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Riding the buses » Adventure travel, Bolivia, Memorable moments » Should we take the ‘road of death’ to the Amazon?

Should we take the ‘road of death’ to the Amazon?

The "road of death"The ‘road of death’ (aka the North Yungas Road) has been called the world’s most dangerous highway. It starts in La Paz, Bolivia (the world’s highest capital city) and winds down to the Amazon, dropping 3600 metres (11,800 ft) in just 64 km (40 miles). Should Alison Payne and her boyfriend take it or go by plane? Not an easy decision.

We wanted to get to the town of Rurrenabaque, which is the gateway town to the Amazon. It’s only 410 km from La Paz. The problem was that we had to choose between taking the notorious ‘road of death’ or spending a lot more money to fly. Only one section of the road is supposed to be really bad and I’d heard that even that section has been improved. But there were endless stories about all the people who have died driving or biking it. Besides, all around us were travellers wearing t-shirts with the slogan “I survived the World’s Most Dangerous Road”.

It would take about 18 hours to get there by bus and cost almost nothing, whereas the plane would take 45 minutes and the fare would do real damage to our budget. In the end we decided to book the flight. That’s not to say that flying is perfect, for a flight leaving just after ours was forced to do an emergency landing because the plane’s landing gear didn’t come down!

Why were we doing this? Simply to see the Amazon. Rurrenabaque is very close to the Parque Nacional Madidi which is known for its eco-tourism, jungle and rainforest.

San Miguel del Bala Community Eco-lodgeWe stayed at the San Miguel del Bala Community Eco-lodge which is 45 minutes by motorized canoe from Rurrenabaque and right on the edge of the park. It is owned and run by about 44 families of the Tacana indigenous community.

It was amazing to be in this remote part of the Amazon and hear the Tacana people tell us how the Park was first established in the 1990s and the serious concerns they had about their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. With outside help, they were able to build this lodge and develop the skills to run it. There was a real sense of pride in those achievements.

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We stayed at the lodge for three nights. We were the only tourists and they certainly made us feel like welcomed guests.

Giant 'walking trees' - Photo credit: Alison PayneFirst they showed us around the village and we were able to see how the money from tourism was spent and how the community was organized. Our guide took us on treks into the Park, which is one of the most bio-diverse protected areas in the world. We asked to go on an overnight camping trip and that was arranged, not only with a guide, but his whole family came along as well. We were also accompanied by countless monkeys, red parrots and wild pigs. We took hikes into the forest at night and it was a whole different experience than during the day.

Upon our return to La Paz, we continued our travels through Bolivia and had to endure horrible bus trips—the kind that shake your body up so badly that you think it’s going to come apart. But we were glad that we passed up the most dangerous road in the world, even if we don’t get to wear that coveted t-shirt.

© Riding the buses 2011

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