1. Death Road, Bolivia
It might not be the most technical mountain-biking route – you pretty much just point yourself downhill and hang on for dear life – but as once-in-a-lifetime experiences go, you’d be hard pushed to better the descent down Bolivia’s Yungas Road – or ‘Death Road’, as it’s more commonly called.
Be aware that the nickname is no exaggerati
on. It’s estimated between 200-300 travellers are killed annually on the treacherous dirt track winding from La Paz to Chulumani; much of the road is just 3.2 metres wide and gives way to sheer drops of 4000 metres.
While you’d expect most countries to close off a deathtrap of such epic proportions, in Bolivia the Yungas Road has become a bona fide tourist attraction. Thrill-seeking backpackers take to it in droves, weaving their bikes between two-way traffic at speeds averaging 40mph.
While mountain-biking down Death Road is one hell of an adrenaline rush, it should also come with a serious health warning. Plenty of tourists have died on this route, many of them slowly and painfully after plunging thousands of metres into the rainforest below. The nearest rescue helicopter is in Peru, and the local hospital is reached by a bumpy two-hour drive. You have been warned.
Still, there are ways to minimise the risks. Ahead of our charge down the mountain, our tour guide shared his good feeling about the day’s ride – because our group only boasted two blokes. The most dangerous element of riding the road is “being cocky and showing off”, apparently – hence the many males in neck-braces laying broken around the dorms of La Paz.
Rather, watch what you’re doing and maintain a decent speed – the road is full of twists, and tyres are liable to slip on the loose gravel – and you’ll drastically reduce your chances of tumbling over the edge.
Heart-in-mouth factor aside, the scenery along Yungas Road is breath-taking. Surrounded by steep cliffs thick with ramshackle greenery, this is surely one of the world’s most beautiful highways – as well as its most deadly.