Potosi, Bolivia Travel Guide
If you’ve packed on a few pounds from one too many alfajores or empanadas and too many cross-country 20-plus hours sitting on your rear-end bus journeys a trip to Potosi, Bolivia may be just what you – and your body – needs.
Oxygen-sapping altitude that triggers your red blood cells to multiply at lightspeed plus streets built either on a hill or on a hillside that ensures any short stroll is equal to a good 15 minutes on a stair stepper. Who needs a gym when they have the city of Potosi at their disposal?
Note: Potosi is one of the highest altitude cities in the world at 4,090 meters (13,420 feet) above sea level. It is important to take it easy upon arrival -giving yourself one full day and night at minimum to make sure you are free of adverse symptoms.
To understand the risks of altitude sickness read: Travel Health – Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment of Altitude Sickness
Potosi is the capital city of the department of Potosi and located in Southeast Bolivia. The city was founded around 1545 after the discovery of silver ore in Cerro de Potosi (Hill of Potosi) – also called Cerro Rico (Rich Hill). The silver was excavated and sent to Spain as well as minted into coins, with the resultant riches making Potosi the wealthiest city in Latin America at the time.
The original machines brought from Spain in 1750 to laminate the silver are housed in the Casa Nacional de Moneda – a museum that also contains collections of silver work, archeology, weapons and modern art.
Potosi was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.
Tourist Attractions in and around Potosi
- Tour a Silver Mine – there are over 1000 cooperative mines in the outer areas of the city and many give guided tours (led by ex-miners). See below for the story of Tio – the miner’s worshipped Devil. For more information on tours and to view photos of the mines plus videos, click here: Silver Mine Tours in Potosi.
- Visit Miraflores or Tarapaya Hot Springs – 40 minute bus ride from town. Miraflores is a public facility with pools, Tarapaya natural springs are a 20 minute walk off the main road (you need to ask the bus driver to stop at road to Tarapaya), or direct service with a tour agency. There are basic shops and places to eat at Miraflores. More information plus photos & a video is located here: Miraflores & Tarapaya Hot Springs
- Stroll through Casa Nacional de Moneda (National Mint of Bolivia) – also known as “The Mint” this museum one block from the main plaza – Plaza 10 de Noviembre – is the oldest in Bolivia and many claim the most important as well. For more information view the official website of Casa Nacional de Moneda.
- Say a few prayers in San Lorenzo or San Benito Church – two of the more visitied churches in Potosi, along with the Cathedral.
- Shop until you drop (not too difficult when walking around Potosi!) at Arte Nativo (Sucre #30) for hand-woven clothing made locally out of alpaca and sheeps wool or Mercado Artesanal (Omiste & Sucre streets) for handicrafts and items made out of tin.
- Enjoy breakfast (or an inexpensive lunch or dinner) at Mercado Central. There are actually two markets located side by side – one selling primarily clothing and other items (Mercado Central) and the other with items for sale in addition to numerous food stands (Mercado 17 de February) and an upper level cafeteria open from 7-11 a.m. for breakfast. Traditional Breakfast Foods in Bolivia
The Story of Tio – the Miner’s Devil
Recounted by Blake McHugh – 13 year old tourist – after a visit to the silver mines
“The miners give gifts to “El Tio” such as cigarettes, coca leaves, pure alcohol and beer because they believe that he is a devil. Since gods are said to be in the skys and devils underground they give him the gifts as a way of asking him for good luck in the mines and for no accidents.
They usually spill pure alcohol on the head, both arms, legs and the penis because they work in all directions – north, south, east, west, up and down.”
Money & ATMs
There are ATMs (cajeros in Spanish) near Plaza 10 de Noviembre (Main Plaza). You can get cash off of your debit or credit card at Banco Mercantil (Paseo Blvd) and Prodem (corner of Bolívar & Junín streets).
Name: Hostal Patrimonio Book Now
Address: Calle Matos #62
Website: www.hostalpatrimonio.com/ A 4-star hotel (not a hostal) in great central location a block from Plaza 10 de Noviembre and on the same street as Casa de la Moneda. Rooms open into an inner-courtyard and has an upper terrace for lounging with a sauna.
Name: Koala Den Hostal
Address: Junín 56 (near Mercado Artesanal)
Website: None. Hip, happening & very popular hostal w/ videos, guest kitchen, lounge, WiFi.
Name: Hostal Felcar
Address: Av. Serrado y Bustillos N. 345
Website: None. Plant-filled courtyard, Internet & WiFi plus steaming hot showers.
Name: El Mesón Restaurant
Address: Linares y Tarija (Plaza 10 de Noviembre)
Website: None. Located at a corner on the plaza with steak, pastas and gourmet soups & salads on offer.
Name: El Fogón (traditional cuisine)
Address: Frías y Oruro
Website: None. Fireplace-side dining for those chilly Potosi nights, large menu with steaks in many shapes and forms: large slab, philly cheese, barbecued or wrapped in bacon, take your pick.
Name: Mercado Central (Main Market)
Address: Bolivar y Bustillos
Website: None. Upper level open at 7 a.m. for breakfast, lower level serves hot plates of food all day, closes around 8 p.m.
Top photograph of ‘Street of Tours’ by Molly McHugh, all rights reserved.
Photograph of Tio the Miner’s Devil by Blake McHugh, all rights reserved.