Highway 37 – the road stretches from the Andean city of Pasto over the mountains and down to the jungle town of Mocoa a gateway to the Amazon. Though it’s only 121 miles between the two cities the trip takes 5-7 hours depending on how many rock and mudslides one encounters on the way.
This is the most infamous road in Colombia. It has been rated the most dangerous in Colombia and one of the worst on the continent earning the nickname ‘trampoline della muerte‘ or trampoline of death.
You know you’re in for a rough ride when the bus leaves the terminal and the passengers cross themselves and mouth small prayers asking for safe passage. Shrines and crosses litter the roadside – testament to the dangers of this one-and-a-half-lane-dirt-road zig zaging through the mountains.
This is the most jerking, bone shattering, punishing, pot-hole-filled, hair-pin-turn, cliff lined roads I’ve ever been on. I gave up counting how many times I was bounced up out of my seat and hit my head on the roof of the bus.
The only passenger buses making the trip are micro buses seating 7-8 people. The drivers are damn good. They have to be. And they work the gear shift like a slide trombone. A car and a bus can barely pass on this road.
But there are also trucks. And when one approaches head on the bus has to stop and back up to a wider shoulder. The truck squeezes past with his tires hugging the edge of the road – a sheer drop into jungle growth below.
Sometimes there are guard rails to prevent vehicles from veering over the edge but most of the time the metal barriers have been washed out and replaced with a thin strips of caution tape.
But this is also one of the most beautiful roads in the country going through jungles, cloud forests 6,000 feet high, past waterfalls and shallow rivers tumbling across the road.
There are other ways to get to Macoa but they entail losing a day backtracking from southern Colombia north to Popayan and another day crossing the Andes.
Mocoa is definitely worth the arduous journey and the trip through the mountains on highway 37 is definitely one hell of a ride.