Hill walking around here is more strolling than trekking, which appeals to stiff-legged hikers straight off the El Choro trek, which ends near Coroico, or those nursing bruised bottoms after the hectic mountain-bike descent from La Paz. Birders might catch a glimpse of the regional symbol, the Andean cock-of-the-rock.
It can get extremely hot while hiking, so carry plenty of water. You should also bring bug spray, and consider wearing long sleeves and pants, as well as bringing a headlamp along. Single travelers – especially women – should check with their hotels about the security situation before heading out.
Deadly Treadlies & the World’s Most Dangerous Road
Before a new replacement road opened in 2007, the road between La Paz and Coroico was identified as the World’s Most Dangerous Road (WMDR) by an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report. The moniker was well deserved: an average of 26 vehicles per year disappeared over the edge into the great abyss.
The gravel road is narrow (just over 3.2m wide), with precipitous cliffs, up to 600m drops and few safety barriers. Crosses (aka ‘Bolivian caution signs’) lining the way testify to the frequency of past vehicular tragedies. The most renowned of these occurred in 1983 when a camión (flatbed truck) plunged over the precipice, killing the driver and 100 passengers in the worst accident in the sordid history of Bolivian transportation.
The WMDR is now used almost exclusively by cyclists, support vehicles and the odd tourist bus. Many agencies offering the La Cumbre to Yolosa mountain-bike plunge distribute T-shirts that boast about having survived the road.
Some 27 cyclists have died doing the 64km trip, which has a 3600m vertical descent, and readers have reported close encounters and nasty accidents. Ironically, the now traffic-free road can be more dangerous to cyclists than to vehicles, especially kamikaze freewheeling guides and overconfident cyclists who fail to account for the possibility of oncoming vehicles. Other accidents are due to little or no instruction and preparation, and poor-quality mountain bikes; beware bogus rebranded bikes and recovered brake pads.
Unfortunately, there are no minimum safety standards in place for operators of this trip, and no controls over false advertising, or consequences for unsafe operating practices. In short, many agencies are less than ideal. As such the buyer has to beware, even a bit paranoid; this is one activity where you don’t want to be attracted by cheaper deals. Experienced and trained guides, high-quality bikes, well-developed risk-management systems and adequate rescue equipment all cost money, and low-cost companies may stretch the truth about what they provide if it means making another sale. Cost cutting can mean dodgy brakes, poor-quality parts and, literally, a deadly treadly. This, plus inexperienced and untrained guides and little or no rescue and first-aid equipment, is a truly scary combination on the WMDR.
Nuts & Bolts
The trip begins around 7am in La Paz. Your agency will arrange a hotel pickup. From there, you'll bus it up to the cumbre (summit), about 45 minutes outside La Paz. Trips cost anywhere from B$325 to B$850, but you get what you pay for. Most operations provide a solid buffet lunch in Yolosa, and some even have arrangements with hotels for showers and swimming pool access. There is a B$50 surcharge to use the old road. Bring sunscreen, a swimsuit and a dust-rag (if they don’t provide one), and ask about water allotments. The bus takes you back up in the early evening; expect to arrive back in La Paz around 9pm.
The Río Coroico flows through the Nor Yungas about three hours north of Coroico. This is the country’s most popular commercially rafted river, and is the most convenient to La Paz. The river features well over 30 rapids, great surfing holes, dramatic drops and challenging technical maneuvers (most of these can be scouted from the river and from several bridges). It alternates between calm pools and 50m to 900m rapids, with sharp bends, boils, mean holes, undercurrents, sharp rocks and rather treacherous undercuts.
The white water normally ranges from Class II to IV, but may approach Class V during periods of high water (when it becomes too dangerous to raft). There are few spots to take time out and rest, so stay focused and be prepared for surprises.
Access is from the highway between Yolosa and Caranavi; the best put-ins are a 20-minute drive north of Yolosa and near the confluence with the Río Santa Bárbara, a 50-minute drive north of Yolosa. Just look for any track that winds down from the road toward the river and find one that provides suitable access. Trips average three to five hours. For the take-out, look on the right side of the river for a devastated steel bridge (destroyed in a 1998 flood) across a normally diminutive creek. Don’t miss it because, after this, climbing to the road up steep jungled slopes is practically impossible, and it’s a long, long way to the next possible exit.
The Río Huarinilla flows from Huayna Potosí and Tiquimani down into the Yungas to meet the Río Coroico near Yolosa, and is best accessed from Chairo, at the end of the El Choro trek. Although it’s normally Class II and III, high water can swell it into a much more challenging Class IV to V. The full-day trip is best suited to kayaks and narrow paddle rafts. The new Yungas Hwy passes right by the take-out at the confluence of the Ríos Huarinilla and Coroico.
The white water is great, but unfortunately the high tourist season coincides with the dry season. Several agencies in La Paz and around Coroico’s plaza offer day-long rafting trips for B$250 to B$350 per person.