Cerro Rico Mines, Potosi

The story of the how Potosi came to be is intrinsically linked with the mines and the mountain that form its backdrop. It is said that when the indigenous Quechuans first discovered its rich silver desposits, they shortly afterwards heard a great noise and a voice telling them that the silver was meant for someone else.

However much truth there is in this story, it is deifnitely the case that someone else ended up with the Cerro's riches. The silver mined from the mountain, whose popular name translates as 'Rich Mountain', bank-rolled the Spanish empire for over two hundred years.

Bolivia's independence sadly came after the most of the silver had been mined away. If it were not for the discovery of tin in the 1800s, and countless other metals including zinc, lead and antimony since, the city would doubtless have disappeared.

Nowadays, the miners supplement their meagre incomes with money from tourists, paying to see the mines. The conditions have been described as medieval and visiting the tunnels is certainly an emotionally taxing experience. Much of the mining is still done by hand, in conditions that are hot and dusty. Even though many of the miners do not use it, safety gear and masks are essential for visitors.

Guided Tours:

All of the tour agencies in town offer guided tours of the mines, the exact itinerary and cost vary quite a lot. It is only possible to get access to the mines with a guide, as police prevent tourists from wandering up there. Decent tours should include transport to and from the mines, as well as safety gear and a guide (for a list of tour guides, see tour guides section).

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Potosi, Bolivia
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