El Camino de la Muerte, or Death Road, was named by the Inter America Development Bank as the most dangerous road in the world in 1995. What’s scary about this road isn’t the ghosts reputed to haunt it, but the sheer make up of it. Properly known as the Yungas Road, it is the only road which links rural communities with the Bolivian capital La Paz. In other words, the only way for villagers to go when they head for the market to sell their goods.
The 40 miles long road was originally built in the 1930s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners. Parts of it have recently been modernised, but essentially it is a 10 feet wide ridge cut into the side of the the Andes, which also happen to be the second highest mountain range in the world. It has sheer drops down the side of the cliff which range from 200 feet to 1000 feet. Approximately 200 people per year die on it, as their vehicles fall down the side of the cliff. The road side frequently has crosses to remember the dead. It was the site of Bolivia’s worst road accident in 1983, when a bus went over the side, down a cliff, killing over 100 people. It isn’t easy to get the actual tally of people who lose their lives on this road as many are unregistered in buses. It is of note that one of the many religious rites in Bolivia involves cars, vans and trucks being blessed to keep them safe as the roads are so dangerous.
In recent years, the road has become a popular tourist attraction as mountain bikers see it as something of an adventure to ride down the road. There are many tour companies offering this as a service. Since 1998, 18 cyclists have died doing this. One of the local rules of the road are that the driver heading down the mountainside must give way to a driver coming in the opposite direction, meaning the downhill driver must pull over to the edge of the road by the drop and let the other pass. The views are meant to be spectacular, but it does become rather pertinent to keep your eye on the road at all time when travelling this. Of course, this is made more difficult by mist, fog, rain and a very uneven road surface, which kicks up dust. Visibility gets very low.
As for ghosts, local legend states that it is haunted, presumably by the many people who have lost their lives here. There are two explanations to the ghosts. One is that they appear to travellers in order to warn them of the dangers of the road. The other is that the ghosts are somewhat vindictive and lead the unsuspecting traveller over the edge of the cliff to fall hundreds of feet into the jungle below. There isn’t much information available on hauntings of the road. The main thing is be careful if you visit. As the usually gung-ho boys from Top Gear found when they drove along it:
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