POTOSÍ: Mines, History and Altitude

One thing this trip has taught me in a very short time is that lack of expectation is king.

That’s exactly how it went in Potosí and the city rewarded us in many ways.

We arrived on a weekend and this might have affected our judgment.
A tranquil city center with little traffic and the sleepy market with limited food choices left us with a feeling of an altiplano hamlet, rather than the bustling mining centre.If you ask me people just head out here to get a tour of the mines…

The huge mountain that towers over the city Cerro Rico is still an active mine. You can go in and get a taste of the miners’ daily hell. The mountain was impressive beyond words, its majestic size and colours were captivating.

Rooftop view from our hostel

It felt like an odd guardian watching over the city, making an appearance around street corners, through our bathroom window, never really staying out of sight. The mountain would always win this game of hide and seek.

My favourite: family walking along the witches’ market, Cerro Rico in the background

Walking the streets we stumbled upon the witches’ market (Mercado de las Brujas), carrying everything from the usual llama fetuses and armadillos to any other imaginable kind of offering you could sacrifice to pachamama when you start the new job, build a house or buy a car (to name a few).

Remedies for various ailments were also for sale. They cuoted us a llama fetus at 280BOB if you happen to need one for decoration or want to perform a ritual for a successful and safe trip around the world ;).

If you decide to visit one museum in Bolivia it should be La Casa de la Moneda – the house of coins.
We didn’t want to pay the extra fee for the camera so there are actually just two photos to show.

The troubled history of Potosí was explained, how the Spaniards came and exploited huge amounts of silver from Cerro Rico enslaving the Incas for their purpose. For many many years spanish coins “Reales” were forged on the premises and distributed all over the spanish colonies. It was an incredible experience that made us grasp the history of the city and look at Cerro Rico with different eyes. Impressive how this faraway place was so important for the spanish empire!

Entrance to La Casa de la Moneda
Inside patio
Next up was a daytrip from Potosí to El Ojo del Inka – the eye of the Inca. This is a warm water spring with amazing views that we heard was closed because of tourists drowning not so long ago. We decided to give it a go anyway.

On our way up to Ojo del inca

Getting there way pretty straighforward and we started walking up in the intense heat. Others said that it was great being in the warm water when it’s so cold outside…I assure you we had no desire to get into the puddle warm water, it was scorching hot outside. The scenery on the other hand was a little surreal and very rewarding!

Heli testing the water

Channeling my inner diva

Under other circumstances this would have been a dip with a view

We thought we were well informed, but after talking to some fellow travelers at the hostel it seems we didn’t really visit Ojo del Inka after all. I was in a bit of a shock…apparently what you see in the picture above is not the real deal. Where was this place and how could we have missed it? It remains a mistery to this day :).

All in all, I loved every minute of Potosí without ever stepping a foot into a mine (Heli did and he loved that part a lot).
It can be done and it was worth it spending time in this unique city.


More Info

 

Where to stay

  • Hostal Compañia de Jesus on Chuquisaca [50BOB for double with private bathroom].
    Central and quiet,  friendly owners, there was a smallish kitchen; basic breakfast was included.
  • Hostel Maria Victoria on Chuquisaca near Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
  • La Casona on Chuquisaca.
  • Hostel Koala Den on Junin.

Where to eat

  • Comedor at the market. We had some fish for 15BOB.
  • La Manzana Mágica on Oruro. Vegetarian restaurant; 3 course menu lunch for 20BOB.
  • Koala Cafe opposite Casa de la Moneda. Vegetarian options available, but a little pricey.
  • Potocchi on Millares (was under rennovation when we visited).
  • Pizzeria El Mana: the one on Av. Bustillo was closed  because of rennovation so we took a trip all the way to their second location on Av. Murillo next to the Corte Electoral. 65BOB for a pizza familiar split haflway; it was delish made in a real wood fired oven and a good size for two people.

What to see and do

  • Cerro Rico Mines tour:
    Heli booked a tour at the hostel for 60BOB. It is common (and expected) to buy some gifts for the miners during your tour which might cost an additional 10-15BOB.
    You can also go independently by public bus and talk to a miner to give you a tour.
  •  La Casa de la Moneda:
    40BOB for a guided tour (english and spanish available). I believe times were 9AM and 1PM.
    An aditional fee is required if you want to take photos.
  • Ojo del Inka: 
    Public bus to Mercado Chuqui 1,5BOB and collectivo to Tarapaya 5BOB (prices are one way p.p.)
    Tell the driver to dropp you off at “desvio Ojo del Inka”. Then try to find the goddamn place 😀
  • Convento de San Fransisco:
    Climb up for a small fee (the ammount is negotiable mind you) and enjoy the surroundings.
    We skipped this as we had an amazing view from our hostel.

Transportation

  • Sucre-Potosí: collectivo for 30BOB.
  • Potosí-Tupiza: bus Tupiza Express for 30BOB. First bus leaves at 7:30am.
    The cab to the new bus terminal was 20BOB which we shared with two other travellers.

Have you ever been to Potosí?
What was your impression of one of the highest cities in the world?

Safe travels,

H&M

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