An old silver mining town, Potosi is rich in baroque architecture owed to its affluent past.
At the height of its silver production, Potosi was the richest town in South America; a wealth that fuelled the economy of the Spanish Empire but was doomed to reach its downfall once the supplies ran low. Today, mining in the Cerro Rico continues, but it is tin rather than silver that is produced; and while it may no longer be the wealthiest city, Potosi still cradles exquisite colonial architecture that begs to be admired.
Towering at a height of over 4,000m above sea level, Potosi is a tawny town that lies in the shadow of the unmistakeable Cerro de Potosi, and is brimming with beautiful baroque buildings. A visit to Potosi provides a fascinating insight into its past, with the looming mountain piercing the sky as an inescapable reminder of the fruitful - and fatal - silver mining industry that boomed here during the colonial era. When the riches of Potosi were discovered, Spanish colonists descended on the Cerro Rico (“Rich Hill”) to capitalise on its silver sources. Soon, it became the wealthiest city on the continent, and funded the Spanish Empire over the course of its heydey; though this was not to last.
Add a stop in Potosi to your Bolivia trip to take in important sites like the Casa de la Moneda, the original mint that demonstrates how silver was taken from the mine and made into coins. You can also admire colonial architecture peppered across town, which blends baroque and Andean styles, before dipping into the Church of San Francisco and the Convent of Santa Teresa which is awash with lavish jewellery and furniture, gifted by wealthy parents who sent their daughters here.
History lesson at the Casa de la Moneda
Step into the colonnaded courtyard of Casa de la Moneda for an insight into Potosi’s affluent past. This is where silver was forged into coins and medallions, before being shipped to Spain to fund its booming empire, and today the mint is a museum showcasing original machinery and even artworks from several generations of artists.
Regional cuisine at the Central Market
No visit to Potosi is complete without having a taste of local specialties served by street vendors at the bustling central market. Try a bowl of k’alaphurka, a soup whipped up with corn, bacon and vegetables, cooked over heated stones; a favourite breakfast dish here in Potosi.
Head into the mine
Experience what life is like for the miners of Cerro Rico and venture deep into the mountain of riches. Enter the dark, dreary bowels of the mountain and don’t forget to bring offerings to El Tio, the god of the underworld who holds in his hands the fate of those here in the mine; the usual gifts to “the Uncle” are cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves!