Potosi - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Potosi


UNESCO declared this a World Heritage Site because of its rich history and Spanish architecture. Potosi is known as the Imperial City and is situated at the foot of Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) famed for its mineral wealth. The Spanish created one of the most important and populous cities on the continent, after the discovery of the silver-rich mountain in 1545. Situated at an altitude of more than 13,123ft (4,000m), it is also the highest city in the world although not quite the thriving metropolis that it once was, though there is still a Spanish saying: valer un Potosi(to be worth a Potosi), meaning to be worth a fortune.

The architecture is its main attraction with a distinct Spanish influence evident in the houses and beautiful churches. There are an astounding 80 colonial churches in the city filled with art and artefacts from their history, notably the Convent of San Francisco and the Convent of Santa Teresa.

A visit to the city would be amiss without a trip to the mines of Cerro Rico where miners, working in appalling conditions, chip away at the rock walls in the hope of riches to come.

Information & Facts


Being the highest city in the world, Potosi is a very chilly place for most of the time. Temperatures are consistently low all year round, and bouts of icy rain are common. Snow falls during winter.

Getting Around

Taxis are generally cheap and plentiful around Potosi. It is recommended to check the fare or negotiate a price before you leave as some charge per person, which could cause arguments when it comes to paying.

Spanish is the official language, but only 60 to 70% of the people actually speak it, and then often only as a second language. The other main languages are Quechua and Aymar.

The official currency is the Boliviano (BOB), which is divided into 100 centavos, and is tied to the US Dollar. Money can be exchanged at exchange bureaux called casio de cambiosin the main centres, at banks and hotels. Banking facilities are good in the main cities and ATMs cater for Visa, Cirrus and MasterCard. Many hotels and other tourist-oriented institutions accept US Dollars. Major credit cards, including MasterCard, Diners, Visa and American Express, are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops. Travellers cheques can be exchanged in casio de cambiosin the major cities and are best taken in US Dollars to avoid additional charges.

GMT -4.

Entering the mines is like a step in to the past. It is a demanding, shocking yet memorable experience. Visitors can experience conditions much the same as when the Spanish used Andean peasants as slave labourers to work the wealth from the silver deposits in the hills. Guided tours lead groups along the narrow tunnels and up rickety ladders, stopping along the way to chat to the miners at work. Working conditions are primitive, shafts are poorly ventilated and safety provisions barely exist. The miners work by hand, chipping away at the rock and hewing out rough shafts in which to place their dynamite. An occasional blast shakes the tunnels and deafens the ears. Thousands of miners work their way through the mountain with no overall control or plan, chewing their way through bags of coca leaves to fend off hunger and exhaustion, in the hope of hitting a rare vein of silver.

A popular attraction for more adventurous travellers in Bolivia and located about 18 miles (30 km) north of La Paz, the mountain of Huayna Potosi in the Cordillera Real range is rated as an easy climb, but harsh weather conditions can often make it tricky. Each year only around 1,000 climbers make it to the summit; many of those who attempt the climb turn back due to cold temperatures and the high altitude.

The entry point for the treks and base camp are located at 4700m (15,419 ft) on the Zongo Pass. The climb can be done in two daily stages and Rock Camp at 5130m (16,830 ft) offers breathtaking views across the valley and beyond. Several difficult snow and ice routes go up this 1,000 metre (3,280 ft) high face and the easiest route is up the glacier. Those who make it to the summit will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the Cordillera Real range, Lake Titicaca and La Paz.

The Casa de la Moneda was the Royal Mint House used by the colonial Spanish to turn the silver from the mines into coins to be shipped back to Spain. This is one of Bolivia's best museums, explaining the history of silver production and its influence. Inside are restored presses and wooden minting machines, coins and coin stamps. It also has rooms containing religious art, many by indigenous Andeans, the country's first locomotive and Tiahuanaco artefacts.

Covering an area of 4,680 square miles (12,121 sq km), the Salar is the world's largest salt desert set at an elevation of 11,970ft (3,650m) and filled with an estimated 10 billion tons of salt. With picks and shovels the local people harvest the salt from the lake that once covered most of southwestern Bolivia. This region is one of the most spectacular natural attractions in Bolivia, a photographer's delight. It is a surreal landscape combining salt pans, wind-eroded rock formations, and wandering llamas in a completely unspoilt region. In the middle is Isla de Pescadores, a landmass appearing as a mountain out of the white nothingness, covered in towering stands of cactus. Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde are other isolated marvels. One a fiery-red and the other a deep blue-green, these lakes are inhabited by flamingos and surrounded by extinct volcanoes. Nearby Sol de Mañana reeks with the smell of sulphurous gases from the geysers, fumaroles and bubbling mud pools. The village of Uyuni, to the south east of the Salar, is the best base from which to explore the area and tours can be arranged from here. 'Salt Hotels' around the periphery of Salar are a unique form of accommodation where everything (walls, furniture, etc.) is made from salt blocks cut from the flats. Another popular attraction at the Salar de Uyuni is the train cemetary, containing trains abandoned by mining companies.

This little mining town in the Potosi department may not be an attraction in itself, but it serves as a popular base for tours to nearby San Vicente, the major draw card of this region. San Vicente has a bit of 'Wild West' history to it: two of the world's most famous outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, fled the United States in 1901 to escape pursuit from the Pinkerton Detective Agency (which later became the FBI). Lured by the Bolivia's silver wealth, they headed for South America. The outlaws are rumoured to have been gunned down by the Bolivian army in San Vicente over a century ago, just days after robbing the payroll of a Bolivian mine.

Organised tours from Tupiza lead tourists along the 'death trail' of Butch and Sundance, giving visitors the unique opportunity to follow the outlaws' last days all the way to their supposed final resting place, where the billboard reads, 'Welcome to San Vicente: Here lie the remains of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. Although many attempts to exhume the unmarked graves have been made over the years, no remains with DNA matching the outlaws' living relatives have yet been discovered.

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