Potosi is the largest city in the mining region of central Bolivia. At 4,090 meters, Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world. The most popular attraction in Potosi is the Cerro Rico de Potosi “Rich Mountain”, so named for the peak’s vast lodes of silver and other precious minerals.
Cerro Rico de Potosi is crisscrossed with mines, carved into the mountainside over the course of hundreds of years. Geologists estimate that up to 80,000 metrics tons of silver has been extracted from Cerro Rico de Potosi since the Spanish began digging here in the 16th century, making it the most productive silver mine in history. While many of the mines continue to produce silver and other minerals, some older mines have been preserved and are open for tours. A tour of Potosi’s silver mines offer a fascinating look into one of the darkest chapters in Bolivian history.
Potosi sprang up almost overnight in 1545 when Spanish colonizers flocked to the region after the discovery of silver. An enormous mining industry arose in the region, creating a very wealthy ruling class. However, the wealth of the region was built on the sweat of poorly treated slave laborers, mostly drawn from local indigenous populations.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the seemingly bottomless supply of silver had been largely depleted the city’s elite began resettling in Sucre and La Paz, where a new mining boon had begun.
The wealthy past of the city can still be seen in the impressive monasteries, churches, and colonial mansions that line the narrow streets of the city. UNESCO designated the city a World Heritage site in 1987, and many colonial structures have been restored and are popular attractions in Potosi. The city is famous for its narrow, winding streets that wind away from the central plaza. Many of the most interesting things to see in Potosi are located on these meandering streets, including historic buildings such as Potosi’s main cathedral, the Church of San Lorenzo and Bolivia’s original mint, the Casa de la Moneda.
Most people visiting Potosi are on their way to or from the Salar de Uyuni. Potosi makes a great stop on a Salar tour as the city offers some charming options for food and drink as well as comfortable accommodations…all of which are in notorious short supply on the Salar and in the city Uyuni.
Our Favorite Things To Do in Potosí:
- Explore the abandoned Cerro Rico de Potosí silver mines
- Visit the Covenant de Santa Teresa, a colonial-era building with a dark history
- Tour the Church of San Francisco, one of the oldest cathedrals in Bolivia
- Wander the central market of Potosí for street food and souvenirs
- Check out the Casa de la Moneda, Bolivia’s original mint