What to do in Potosì – At 4000 meters above sea level
In Bolivia today they still say that one thing “worth a Potosì” to indicate that this thing is worth a fortune.
Just spending a few days on the streets of Potosì, the highest city in the worldand by having former miners tell you about the history of the city, you realize that this pearl, which was the richest city in the world, reserves surprises that are not only architectural.
Elected in 1987 a UNESCU World Heritage Sitethe city boasts neo-colonial architecture elegant and colourful which is scattered along the uphill streets, but above all it is famous for being the highest city in the world, 4090 meters above sea level, and for the mines that are still active.
Here I understood for the first time why walking slowly is important when you are at these heights, every single step is a laborious movement and breathing is constantly heavy and labored.
Here, as never before in other places, the walking became increasingly slower and more laborious.
I’m in one of the tallest cities on earthwhere the sky is always blue, there are no clouds and those that appear sporadically have shaded shapes that blend harmoniously with the intense blue of the sky.
Read the post – Trip to the Salar de Uyuni and the Bolivian Lagoons
What you will find in this post
Unlike the large and cosmopolitan SucrePotosì is a small, sleepy and quiet city, with an important history that can still be felt today by walking through the alleys embellished with colonial buildings and visiting the still active mines.
Potosì is a splendid colonial cityand on the slopes of Rico Hillthe mountain from which so much silver was extracted that, it was said, a bridge could be built from here to Madrid.
I was struck by the high number of elegant and imposing churches, in which the houses with colored walls are embellished wooden balconies and the large buildings boast opulent facades embellished with architectural details typical of the colonial style.
The city that it is no longer the richest and most profitable in the world but its narrow and one-way streets tell of its virtues and ancient splendors.
Most of the women dress in local clothes, le cholitas they walk up and down the streets with the slowness typical of high-altitude places.
Youth has opened up to Western fashion but you only need to go just outside the city to find countries where traditions are still alive and are reflected in the way they dress.
Per don’t miss the best of Potosì book the free walking tour . In two hours you will be guided between the main places of the city.
Where to sleep in Potosì
Unlike a few years ago, accommodation in Potosì has increased.
Bolivia is increasingly becoming a unique travel destination Juice Americaa, and not just a short extension to the Salar de Uyuni and only a destination for backpackers.
Today there are hotels in the city but the style remains simple and traditional.
Among the many options I recommend the following options:
- Hotel Santa Monica, a beautiful hotel in a colonial house with large and very comfortable rooms and in a central area. Very beautiful and also in a colonial building
- l’Hostal Colonialin an excellent location and very comfortable rooms.
- L’Hostal Eucalyptus instead it probably boasts the most beautiful view of all, looking over the roofs of Potosì.
The history of Potosì – The highest and richest city in the Spanish empire
The old part of Potosì was born between 16th and 17th centuries. In these years the city became one of most populous and richest urban centers in the world. The population reached 200,000 inhabitants.
The main reason for this wealth and high population was the discovery of silver resources to Monte Potosì, the mountain on which the city lies, hence the name Rico Hill (Rich Mountain).
Potosì became like this the richest silver mine in the world to the detriment of the work of Indian slaves who died in the thousands in the mine tunnels.
Founded in 1546 as a mining town, it became the main prey of the Spanish colonizers.
The richest achievement in allAmerica Latina named imperial city by will of the King of Spain Charles V.
Silver resources have been gradually diminishing the rich and splendid Potosì has become the silent and attractive city which today we can visit whose story was told to me sitting in the cafeteria of the central market by an elderly gentleman who worked all his life in one of its mines.
But if only Potosì is worth a visit for a few days, mine or not, there are numerous things to do not only in the city but also just outside, where small villages can be reached with the numerous micro buses that leave mainly from Uyuni Square, about 25 minutes walking from the center or reachable with one of the numerous micros from the city square.
Trip out of town. A Sunday in Betanzos
As an alternative to the mine tour I decided to take a micro (minibus) going in search of the villages where the first language is Quechuawhere I could find myself far from tourist centers and where, possibly, apart from me as a foreigner on the bus and on the streets, there was no one else except locals.
I was advised to go to Betenzos which on Sundays comes alive with the colorful and vast market.
I arrived on Sunday and on the occasion of the celebration of San Juan, National holiday. An ideal day to take part in that colorful bedlam that is the market.
Football tables along the streets entertain children of all ages, entire families they are sitting on the steps of the town church under the sun which at that time of day is hot and makes you forget the cold of the previous night.
The entire center of the town is a markettraffic on this holiday is blocked except along the main road, the secondary roads are occupied by women sitting on the ground with sometimes slightly bored eyes looking into space waiting to sell their products: fruit, carob, coca leaves, batteries, wheels of cheese, ice cream, jellies in glasses covered with cream and lots of bread.
I buy an package of coca leavessome socks, I eat at a comedor two saltenas (the Bolivian empanadas but larger and tastier, there is the onion in the middle, like the Argentine ones), I have a chat with the locals and get back on the micro to return to Potosì happy with the special day I had experienced.
I’m the only tourist. The only one with a camera in hand, which I sometimes hide to steal some photos, and with the video camera at navel height to record scenes of a life so out of the ordinary (for me).
I chat with the street vendorssomeone takes some photographs of me, they look at me, they look at me, they smile and I smile back, the less shy ones ask me some questions, hiding their faces behind their hands and showing great embarrassment.
Bolivians are shy, they are not rude, and even just asking a foreigner where they come from is a source of shame, their eyes speak and say what their mouth does not pronounce.
How to get to Betanzos from Potosi
I recommend going to Betanzos Sunday for the market. I don’t know what it’s like on weekdays but I imagine the show isn’t the same as what I had the pleasure of encountering.
The Potosi-Betanzos trip takes about 1 hour by micro.
The micros leave as soon as they are full. In theory they leave every 30 minutes but if the minibus doesn’t fill up we don’t leave.
The cost of a one-way ticket is 5 bolivianos, or 60 euro cents.
More information on the post Means of transport in Bolivia
Tour to the Potosì mines
To date, the mines are still active and tours are organized to visit them. Whether you want to take part in this experience or not, I remember that it is not a tour suitable for those suffering from claustrophobia (like me), and which is potentially dangerous.
In fact, we still work today in the same conditions of instability and lack of security as in the past.
From what I was told by those who took part in the tour they will meet miners at work who descend into hell every day, temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees, and work in dangerous conditions hundreds of meters underground.
Il tour costs less than €20 and you can book at this link.
Tarapaya – Thermal baths at the Ojo del Inca
A short distance from Potosi, in about 30 minutes by micro minutes you can reach it Tarapaya famous for the thermal baths used since the times of the Incas.
Called Eye of the Inca (eye of the Inca) for its benefits, an ideal place if you are looking for a bit of peace and tranquility surrounded by calm and relaxing scenery, imposing mountains and silence.
The thermal baths are used by the locals themselves, you pay the entrance, 7 bolivianos.
In about 20 minutes of walking up the mountain you reach the top where the crater of the lake is located, swimming in this natural pool can be dangerous, but the view is spectacular.
You get to Tarapaya with a micro from Plaza Uyunu, to return you have to wait along the side of the road, the micros run every 15/20 minutes.