1. BIKING THE INFAMOUS 'DEATH ROAD'
One of the most popular experiences in Bolivia is cycling the Yungas Road, nicknamed “Death Road”. Sadly, it’s been estimated around 200-300 people have been killed while traveling on this road due to the poor road conditions, hundreds of curves along steep cliffs, and sudden inclement weather creating dangerous rocks slides. The Bolivian government has constructed a new mountain road for vehicles, so now tourists are using the old road to get their adrenaline rush. The forty mile road starts at over 15,000 feet elevation in the Altiplano terrain and descends down into the rainforest at 4,000 feet elevation near the town of Coroico.
After already experiencing a similar tour in Peru, we were a little hesitant in participating in yet another similar tour, but SO happy that we followed through. Corinne's brother, Paul, flew to La Paz for a week of epic adventures, so we had to show him the time of his life!
We had about fifteen people in our group and several guides that spoke very little English. They did their best with safety instructions, gave us our mountain bikes and all of our equipment and gear. Once we strapped on our gear, it was time to take off! The first section was on a new, nicely paved road. We were able to fly down this section without worrying too much about losing control because the road was in such great condition. Surrounded by extreme, jagged cliff faces and snow capped peaks, this was some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have seen in my entire life.
Once the entire group reached the first checkpoint and ended 'Section One', we grabbed snacks along the side of the road to refuel our bodies. Luckily, we then jumped in the van and drove the uphill segment to save time and energy. 'Section Two' is where the more dangerous type of fun really began!
Thankfully, due to the newer paved road in a nearby location, we were able to enjoy this ride without worrying about other cars driving beside us. I really had a blast on the unpaved, gravel road because it added an off-roading and technical element to the experience. Paul and I (Corinne thought we were a bit crazy) figured out a way to stay at the back of the group and then blaze down the mountain going as fast as possible! Looking back, it wasn’t the smartest idea to do this on “Death Road”, but it was Paul’s idea and I had to keep up!
This entire section of the road was actually in dense, jungle with stunning green trees surrounding us and waterfalls pouring off beside the side of the road. Because of the elevation change, we were getting closer to the humid tropical climate. Once we finished the forty miles of biking for a few hours, we reached the lower elevation town with a “resort” for us to relax, eat lunch, and swim in the pool.
[TIP 1]: We went with a cheaper company called No Fear for US$70, but honestly we weren’t very impressed with the company. During our tour, they stopped the group to take individual photos of everyone at so many lookout points so often that we felt we didn't have as much time to simply enjoy the ride in the present moment and truly take it all in. The more expensive competitor, Barracuda Tours, had a smaller group and we didn’t see them taking as many pictures during their tour.
[TIP 2]: Instead of taking the long bus ride back to La Paz after the tour, we actually spent the night in the nearby town called Coroico. We stayed in a rundown, cheap hostel, but we were blessed with an incredible view of the valley. Our next day adventure consisted of hiking the steep Uchumachi Trail and having a 360 degrees lookout of stunning mountains surrounding us!
2. HIKING THE AUSTRIA SUMMIT: 17,388 FEET
Once we finished our epic bike tour, we all decided to experience an adventure without a tour guide and luckily, we found a tour company that would shuttle us to a trailhead to hike for the entire day. We hired a 4X4 SUV driver from Climbing South America Tours for about US $90 in total ($30 per person). The agreement was for him to pick us up at 7am from our hostel, drive us three hours to the trailhead, and take us back to La Paz once we finished the entire day hiking. We were able to take our time and truly explore the terrain without having a guide to keep us on a schedule. It was perfect!
We began our hike around 10am without seeing another soul on the trail. The first glacier lagoon that we reached was our ideal spot to stop for 'breakky' (Aussie spelling). Hardboiled egg and avo sammies (other Australian lingo) filled our bellies as we took in the beautiful peaks surrounding us. It was so incredible to share each other’s company while relaxing under the late morning sun.
After we finished eating, we strapped on our backpacks and continued up the trial. About another 30 minutes had passed before we reached the second glacier lagoon nestled right at the base of the snow capped peaks. The water was so blue. It was incredible! We took another rest and photo-op here before making the extremely difficult ascent up the mountain.
We were able to see other hikers making their way up the switchbacks, but within no time, we were already passing them up the mountain. It took about an hour of climbing until we reached the “false summit”. Normally, hikers expect to be at the top of the mountain, but there was still another 45 minutes of climbing until we reached the actual summit. This was a spectacular area because of the massive glacier tucked away in the mountain’s crevice.
At this point, all of our heads were pounding from the high elevation, but nothing was going to stop us from reaching the top! After a quick team cheer and several motivational fist bumps, we began to tackle the final ascent to the summit. While staying together, we climbed higher and higher until finally collapsing at the summit. Without a doubt, this was one of the most amazing views that each of us have seen in our entire lives.
Hiking and trekking in the mountains is by far one of my most enjoying activities in life. There’s something so incredible about having a goal to reach the top of a mountain while giving all of your energy and overcoming all adversity to achieve what you put your mind to. Even though we could hardly breathe and our muscles were absolutely burning and soon to give out, we were able to overcome this together and enjoy the thirteen snowcapped peaks surrounding us, five iceberg blue lagoons below, and the warm sun overhead. This experience has been one of the highlights of our entire trip across South America.
3. EXPLORING VALLE DE LA LUNA
I was honestly blown away by these rock formations only slightly outside of the center of La Paz. Imagine a destination where Bryce Canyon National Park meets Badlands National Park meets Sedona stunning terrain. Combining these three breathtaking sceneries would give you a glimpse of Valle de la Luna. We took the Teleferico Green Line (cable care) across the entire city to the very end of the line. For paying around 50 US cents, this is an epic adventure in itself! The city of La Paz is so massive and this cable car ride gives you an incredible perspective from above. The funniest part of this entire experience was that we went on this adventure during Halloween night and nearly every person that we saw along the way was dressed in Halloween costumes.
After exiting the cable car, we walked several blocks and then decided to take a short taxi ride for US$1 each. Once we entered the park, all of us split up and took different trails throughout the stunning rock formations. It's honesty a pretty small park, but there's a nice loop that takes about an hour to reach the mirador. Here, you'll be able to see the bright red and orange mountains (completely different terrain than Valle de la Luna) surrounding you while standing within the moonlike terrain. This was such a cool contrast and really fun day adventure if you don’t want to be far from La Paz!