sightseers, shops, restaurants, and souvenir spruikers reflects its popularity. Since Bolivia welcomes a fraction of the number of visitors compared with Peru, the Bolivian section of the lake is immeasurably more serene and far less commercialized.
The Bolivian south-east side of the lake is also regarded as more picturesque than the Peruvian side. The snow-capped spine of the Cordillera Real creates a mesmerizing backdrop beyond the eastern shore.
The jumping-off point for Lake Titicaca in Bolivia is the ragtag tourist pitstop town, Copacabana.
From here, you can boat out to the largest of the lake’s 40 islands, Isla del Sol. While Yumani village on the south end of the island is one of Titicaca’s most developed population centers, there’s no motorized traffic. Instead, a network of rocky trails traverses the island’s sandy beaches and archaeological sites, best dating to pre-Inca Tiwanaku culture.
Stage 7 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
Maddi National Park
Despite the claims of a particular crazy Brazilian nationalist politician, the Amazon Rainforest is not Brazil’s exclusive plaything. It´s also, the world’s largest rainforest spans eight South American countries, including northwest Bolivia. Where Maddi National Park protects around 11,200 sqm of the Amazon. From the foothills of the Andes to its wetlands, rivers, rolling grasslands, and tangled vegetation.
One of the most biodiverse places on earth. Bolivia’s few remaining indigenous Amazonian populations still take refuge within the tropical rainforest.
Today, Maddi is establishing itself as an eco-tourism alternative to the more well-trodden Peruvian parks across the border. Of course, there´s Eco-lodges offer nature observation walks beneath the forest canopy and provide a glimpse into the culture and lifestyle of the Amazon’s indigenous guardians.
Bring your best hiking kit and wet weather gear and be prepared for some challenging terrain as you search for medicinal plants. Occasionally, stare up at a vine-swinging sloth, or catch a glimpse of a jaguar, puma, pink river dolphin, or one of the roughly 1,000 bird species.
Stage 8 of Bolivia´s Death Road & Beyond tour.
Two hours from La Paz in the Yungas district, the small town of Coroico sits on the shoulders of the mist-shrouded Cerro Uchumach. Now, imagine, gazing out over a panorama of lush rivers and canyons. All nestled in cloud-covered mountain peaks, patchwork farms, villages, and coffee plantations.
Overlooking the compact little town lies misty mountains beyond; Hence, Coroico’s guesthouse can be a welcome respite after a week’s adventuring. Alternately, it can serve as a base for some of Bolivia’s most hardcore adventure activities.
The modest tourism industry has sprung up around nature and adventure here with hikes to hidden waterfalls, abseiling, canyoning, and climbing for the cliff crawlers.
And Coroico marks the start of the infamous original North Yungas Road or “ Bolivia´s Death Road,” which winds its way through dense forest and high mountain passes on its way to La Paz.
While the old Yungas Road has become practically disused by local traffic, the daredevil desire to tackle it on two wheels has made it one of Bolivia’s bucket list attractions.
9. Carretera de Los Yungas – Bolivia´s Death Road.
Cut into the side of the Cordillera Oriental Range is a zig-zagging gravel goat track. It links the Andean capital of La Paz with the Yungas region in the Bolivian Amazon. You will know it as Bolivia´s Death Road.
The single-lane North Yungas Road has earned international infamy as “the most dangerous road on earth.” Its 60km length includes 29 hairpins, a heart-stopping 3,500m of descent, and almost ever-present rain and fog.
A mere 3.2 wide road straddles one side of the mountain. While the other side sheer precipices plunge up to a kilometer below into a graveyard of scattered wreckage.
Before a paved, dual lane alternative opened in 2006, Bolivia´s Death Road landslips and collisions claimed dozens, if not hundreds, of lives every year.
These days, locals rarely use the road, which is fortunate, Hence, the traffic is now primarily pushbiked tourists in matching vests and helmets and the odd motorcycle explorer.
If you’re attempting Bolivia´s Death Road on a motorcycle, solid off-roading skills are a must to manage the precariously slippery surfaces. Many are drenched in parts by cliffside waterfalls that tumble onto the road below.
The climb from the steamy foothills of Yolosa to the stark, windswept La Cumbre Pass (4,650m) is thrillingly beautiful. Furthermore, the mist sometimes periodically lifts to reveal breathtaking views over the altiplano and emerald canopy of the Amazon Rainforest.
Now sit back and think it all over for you, delve into the next three high impact articles that will surely persuade you to head to the booking page
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)
Also, Edited for SEO optimization by Mike Bowley at www.mikedbowley.com