The 7 must-do things in Potosí

Visiter Potosí

Visiting Potosí: what are the best things to see and do in the Silver City? Discover our selection of must-sees.

The town of Potosí in Bolivia lies in the southwest of the country, 150 km from Sucre. It lies on the road to the Salar d’Uyuni, and is therefore often a stopover on a trip to Bolivia. The capital of the state of the same name, Potosí is known as the highest city in the world at 4090 m altitude, and so often gives the impression of being short of air.

In the early 16th century, the Conquistadors discovered important sources of silver in the hill overlooking the town. The hill has since been named « Cerro Rico » or « Rich Mountain ». For years, mining enriched the Spanish Empire and made Potosí one of the wealthiest cities in South America. Today, the mining of this hill, depleted of silver and zinc, still employs many of the town’s inhabitants, particularly in tin mining. This now unprofitable activity is a risk for the rest of the town. The threat of the Cerro Rico’s collapse contributed to Potosí’s inclusion on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger in 2014.

A visit to Potosí means venturing into a city bathed in a special atmosphere that’s sure to leave no one indifferent. Looking for something to do in Potosí during your stay? Here’s a selection of points of interest to help you make the most of your trip.

Also read about the Potosí guide:

1. The old town

What to do in Potosí Start by wandering through the pedestrian streets lined with warmly-colored colonial houses. You can start by visiting the central square, the heart of the town, and wander around its buildings and churches, and let yourself be carried into the old town, discovering its local shops and unique heritage.

2. La Casa de la Moneda

Casa de la Moneda, Potosí

Photo credit: Flickr – Dan Lundberg

For centuries, the prosperity of the Spaniards in Potosí was ensured by working the silver recovered from the mines, transforming it into coins. This demanding craft was carried out by slaves forced to work. The Casa de la Moneda retraces the city’s past around this industry. There are many rooms, the museum is interactive and the guided tours are very interesting.

What’s more, the colonial building housing the Casa de la Moneda, dating from 1753, is the largest ever built by the Spanish. This gives the Casa de la Moneda the reputation of being the most beautiful museum in the country. If you’re looking for something to do in Potosí, this is an activity not to be missed.

3. Santa Teresa Convent

A visit to the convent of Sainte-Thérèse reveals a superb building rich in history, which has welcomed hundreds of young women over the years to lead a religious life, with very strict rules. During the guided tour, you’ll wander through the various parts of the building while learning the details of the convent’s workings. Santa Teresa is a beautiful place to visit in Potosí.

4. Potosí Cathedral

The city’s cathedral, dating from 1808, was built in stone and brick in a neo-classical style. It features a large dome and three naves inside, as well as a superb German organ. If you’re looking for something to do in Potosí, you won’t want to miss this and its many churches. There are over eighty of them in the city.

5. Cerro Rico

Cerro Rico, Potosí

Photo credit: Flickr – TomaB

The main attraction of a visit to Potosí is the precious mountain that has fuelled centuries of history: Cerro Rico. This hill was home to one of the world’s largest silver mines. From the top of its 4,786 m, you can enjoy panoramic views not only of the city, but also of the surrounding area, including the Kari Kari mountain range, Tahuaco Nunu and the Nuevo Mundo volcano. To visit Potosí without taking a closer look at Cerro Rico would be sacrilege.

6. Tarapaya Lagoon

Just 26 km from Potosí, you can discover theOjo del Inca, a natural site with curative thermal waters. This circular lagoon attracts visitors for the benefits of its waters, whose temperature is between 25 and 30°C. The superb surrounding scenery does nothing to spoil the experience. If you’re spending a few days in Potosí and wondering what to do after seeing the city, be sure to explore this sweet region.

7. Must-see or must-avoid? Potosí silver mines

To visit Potosí, do you have to visit the silver mines?

Despite the years, the hard work of the miners is still very much alive in Potosí. Now that the silver ore has run out, tin is being mined at a much lower cost. Every day, miners, adults and children, bustle down a dark corridor to collect this precious material. They do this by pushing carts weighing several hundred kilos, in a dusty environment where deaths are unfortunately commonplace.

It’s a back-breaking and dangerous job, which tourists passing through Potosí are invited to discover on their excursions. The point is, of course, to sympathize with the hardness of their work and to help them through donations.

Voyeurism? Misery tourism? Maintenance of a corrupt system? All these questions arise when you consider a visit to the Potosí mines.

When we visit, we’ll be invited to have fun in the galleries, playing with the dynamite or pushing the carts for a few minutes, while next door, the workers experience this without a break, forced to live often on the spot, while being underpaid and not reaching retirement age. So everyone will make the decision based on how they feel. Does it help to fuel this mining and human exploitation, or does it bring real benefit to the miners?

How to get to Potosí

Potosí may not be the ideal stopover on a trip to Bolivia, but its strategic location makes it a popular destination for tourists. Indeed, if you’re heading for the Salar d’Uyuni or Sucre, you’re bound to pass through Potosí. There are many means of transport between these two towns, including buses from Uyuni or Sucre (allow 3 to 4 hours for the journey).

Although there are flights to Potosí from France, we recommend you take the plane to Sucre, for example, and then travel to Potosí by train or bus (for this first stage, optimize flights at the best price by taking a look at the website of our partner Ulysse). On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from the « El Tejar » station On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from the « El Tejar » station, several trains run between Sucre and Potosí: the opposite direction is covered on the remaining days of the week, except Sundays. In addition to discovering superb landscapes throughout your journey, you can be sure of choosing an economical means of transport to reach Potosí.

Where to stay in Potosí?

Whether you’re in Potosí for a one-night stopover or want to get the most out of the city, you’ll find hostels to suit your visit to Potosí, depending on the area you choose. If you’re on a budget, you’ll find well-maintained, comfortable youth hostels. Koala Den in particular is very popular with backpackers, as are the other low-cost accommodations you’ll find on this hotel comparison site.

If you’d like to stay with a local or enjoy the comfort of an apartment during your stay, you can also turn to the Airbnb website, which offers a wide choice in Potosí.

Now you know what to do in Potosí, a rather discreet yet popular destination for travelers. Have you ever visited Potosí?

Map of hotels and accommodation – Potosí,bo