Latin America & Caribbean

In pictures: Cycling down Bolivia's 'death road'

A road in Bolivia widely known as "death road" for the high number of fatal accidents that have happened here has become a popular cycle route for mountain bikers with a good head for heights.

Photographer Fellipe Abreu and reporter Luiz Felipe Silva cycled down the steep road and chronicled the sheer drops and spectacular views.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

Cyclists and their bikes are taken by bus to La Cumbre at a height of 4,700m (15,420ft).

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

From here, the peaks of nearby mountains such as the Huayaina Potosi, in the Cordillera Central, Bolivia's central mountain range, are clearly visible.

The route in the Andes near the city of La Paz has become a favourite with mountain bikers as for a stretch of 66km it is almost entirely downhill, descending a total of 3,500m.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

In places it is so steep, cyclists can reach a maximum speed of more than 50km/h (31mph).

For the the first 31km, the road, officially known as Camino a los Yungas, is paved. The main danger here are the big lorries which regularly use it and, despite the hairpin bends, drive at high speed.

Further on, the road becomes little more than a dirt track.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

This unpaved stretch is the one which gave the road its reputation of being one of the most dangerous in the world.

During the 1990s, an average of 300 people died on this road a year.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

The worst single accident happened in the 1980s, when a bus plunged 300m, killing more than 100 people.

When a vehicle comes off the road here, the drops are sheer and deep, offering little chance of survival for the passengers.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

Simple crosses mark the spots where people have died.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

Heavy lorries leave little space for other road users and skid dangerously on the loose soil.

Image copyright Fellipe Abreu

The road's reputation for danger predates these accidents, though.

Even in the 19th Century, when it was used to transport goods from the city of La Paz to the town of Coroico, merchants feared this stretch of road.

Highwaymen used the narrow path to ambush merchants and rob them of their goods, often killing them in the process.

The most infamous highwayman was Salvador Sea, who was captured and condemned to death by firing squad in 1870.

In 2007, a new road linking La Paz and Coroico was inaugurated. The new stretch is used for vehicles travelling uphill, while the old "death road" is used to travel downhill, making both roads less crowded.

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