POTOSI is a city and the capital of the department of Potosi in Bolivia.  It is one of the highest cities in the world by elevation at a nominal 13,420ft.  For centuries, it was the location of the Spanish Colonial Mint.

There is no authoritative etymology for the word “Potosi”.  According to legend, in about 1462, HUAYNA CAPAC, the 11th SAPA INCA of what by then was known as the Inca Empire “set out for CCOLQUE PORCO, the location of his mines, from which were taken innumerable ARROBAS of silver.”  (An ARROBA is a Spanish unit of weight equivalent to approximately 11kg)  Before leaving there, he saw Potosi and admiring its beauty and grandeur, he said (speaking to his court) : “This doubtless must have much silver in its heart”, whereby he subsequently ordered his vassals to go to CCOLQUE PORCO ………. and work the mines and remove from them all the rich metal.  They did so, and having brought their tools of flint and reinforced wood, they climbed the hill, and after having probed for its veins, they were about to open those veins, when they heard a frightening thunderous noise which shook the whole hill, and they heard a voice which said : “Do not take the silver from this hill, because it is destined for other masters”.


Amazed at hearing this reasoning, the Incan vassals desisted in their purpose and retired to PORCO and told the King what had happened, relating the occurrence in their own language, and coming to the word “noise”, they said “POTOCSI”, which means there was a great thunderous noise and from that later was derived (corrupting a letter) the name of POTOSI.  Another explanation, given by several QUECHUA speakers, is that POTOQ is an onomatopoeic word that reproduces the sound of the hammer against the ore, and oral tradition has it that the town derived its name from this word.


Potosi lies at the foot of the CERRO de POTOSI, sometimes referred to as CERRO RICO (rich mountain), which was famous for providing vast quantities of silver for Spain during the period of the New World Spanish Empire.  The mountain, which is popularly conceived of as being “made of silver ore”, caused the city of Potosi to become one of the largest cities in the New World.  After 1800 , the silver mines were depleted, making “tin” the main product.  This eventually led to a slow economic decline.  Nevertheless, the mountain continues to be mined for silver to this day.  Due to poor worker conditions, such as lack of protective equipment against inhalation of dust, many of the miners contract SILICOSIS and have a life expectancy of around 40yrs.  The mountain is still a significant contributor to the city’s economy, employing some 15,000 miners.

Santa Teresa Church Potosi

As a result of centuries long mining, in 2011 a “sinkhole” appeared I the top and had to be filled with ultra-light cement.  The summit also continues to sink a few centimetres every year.  In 2014, UNESCO added CERRO RICO & POTOSI to its List of Endangered  Sites, owing to “uncontrolled mining operations” that risk “degrading the site”.  The CERRO RICO de POTOSI Mine is one of the largest silver mines in Bolivia and in the world.  The mine has estimated reserve of 1.76billion oz. of silver and 540 million tonnes of ore grading 0.17% tin.

Potosi features a rare climate for a city of its size, due to its extreme elevation.  Summers are cool and wet with daily highs rarely rising above 20 degrees, while winters feature cooler days with much cooler nights averaging –4 degreesC.
There are many interesting places to visit in Potosi.


(1) THE CATHEDRAL : Initiated in 1564, this “single-aisled” Cathedral collapsed in 1807.  The present Cathedral is the work of Fray Manuel de Sanahuja who started it in 1808.  It was inaugurated in 1836.  The Cathedral is built in the Baroque style.  It is considered as one of the most beautiful examples in a series of great Cathedrals of Latin America.  On the “inside”, the concept is POLYCHROME which today calls the attention to the gold mouldings on a white background and the bases of the columns, where one can still observe tiles originating from Jesuit Churches.  Among the Colonial art pieces that belong to the 1st church, one can find the 4 wooden medallions of high relief placed above the interior doors.  The reliefs of the Assumption can be found in the Trinity Altar, and the Coronation of the Virgin in the baptistery

(2) SANTA TERESA CHURCH :  Work was started in 1685 and the construction of the Church and the Convent took 7yrs.  Above the entrance are preserved “3 Coats of Arms” —— the central one corresponding to the Order of the Carmelites and the 2 on the sides to the co-founders whose portraits can be found in the same Convent.  The ATRIUM of the Church, which had been closed off by walls finished in festooned arches and half-point arches, was replaced in the middle of this century by round pillars of stone and iron railings.  It is of a “single aisle” covered with a wooden framework and divided by an ARC de TRIUMPH of cedar wood, re-covered by gold plating and polychrome.  The façade is made up of  a portal foreshadowing the so called MESTIZO STYLE and a belfry which is the 1st example of this type of bell tower that abound in the Imperial City.  There is a museum installed in the cloisters of the Convent .  Altar pieces, wood carvings, rich materials, furnishings books, relics, silverware and diverse objects from the 17th and 18th centuries were added.

Cayara Farm Potosi

(3) The SAN FRANCISCO CHURCH was founded in 1547 by Friar Gasper de Valverde.  In 1707, the old Church was destroyed and a new one built in its place.  It was inaugurated in 1726 and is the oldest cloister in Bolivia.  The church has 3 aisles covered with cannon vaults and 9 orange-coloured domes, featuring a beautiful Baroque entrance and another on the side which shelters a Cross.

(4) The LAGOONS :  Viceroy Toledo constructed a system of “damming” in 1572, which later created a network of reservoirs and waterways in order to lessen the difficulty of having to take minerals long distance for grinding.  The 1st Lagoon was CHALVIRI.  The lagoons of ILDE FONSO & SAN SEBASTIAN are near mountain, and there are dirt roads which lead to them.
(5) LA PUERTA is a locality near Potosi.  On the way to this place one passes the famous DEVIL’S CAVE.


(6) LA PALCA is a modern volatilization plant.  Presently it is defunct.

(7) TARAPAYA LAGOON is where one can find a “circular volcanic boiler” of hot spring water that is known as INCAS BATH.  It is a perfect circle of about 100m in diameter that instead of spewing lava, emanates hot water.

Red lagoon Potosi

(8) CAYARA FARM is the best Colonial Hacienda that is preserved in Potosi.

Other places of importance are CANTUMARCA, CHAQUI ( there is a hotel spa here) whose ferruginous waters are recommended for good health, BETANZOS (an agricultural village) where thereSunday fairs are held, where you can find woven, ceramic and metal objects and beautiful original costumes  MANQUIRI is a famous sanctuary situated between red sandy mountains.  It is visited by pilgrims.  SALT DESERT of UYUNI has a altitude of 3,665m above sea level.  It is the largest “salt desert of the world.”  THE RED LAGOON is at an altitude of 4,278m above sea level.  It is notable for the reddish colour of its water and for the presence of geysers, given that it is a volcanic region.  GREEN LAGOON is a salt-water lagoon, 4,350m above sea level.  The region has sulphuric mines.

Laguna Verde, Bolivia


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