The North Yungas Road in the Bolivian Andes has been officially declared as the “world’s most dangerous road” – for motorists! Mountain bike enthusiasts however, are cut from a different cloth, and it has become a favorite destination for downhill racing – now that has got to be a serious adrenalin rush!
It is just short of 70 km long and runs from La Paz to Coroico, descending over 3,500 metres and regular occurrences of 800 metre abysses and impossibly narrow hairpin curves. One wouldn’t expect a road leaving one of the highest cities on the planet to go uphill – but in fact it does – almost five kilometres above sea level, where even a normal internal combustion engine struggles to ‘breathe’.
On average between 200 – 300 fatalities are recorded every year. This is freakish – that is (playing with statistics) – one person dying every 3 days! The route is littered with the remnants of many, many accidents, with many trucks and buses lying wrecked, at the bottom. They will probably never be recovered.
The buses and heavy trucks navigate this road, as this is the only route available in the area. Buses crowded with locals go in any weather, and try to beat the incoming traffic to the curves. One of the local road rules specifies that the downhill driver never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road. This forces fast vehicles to stop so that passing can be negotiated safely.
Because of the extreme dropoffs, single-lane width, and lack of guardrails, the road is extremely dangerous. Further still, rain and fog can make visibility precarious, the road surface muddy, and loosen rocks from the hillsides above. On July 24, 1983, a bus veered off the Yungas Road and into a canyon, killing more than 100 passengers in what is said to be Bolivia’s worst road accident.
High in the Andes, they are building a new road, a bypass to replace the old one. But this is Bolivia, and already it has been 20 years in the making. Who knows when it will be complete? Until it is, people will have to continue offering up their prayers, and taking their lives in their hands on the most dangerous road in the world.
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