Potosi was once the wealthiest city in South America, thanks to the silver that once lay beneath its hills. In the 16th Century, Potosi was regarded as the world’s largest industrial complex in which the extraction of silver relied on a series of innovative hydraulic mills. Now things are a little less grand, but the town – a UNESCO World Heritage site – still boasts the spoils of its amazing past and here you’ll find beautiful buildings, pretty churches and ornate colonial mansions.
The 17th Century Convento de Santa Teresa is a beautiful old building which is still home to Carmelite nuns. It’s an evocative place. One of the most memorable areas of the sprawling complex is the ‘Goodbye Chamber’, where girls as young as fifteen would hug their families for the very last time. After this, they’d only be able to hold conversations through a barrier – the nuns weren’t allowed to see or touch anyone from the outside ever again.
While you’re on your luxury tour in South America, be sure to also check out the Casa Nacional de Moneda – the country’s former Royal Mint which is now home to a fantastic museum. It’s packed with gorgeous art and artefacts from its days of making money. To get the most out of the place, take the 2 to 3 hour guided tour in English.
For those with a taste for adventure
Potosi is famous amongst travellers for the Cerro Rico mines, and although tour operators do take visitors inside, some guidebooks advise against a visit due to the lack of safety procedures and noxious fumes. While the mines have now been emptied of their silver, workers still dig out materials which are purified into valuable zinc, tin and copper.
Equipped with overalls and a hard hat, those who aren’t affected by claustrophobia or easily upset by seeing people working in unimaginable conditions will certainly find an exploration of the mines an unforgettable experience. It’s traditional to take the miners a gift of coca leaves or dynamite and many guides are happy for those with pyromaniac tendencies to explode their own stick somewhere outside the mine – under supervision, of course!
Where to stay
It’s the array of converted and restored colonial buildings here that give the accommodation options real flair. We love the five-star Coloso Potosi Hotel. The rooms are modern with minibars, heating and Wi-Fi and there’s also a lovely heated pool, sauna and restaurant. The best rooms boast fantastic city views.
There and away
For many travellers, Potosi makes an interesting pit-stop between other fascinating places on a tour of Bolivia. From here, head to the laid-back city of Sucre for café-hopping, wandering the cobbled streets and searching for the famous dinosaur footprints in the countryside nearby. Alternatively, move onwards from Potosi to the Uyuni Salt Flats – easily Bolivia’s biggest draw: a hallucinogenic confection of blinding white salt beneath your feet, cobalt blue skies and spectacular surrounds.
Alison Crabb is a Director at Exsus.