Potosi is a famous city in Bolivia, once known as the ‘Paris of South America’. Potosi is an historical mining town, famous for the silver-laden Cerro Rico Mountain, and almost equally as famous for the poor working conditions of miners in the town. Mining Cerro Rico is still the primary means of work for many locals in Potosi today. However, mining here is not a booming as it once was, with most of the mine being depleted in the 1800s. Unfortunately this colonial town has suffered a great deal from the decline of the mine. The town is still beautiful with it’s Spanish influenced architecture, however it has not been as greatly maintained as the beautiful city of Sucre nearby. The controversial mine tour is a big pull for tourists here.
How long do you need to see Potosi?
Two full days will allow you see and do almost everything in this town, however this will be exhausting. A third day would allow you to comfortably see the city and surroundings. However, first things first: don´t try to fit all of your Potosi sightseeing and tours in on one weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Saturday is a great day with most things open and tours going ahead, however, pretty much everything is closed on Sundays! If you can, you should go to Potosi during the week, or try to arrive on Thursday night or early Friday morning to ensure you get to see and do everything. Arriving Friday night will not allow you enough time to take in the sights and get a good feel of this colonial city.
Avoid Sunday and Monday
The attraction closed on a Sunday include the church tours, the La Merced Church museum and rooftop cafe, and the mining tours. The famous money museum is open until 12pm, HOWEVER, the last tour of the museum/entry to the museum starts at 10:30am, so don´t arrive at 11am hoping to get entrance. Many of these places and tours are also closed on Mondays. If you are wanting to see and do these things, try to avoid Sundays and Mondays.
Where to stay:
Hostel Casa Blanca
At about 55 Bolivianos for a bed in a 14 bed dormitory (Sept. 2016), it is a fairly expensive hostel for Bolivia, however, it was also one of the best hostels I stayed in, in Bolivia. It is a great Hostel, with a good breakfast (at an extra cost of 15 Bolivianos), the beds and blankets are all matching and are the most comfortable beds I believe I have ever slept in! They sell alcohol at the hostel, but you can also bring alcohol in. There is a kitchen, small but adequate. The artwork painted around the hostel is really well done, and the layout creates a really laid back vibe. There is also wifi which was good enough to stream a live rugby game :D. Follow this link to Booking.com to book your stay at Casa Blanca.
The hostel offers a good mine tour that is taken by an ex-miner. Although the guide is a bit controversial (smokes every moment he can get during the mine tour about 60m underground, while talking about the lack of oxygen down there) I really enjoyed this tour! The tour was 90 Bolivianos, much cheaper than many of the other tours advertised around the town.
What to do in Potosi
If you avoid Sunday and Monday, there are many exciting things to do here!
Potosi Mine Tour
The controversial tour you shouldn’t tell your parents about… I’m glad I did this tour, but I wouldn’t do it again. The mine wasn’t actually that cramped, and for the majority of the tour you are walking upright. You are never on your hands and knees, only ever hunched over slightly where the passage isn’t as tall. The worse part about this tour is the struggle to breathe! As you are at such high altitude (about 4000m ASL), teamed with being 60m underground in the pitch black with only a small headlight, stumbling through tight passages – it is a little unnerving! My best advice is to remind yourself that there is in fact oxygen down there, and all you have to do is breathe :).
La Casa Nacional de Moneda/ Money Museum
This museum is famous, and I have been told that it is one of the best museums on all of South America! Unfortunately I can’t confirm, as I arrived at the museum at 11am on a Sunday and wasn’t allowed in!
Convento de San Francisco
You need a guided tour for this, and don’t even think about going on a Sunday! I heard the rooftop is quite a treat to go up and have a look.
Hang out in the main plaza and watch life go by. You may see some parades by school kids which happened a lot when I was there. Also the main square is a great place to wonder around and see some of the historical architecture.
How to get there from Sucre
Go to the main bus terminal. You may need to taxi there as the terminal is a fair distance from the main plaza. From the main bus terminal, you can either taxi to Potosi, or take the bus.
You are able to get a taxi from the terminal for about 40 Bolivianos PER PERSON. It tends to work on a per person basis rather than per taxi in Bolivia. You will see the taxis at the terminal with signs saying ‘Potosi’ on the window.
This is the more economical option at 20 Bolivianos per person, and actually a really good service, with included Spanish music blasting for the entire journey. Just arrive at the terminal and there will be many companies yelling out Potosi. My company was one of the little offices attached to the outside of the terminal building. I can’t remember the name, but there are quite a few. You will also need to pay 2.5BOB for the exit fee. Pay this at the desk inside the terminal before you get on the bus.
- When arriving in Potosi, do not wait to get dropped off at the new bus terminal. It is too far out of town and you will have to take a taxi back. The bus will stop in town and a lot of locals will get out. You should get out here too! It’s pretty close to the main square, and a taxi ride will be cheaper from here. Just keep an eye on your Maps.me map for when you are nearing the town.
Tips for a successful trip to Potosi
- If you are based in Sucre for Spanish School, leave your backpack there and just take a day bag to Potosi. It’s always refreshing being without your big bag on a weekend away.
- Remember to always keep your passport on you when taking bus trips. Our bus was stopped, and held up for a long time due to me leaving my passport in Sucre! The military police in Bolivia often stop the buses and ask for ID.
- If you are hungry and going out for lunch, make sure you eat at lunch time and NOT in the early afternoon. You will struggle to find anywhere open to eat around 2:30pm. Siesta is a very real thing in Bolivia! I ate at Koala Cafe everyday (40 Boliviano Menu of the Day) just off the main plaza, pretty much because the food is cheap enough and decent, and seemed to be one of the only places opened when I wanted to eat!
- Potosi is bloody high! About 4000m above sea level. This can affect the fittest of us! Coca tea (bought from any corner store or supermarket) and chewing coca leaves (bought from corner stores) can help with this! I always had coca tea in the morning, even if it was just a mind over matter kind of thing.
- Keep hydrated when you are up this high! You’ll be surprised at how much being slightly dehydrated at altitude will affect you.
Have you been to Potosi? It’s definitely worth the trip! Let me know what you did there, and if you think I missed out on anything while I was there.