Potosi - the highest city in the world

Written by Nadine Zangerle on . Posted in Bolivia

Due to a holiday everything was closed and it was not easy to find a place to eat. So we wandered around the city with its old, colonial buildings and if the Plaza wouldn’t have been closed for construction, it would have looked nice.

For the next morning we booked the mining tour. Potosi became famous for its wealthy mine full with silver and other minerals. The Spaniards exploited the mine with slaves and plastered even the streets with silver. After nearly 500 years of mining in an altitude of 4700m is not an easy task.

Even today the bad conditions in the highest silver mine causes around 30 deaths from collapsing tunnels and dangerous gases. We wanted to experience the miners’ daily life and with the tour the agencies try to increase awareness of the deadly conditions and also want to create better working conditions.

First we went to the miners market to buy dynamite, coca leaves and beverages for the miners. Afterwards we went into one of the safest tunnels. It was a tough tour and definitely nothing for someone who is claustrophobic. The gases were burning on our lungs and we had to crouch down most of the time

Dusty and dirty we crawled up 16m and our lungs where burning. We are talking about the highest mine and in this confined area with all the dust and heat we were just exhausted

It is not surprising that the miners die early on dust lungs. Average life expectancy is 45 years only and already 14 years old boys follow into the footsteps of theirs fathers. 65 % of the population of Potosi are working in the mines and around 15 000 miners work daily in the high tunnels. 

The mountain has 500 exits and entries, right now 200 tunnels are in use, means the mountain looks like a Suisse Cheese and is expected to be abundant in 10 years’ time. It is one of the most dangerous mines in the world. 

Compared to the mines we have seen in Australia this was a nightmare. Conditions for the miners are bad and the future for those families are miserable. We were happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel and had been in the mines only for 3 hours.

If you want to know a bit more about the miners of Potosi watch the movie “The devils’ miners”.

Since there was not more to see in Potosi we prepared for our next stop – Sucre, the white city. And for the hundredth of times we felt privileged for our opportunities in life!

Accommodation: Koala Den Hostel

Price: BLV $ 50 p. p, 4 bed dorm, ensuite bathroom, kitchen, incl. breakfast

Comment: very good breakfast with fruit and eggs, clean rooms. The hostel organizes tours to
                    the mines