Yet Another “Death Road”: El Trampolín de la Muerte

Again and again, “El Trampolín de la Muerte” comes up among Pan-American-travellers as one of South America’s infamous “Death Roads”. We are certainly not obsessed by going out of our way to drive such roads – unlike some. As a matter of fact, I was almost convinced that we could avoid this one…

It wasn't planned, but in Colombia we ended up driving another of South America's infamous "Death Roads": El Trampolín de la Muerte – not as bad as its name.

It wasn’t planned, but in Colombia we ended up driving another of South America’s infamous “Death Roads”: El Trampolín de la Muerte – not as bad as its name.

How wrong I was! We entered Colombia via Ipiales and Pasto. From there we were keen to get back to San Agustín, and revisit one place we had fond memories of from our last trip in 2008. Well, the only route to get across from Pasto to Mocoa in the Amazon region is the “Trampolín de la Muerte”.

Last time we drove from San Agustín to Popayan, but most of that was (and still is!) a very bumpy dirt road too. In between there are no other roads going from the west to the east. By driving to Mocoa this time we had the opportunity to at least see something new.

Okay, so now we can say that we have survived this “Death Road” too!

And, let me tell you, it’s not half as scary as some roads we drove in Peru! I would say that we were a lot more tense (from fright) whilst driving the PE-8B in Peru ; we took this (mostly) sealed road from Chachapoyas to Cajamarca. And then there was the PE-3N , which we drove across to Huanuco. Since we have written blog posts about both of these, I guess the “Trampolín de la Muerte” deserves its own post too.

So why is the “Trampolín de la Muerte” not as dangerous as its name suggests?

Well, as I mentioned above, we can compare it to other roads. First of all, the surface is coarse rocks and gravel. Your wheels might slip and slide a little, but if you’re not speeding stupidly, you will eventually gain some traction. On the above mentioned PE-3N we had sand come mud, which can be endlessly slippery, after heavy rain (as we experienced) .

Also, on the “Trampolín de la Muerte” you find enough pull-outs almost everywhere to let oncoming traffic pass. Many of these are long enough that I didn’t even had to come to a full stop to be passed. So if you look a little ahead, traffic is no problem. On the PE-8B we often had sections of well over a kilometre in length with not a single truck-sized pull-out.

The drops on the side of the road aren’t anywhere near as steep as we found in Peru. The PE-8B went up to over 3,600m twice, dropping to 800m in between. And for most of the time we were driving right along the steep edge. In comparison to that, the “Trampolín de la Muerte” is actually comfortably wide…

Then there are the drivers. Although there was a lot of traffic on this road, we found most of the Colombian drivers to be reasonably cautious, friendly, and in no way egocentric. Maybe that’s because most of them drive this road for a living: trucks and public transport in all forms.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

At some stage we actually commented on the various forms of public transport, which are using this road. There were medium sized buses, chivas, mini vans and pick-up trucks used as collectivos. We are wondering how people decide which of these to choose for their trip. Is it the price, the comfort or the travel time?

Before you ask: chivas are something we’ve mostly seen in Colombia (although you find some in tourist places in Ecuador). They are older style trucks with a specially made body with many rows of seats, and some luggage space on the back and on the roof. They are usually painted in bright colours with lots of chrome adornments. Some have doors with glass windows; some don’t.

One of the typical Colombian CHIVAS, which travel along the Trampolín de la Muerte.

One of the typical Colombian CHIVAS, which travel along the Trampolín de la Muerte.

Another typical CHIVA, for which I waited in a pull-out. You can see how narrow bits of the Trampolín de la Muerte are.

Another typical CHIVA, for which I waited in a pull-out. You can see how narrow bits of the Trampolín de la Muerte are.

 

“El Trampolín de la Muerte” is a Beautiful Drive

So, if you’re planning to visit the south of Colombia, don’t be frightened by the name of the “Trampolín de la Muerte”! It’s really not that dangerous, if you take your time! We left Sibundoy a little after 10 in the morning, had several stops, long and short, and arrived in Mocoa well before sunset.

TIP: stop for photos at the main square in Sibundoy!
Before we drove the Trampolín de la Muerte, we stopped for the night at the plaza of Sibundoy. It's a pleasant town, quiet overnight. The real highlight is over a dozen carved tree stump statues scattered around the main town square. They show native indigenous themes and are colourfully finished.

Before we drove the Trampolín de la Muerte, we stopped for the night at the plaza of Sibundoy. It’s a pleasant town, quiet overnight. The real highlight is over a dozen carved tree stump statues scattered around the main town square. They show native indigenous themes and are colourfully finished.

There are also some beautiful street art pieces on walls around the central square of Sibundoy.

There are also some beautiful street art pieces on walls around the central square of Sibundoy.

 

The scenery alone is worth the trip, as most of the road goes through dense cloud forest, which hardly shows any human impact – other than the road winding through it. You come through maybe a couple of tiny villages and past a handful of mostly abandoned houses. The rest is all dense greenery of various shades.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Before you reach the second peak (travelling east), on clear days you will get some beautiful vistas down into the Amazon basin. But even when it’s not clear weather, it can be a stunning drive, with clouds drifting slowly across the tree tops – justifying the name “cloud forest”…

Right at the beginning of the Trampolín de la Muerte is this sign, which states that it is a "Carretera full of life" - so there you go: not a "Death Road" after all!

Right at the beginning of the Trampolín de la Muerte is this sign, which states that it is a “Carretera full of life” – so there you go: not a “Death Road” after all!

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It wasn't planned, but in Colombia we ended up driving another of South America's infamous "Death Roads": El Trampolín de la Muerte. It's actually a spectacular road, which winds through forested mountains from Pasto to Mocoa – down into the Amazon basin of Colombia. Overall the drive wasn't as scary as we had experienced some roads in Peru to be. See our gallery post!

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Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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18 Responses

  1. Victoria says:

    I have heard about this before!! I FREAK OUT driving on scary drives when someone else’s is driving but I do okay when I drive myself isn’t that odd? Glad you conquered it!

    • Juergen says:

      In that respect I’m the same: I hate to be a passenger on such roads. That’s why we don’t travel by public transport…

  2. Kevin Wagar says:

    I admit to getting a thrill on these dangerous roads. But they are often also some of the most beautiful!

    • Juergen says:

      We’re not really ‘thrill seekers’. But when we have finished a road like this it’s certainly a feeling of achievement. You’re right, we take these roads for their remoteness, untouched landscapes, and because they offer a glimpse into less developed parts of a country.

  3. Lori says:

    We really love driving in Central & South America – it always gives us the best feel and view in an unfamiliar place. Glad to hear it wasn’t as bad as Perú. That’s one country we didn’t drive!

    • Juergen says:

      What’s making drives in Peru much more stressful, in my opinion, are the Peruvian drivers. My favourite quote about them: “The horn replaces the brain and the brakes”.

  4. Sol Solntze says:

    Good grief. That’s enough of a Death Road for me. I’m afraid I can’t bear to go and have a look at your posts on the other ones if one was relatively safe! Those CHIVAs look pretty cool though.

    • Juergen says:

      Yes, we love that Chivas are still being used in Colombia. We thought that by now they might have been replaced by more conventional means of public transport, but we still see a lot of them.

  5. Medha says:

    Although it looks a bit scary, it doesn’t look as scary as some of the roads I’ve been on in the Himalayas ! It seems at least a truck can fit on these roads even though they’re narrow. Some Himalayan roads can’t fit such large vehicles, don’t have any sort of railing on the other side and you can see the valley below. It’s super scary! I do love the scenery on this road, it’s so pretty and green !

  6. Tami says:

    (Love the street art in Sibundoy!)Those roads sure look treacherous to me, no matter how you compare them with others. I don’t think I could enjoy driving on any of them!

    • Juergen says:

      You get used to such roads in South America. If I have the choice I’d rather drive them myself instead of putting my life into the hands of a bus driver.

  7. Tara says:

    Maybe the name El Trampolín de la Muerte is just trying to keep people away? It seems that with a bit of caution this would be a lovely journey. I find that the scariest part of some of these gravelly roads is the risk of car problems. I once broke my oil pan on a sharp rock, and was stranded for hours. Maybe out here it would be days. Still, it’s so nice to read about the path less traveled.

    • Juergen says:

      The name was actually given to the road because it is going very much up-and-down, and it has always been one of the roads in Colombia with the highest fatality rate. Nevertheless, the drivers we encountered were rather cautious.

  8. Liz Deacle says:

    Oh, I love what you are doing! What a fabulous idea and what amazing stories! The most dangerous road we have ever driven on was over a mountain in the middle of winter between Chamonix and Montgenevre. It was terrifying. I wish we had had Berta and not an Escort van! I think you two are fabulous!

  9. Damn! El Trampolín de la Muerte certainly looks a bit scary, but good to know that it’s not really a death road – in fact, I wish no road should be that way. The view of the road from a distance looks stunning…the greens and the clouds are magical!

    • Juergen says:

      It’s certainly a magnificent landscape – unfortunately as a driver you can’t take your eyes off the road enough to really appreciate it.

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