Live Fast, Die Yungas: I have heard this makeshift expression within groups of backpackers in Bolivia. They are referencing the so-called Death Road that actually claims the lives of many intrepid travellers each decade.
Yungas Road was cut into the side of the Cordillera Oriental Mountains in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners during the Chaco War. Surrounded by mountainous terrain and terrifying precipices, the winding road stretches 69kms= from La Paz to Coroico, connecting the Amazon rainforest to the capital city. From La Paz, Yungas Road road climbs to around 15,260ft at La Cumbre pass, before gradually descending to 3,900ft at the town of Coroico. The drop in altitude means travellers experience both chilly conditions in the Altiplano highlands as well as hot and humid conditions in the rainforest below. As you can imagine, this is certainly no place for an idiot.
Since the 1950s, Death Road was the only link between La Paz and the Yungas region of Bolivia. It was not uncommon for crowded buses and trucks overloaded with people (and cargo) to overtake each other on the hairpin turns, even at night. These perilous conditions meant that many of the buses and trucks went down the side of the cliffs, taking with them passengers, including small children.
Lining the side of Death Road, you will find an unsettling number of crosses and altars marking some of the many spots where people lost their lives. Yet in 2009, construction of an alternative road, replacing the notoriously dangerous 64km stretch, was built, complete with guardrails (for some of the distance) and superior drainage systems. Thankfully, travellers can now travel from La Paz to Coroico without fearing that the journey may be their last. Yet even with these improved conditions, Yungas Road shows no mercy. Nowadays, the death toll is limited to local workers and daredevil backpackers still using the infamous road. It is believed that more than 22 cyclists have lost their lives on Bolivia’s “Death Road” since 2008.
Finding a reputable company with which to experience the Death Road is essential, and always check the safety records of these tour companies and bus companies online before parting with your cash. If necessary, even after payment, if you are not happy with the state of the bus as you board, then DON’T GET ON!