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Potosi is one of those cities where you would like to be a small insect to be able to observe undisturbed the local way of living.
Fly past young and old ladies alike carrying their babies, food or goods wrapped in their traditional colourful blankets. Rest on the black stained clothes of tired mineros (mine workers) coming back from along day spent in the dark of the mines of Cerro Rico. Buzz over smiley teenagers running home from school or organizing a street parade for their college.
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The beautiful living space of Casa Blanca Hostal in Potosi, Bolivia
ACCOMMODATION PICK – We recommend Casa Blanca Hostal, which is not the most economical hostel in town but it has a great vibe, clean shared bathrooms and kitchen and a nice lounge area to chill. Wifi connection is pretty good and showers are consistently hot. If you sleep in the bunk rooms, you might wake up with not much air as there are no proper windows and you're sleeping at 4,090m!
Two days might not seem a lot to truly immerse yourself in the authenticity of this Bolivian city. Still you can make most of your time here if you forget your long to-do list and just try to be as much spontaneous as possible.
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This is how we selected our favourite places to see in two days in this beautiful city – enjoy the reading!
Two women in Potosi wearing their traditional dress and going back home after a market day in Potosi (Bolivia)
CERRO RICO MINE TOUR
We heard controversial opinions regarding mine tours in Potosi. Some would say they exploit the miners and it’s a voyeuristic tour to see the unbearable work conditions inside the mountain, Cerro Rico (literally translated as "the rich mountain").
We actually found (and have also been told by our guide) that tourism in the mines has nothing to do with the exploitation of miners as they work here by free choice, nor it’s in any way disrespectful of their job.
DID YOU KNOW POTOSI IS ONE OF THE HIGHEST CITIES IN THE WORLD AT 4,090M ABOVE SEA LEVEL?
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On the contrary tourism seems to be beneficial for some of the miners who turn into guides after some hard years of work, and for the other miners who are still working as it is usual practice for tourists to bring few gifts to them (like soda beverages, crackers and coca leaves or dynamites).
Entering the mines of Cerro Rico with our guide, the ex-minero Antonio, in Potosi, Bolivia
We also read that the mines are dangerous to visit as the tunnel system is so vast and deep into the mountain that it is not difficult to believe it can collapse any time.
However, if you can overcome the thought, as a tourist you are only allowed to visit the first four levels and not all the way to level thirteen (it would take more than one and half hour to reach it).
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Visiting the mines is truly enlightening and gives you a better idea of the miners’ working conditions and the mining industry in general. It’s unfortunately a sad reality that it has been also the way of living for thousands of Bolivians for centuries and it is still a very profitable job in comparison to any other occupation in the country.
OPERATOR PICK – We have used Potochji Tours run and operated by ex-minero Antonio and we highly recommend it. Antonio is a knowledgeable guide and knows many of the miners working in Cerro Rico. We recommend the tour in Spanish as it's more authentic.
Antonio praying for the miners inside Cerro Rico in Potosi, Bolivia
CASA DE LA MONEDA
If we have to choose a museum to visit in Potosi, Casa de la Moneda will be the one.
Although we felt the tour was a little bit rushed, especially considering the rich exposition in each area of the museum, it is still worth taking part to a guided tour to truly appreciate the history behind the first mint (“casa moneda”) in South America.
For us the well preserved machinery and the display of how they were used was the highlight of our visit.
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TIP – To find our way around the city we have used Maps.me, an offline map which gives you both driving and walking directions
Traditional lady outside Casa de la Moneda selling silver jewellery and objects in Potosi, Bolivia
IGLESIA DE SAN LORENZO
Out of many churches in Potosi, we choose to visit the church of San Lorenzo, not only for its architecture and history but mostly for its “mirador” from which you can see the city from above and the towering mountain of Cerro Rico (which we couldn’t see properly because we visited on a cloudy day).
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We highly recommend to pay for a guided tour in this church as a guide would be able to explain the history of the church and of each statue, making the building and its interior come to life.
Panoramic views from the mirador of San Lorenzo Church in Potosi, Bolivia
PLAZAS AND CALLES OF POTOSI
One of our favorite past-times of all is walking and losing ourselves in each city we visit.
Potosi was no exception – we started our stroll from Plaza 6 de Agosto which is the true hearth of the city, and moved through intricate and narrow alleys, following our gut instinct.
Potosi revealed itself to us at every corner we turned – we crossed path with busy “avocados” (lawyers) in the street, we bought fresh prickly pears from a local old lady, we almost cuddled dirty fluffy dogs waiting for a door to open.
The true essence of a city is in its everyday life and Potosi does not disappoint the curious wanderer.
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"Perrito!" - A street dog waiting for food outside a house in Potosi, Bolivia
RESTAURANT PICK – We recommend Casa de la Plata restaurant in Potosi. This is not a cheap eat-and-go place, but service is fast enough and food is well presented and delicious. Location is also great, just in front of Plaza 10 de Noviembre.
Yummy food at Casa de la Plata in Potosi, Bolivia