- Wednesday, 16 March 2011 14:53
La Carretera de los Yungas was, probably, the most famous road in the world as well as the most dangerous. This gravel dirt track covers a 69-kilometre (43 mi) stretch between La Paz and Coroico, in the Yungas region of Bolivia. To be fair, it’s technically not considered the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” anymore due to the construction of a new highway close by, which directs most traffic away from its path.
It’s estimated that 200 to 300 people traveling on it died each year. The thin road climbs jungle-clad mountains to a height of 4,650m, winding and turning all the while with nauseatingly deep canyons below. Dozens of vehicles went off the road each year, and with vertical drops of up to 1000m over the edge, annual fatalities reached into the hundreds. While the rest of Bolivia drives on the right side, here vehicles drive on the left. A driver on the left has a better view of the edge of the road. Furthermore, descending vehicles never have 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. It was the black widow of roads and notorious for being the most treacherous stretch of road in the world as threats of landslides and the 1000 meter cliff faces pose serious danger while traveling its slick and rocky path.
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The former world’s most dangerous highway (alternatively known as Death Road, Grove's Road, Coroico Road, Camino de las Yungas, El Camino de la Muerte, Road of Death, Unduavi-Yolosa Highway) climbs up a famous Bolivian mountain pass, La Cumbre, at an elevation of 4,650 metres (15,260 ft) above the sea level. This road was legendary for its extreme danger. Based on the ratio of death per mile, on an average, 26 vehicles plummet over the edge each year, claiming more than 100 lives. The estimation is that 200 to 300 travellers were killed yearly along the road. With these numbers, in 1995, the Inter American Development Bank christened this highway "The Most Dangerous Road in the World”.
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This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. It’s not hard to see why the road was so dangerous: It’s barely the width of one vehicle, with no guardrail to protect you from falls of up to 2,000 feet. Rain can make the road muddy and slippery, and rain or fog can reduce a driver to feeling blindfolded. The very good news about this dirt road is that you don’t have to take it. Back in the ’90s before an alternative and safer road was built, it was identified as the most extremely dangerous road in the world. The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate it. And just as a reminder that you’re not going on any regular road trip, some drivers pray before they begin their route. One thing’s for sure — easily distracted drivers, watch out!
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The road was specially dangerous because is only 3 metres wide and was navigated by trucks and buses, because its constant sheer drops of at least 600m without any barriers or guard rails, the extreme dust clouds from vehicles in the summer and fog all year round often reduced visibility to almost zero and the fog and the rain in the winter months that often washes away parts of the road, reduces visibility as well as causing mudslides and the loosening of rocks from the hillsides above. Without guard rails, most of the road is no wider than 3.2 metres (10 ft). The surface is often muddy, with loosen rocks from the road and rain, fog and dust can reduce visibility. To make matters worse, the road is often swathed in cloud, and in places waterfalls crash down onto its surface. Drivers will likely encounter groups of cyclists during the treacherous journey—tour operators lead rides along the road, marketing the experience as an extreme-sports challenge.
The dangerousness gave this road great notoriety and entice people seeking their adrenaline lined hearts. Between buses, cars, trucks, and even bicycles, it seems that nobody was deemed safe on this stretch of continuous downhill riding with only one short uphill section. Starting in 1990’s, the road is now a popular tourist destination drawing some 25,000 thrillseekers. But the road has no mercy. At least 20 cyclists died on the ride since 1998. Carretera de los Yungas now has become a true business. There are now many tour operators catering to this activity, providing information, guides, transport, and equipment. The Death Road elevation profile starts in Nuestra Señora de La Paz at an elevation of roughly 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above the sea level. After a sharply winding and precipitous ascent in a a steep and narrow zig-zag road in, the road then climbs up to around 4,650 metres (15,260 ft) at La Cumbre Pass. Finally, it goes down to the town of Coroico at 1,200 metres (3,900 ft). Over the years, countless vehicles (particularly busses) have gone tumbling down the 3,000-foot cliffs that line the road due to minor miscalculations that would otherwise be harmless on normal roads. There are really no rules up there. Sometimes you go to the left side of the road, sometimes you go right, sometimes you have to blindly creep through zero-visibility dust-ups, and every time you don't know whether to pass or stop other vehicles. Maybe you'd be better off completely steering clear of this road altogether ...
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The road, that connects the Amazon rainforest region of northern Bolivia, or Yungas, to its capital city, includes macabre crosses marking many of the spots where vehicles have fallen. Some of the most important accidents happened on 24 July 1983, when 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 and in December 1999, after 8 Israeli travelers were killed in a jeep accident on that road. The road was built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners, and it was modernized during 20 years, ending in 2006. At the end of 2006, after 20 years of construction, a new road (a by-pass) from La Paz to Coroico was opened to public. This new route features modern construction (bridges, drainage, etc.), multiple lanes, pavement, guardrails and many other elements that make it considerably safer than the original route. As a result, the original North Yungas Road is currently much less used by traffic, although an increasing number of adventure travelers bike it for the thrills. Nowadays, the moniker is mostly hype. The traffic on the most dangerous section of the road has greatly decreased thanks to a modernization project, completed in 2006, that completely bypassed it. The rest of the road was widened to two lanes, tarmaced, and guardrails and effective drainage were added.
In Turkey there’s a road called Bayburt Of Yolu-D915, probably more dangerous than this road, but less famous. It’s located in Trabzon region, and includes 29 hairpins on a gravel surface too. The Turkish road is extreme, bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters unprotected by guardrails. It climbs up an elevation of 2.300m above the sea level.
Near to this road, the South Yungas Road (called Chulumani Road), is considered to be nearly as dangerous as the North Road, and links Nuestra Señora de La Paz, at an elevation of roughly 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above the sea level and Chulumani, at 5,600 ft (1,700 m). This ridiculously tight road, with narrow passage and a lot of traffic includes 600 meters (1,830 feet) drops, and is full of hairpins.