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As one of South America’s most important colonial cities, Potosi is a must for those looking to add a little history to their Bolivian tour. Although the notorious Cerro Rico mines are the town’s biggest draw card, Potosi has a number of other attractions that make it well worth a visit. Our city guide tells you everything you need to know.
Bus: Most buses leave from the new terminal at the northern end of town. Connections include La Paz (10 hours, 60-140BOB/US$6.30-20), Sucre (3 hours, 21BOB/US$3), Tupiza (5 hours, 50 BOB/US$7), Tarija (10 hours, 70 BOB/US$10), Cochabamba (9 hours, 100-140 BOB/US$15-20), and Oruro (6 hours, 28 BOB/US$4).
Connections to Uyuni depart from the old terminal (4 hours, 56 BOB/US$8) as do faster shared taxi services to Sucre and other nearby destinations.
Flights: BoA have a few daily flights to Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
Budget: The best budget option in town is Hostel Casa Blanca Potosi, a backpacker haven for its funky artwork, friendly staff and sociable vibe. Dorm beds are great value from just 55 BOB (US$8).
Hostel Casa Blanca Potosi, Calle Tarija 35, Potosí +591 4 6642909
Mid range: Those looking for a good deal while avoiding the backpacker crowd should check out Hostal La Casona. With well furnished rooms and plenty of creature comforts, it’s a bargain at under US$20 per night.
High end: Potosi doesn’t have any really fancy hotels, but those looking for a moderate level of luxury could make do with the three-star Hotel Santa Teresa. Its clean, comfortable and spacious rooms are a cut above the rest.
Manzana Magica iswithout doubt the best, if not the only, vegetarian option in town. The menu includes some awesome quinoa and lentil burgers plus a wide range of salads for a very reasonable 15-25 BOB (US$2-3.50).
Café de la Plata is the perfect place to sit back, load up on caffeine and relax for an hour or two. The atmosphere is chilled while their coffee, cakes and sandwiches really hit the spot.
Right on the main plaza, El Tenedor de la Plata offers a wide selection of Bolivian and international dishes for reasonable prices. It’s run by the same family as Café de la Plata and the quality is consistent across the two.
Cerro Rico: As the biggest industrial complex of the Spanish colonial empire, the historical importance of Cerro Rico is difficult to overstate. Some 60,000 tonnes of silver were extracted from the mountain during Spanish rule which tragically resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million indigenous and African slaves.
Tours begin with a trip to a local market where visitors can buy gifts of dynamite, coca leaves and alcohol to give to the miners. Next, the tour stops at an ore refinery plant before heading deep into the mines to give tourists an insight into the abhorrent working conditions Potosi miners face every day. Around ten thousands workers head underground each morning, many of whom die of lung disease by the time they hit 40. It’s a truly humbling experience which many visitors say gives them a new appreciation of their relatively easy lives.
The tour inside the mine lasts several hours and is definitely not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. Of particular interest is a visit to El Tio, a devil like effigy who provides the miners with protection in exchange for offerings of cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves.
Casa Nacional de Moneda: This is Potosi’s grand colonial era mint where the silver from Cerro Rico was turned into coins before being shipped off to Spain. Now a museum, it features a collection of contemporary and religious art as well as some artifacts from its coin pressing days. Entry costs 40 BOB (US$5.70).
Colonial buildings: Several impressive and well preserved colonial churches and buildings can be found in Potosi’s city center, remnants from the days when the city was flush with wealth. Highlights include the Torre de la Compañía de Jesús, the Catedral de la Ciudad de Potosi, the Convento Museo Santa Teresa and the Iglesia de San Lorenzo de Carangas, among others.
Hot Springs: Some pleasant thermal baths lie just half an hour from the city center in a place called Tarapaya. To get there, jump on a minibus from the Chuquima Market near the old bus station. Tarapya has a basic resort with a restaurant, hotel and pools, although more pleasant is the naturally heated outdoor lagoon known as Ojo del Inca just a short walk away.