There are few cities in the world with such volatile economic histories as Potosi, Bolivia. The city was once one of the wealthiest in the world and was the size of Paris. Feeding off the wealth of the nearby Cerro Rico (the rich mountain), the city flourished and became the center of Bolivia’s economy. However, with the crash of the prices of minerals the town too crumbled. Of late it has seen a slight revival although it will never return to its glory years. Still Potosi makes for a very worthwhile stop, as there remains a hidden beauty to the city. Travelers can dip down into the depths of the old mine, where workers still chip away at the walls using steel rods and dynamite, or you can wander through the cities plaza and markets. Despite its mining background, the city of Potosi has yet to unravel its status as a diamond in the rough, but with a little bit of digging you certainly can find the charm in this high altitude Bolivian city.
Things to do in Potosi
- Mine Tour: The mine tour can be claustrophobic and almost suffocating, but it is worth every second. Seeing how people work in the mines even to this day is almost unreal, and I have had many people who have come in with me (on the 4 occasions I’ve been inside) ask me if it is all a show for us. Hearing the stories from the minors makes the trip worth every penny. You can organize a mine tour through most hotels. Try the Sumaj travel agency in the Hotels Jerusalem as they organize a great tours for about 15US$ a person.
- Hot spring crater: This is a hidden treasure that I stumbled upon thanks to a local friend who works as a travel guide. This is a flat land volcanic crater which acts as basically a giant heated swimming pool. This is a great activity to do as a group and an amazing place to go right as the sun is setting and the stars are coming out. To get there you will need to take a taxi or a tour. Sumaj tours, again, can sort your out for about 8-10US$ a person. **Note: the hot springs are at high altitude so it’s not recommended to swim too far from the edges. The crater is deep, I’m told over 80m, so you don’t want to get caught out there exhausted.
- Money Museum: La Casa Nacional de Moneda is one of the best museums in all of South America, and should not be missed. To visit the museum a guided tour is required and the times are a little bit funny, but run every hour and a half or so starting at 9am and ending at 4pm (noon on Sundays). The price of admission is about 4US$.
Where to eat in Potosi
Surprisingly, Potosi has a number of good places to eat. On the streets there area a number of vendors that sell cheap empenadas and hamburgers (a burger is about 1US$). If you are looking to settle down for a nice meal I recommend checking out the Cafe 4060 which is just slightly up the hill from the plaza. Another nice place for a lighter meal is Cafe la Plata which is directly on the plaza. Even a nice meal and a beer at a nice restaurant wont put you too far out, the price will likely be somewhere between 7-13US$.
Where to stay in Potosi
Hotel Jerusalem buses with activity nearly every night since this is where most of the tour groups stay. The price of a single room is about 20$, and includes breakfast and hot showers; there is also WiFi on site. If you’re squeezing your budget a little more tightly check out the Koala Den which is a backpacker’s favourite offering dorms for about 5US$.
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