When people go backpacking South America is often high on the list of places to visit. This is no surprise due to the quality and variety of destinations on offer and it seems like no matter how good your last experience was there is always another unexpected gem around the corner ready to trump it.
Potosi is one of these surprises. It is by no means an easy place to get to. Situated high in the Bolivian mountains it is claimed to be the highest city in the world and the transport there reflects that. Whether you are coming from La Paz in the north or up from Chile or Argentina in the south it is likely you will have to contend with a windy gravel road at some point with sheer drops to peer down at on one side of the track (but isn’t that what backpacker travel is all about?). If you can bring yourself to run this gauntlet (which will more often than not be on a ‘chicken bus’ when coming from the south) then you will have a pleasant surprise waiting at the other end.
Potosi is a quaint little colonial town, with beautiful buildings plenty of backpacker accomodation and a nice small town feel that will be particularly welcome if you’ve come from La Paz, one of the unfriendliest cities on the map. However, the reason most backpackers risk the hairy entry journey is to visit Potosi’s mines. The city lies beneath ‘Cerro Rico’ or ‘rich mountain’ which contains hoards of silver ore and is what the city originally developed around. Now the mines are still active but backpacker travel has been taken into account too and it is possible to go on a tour of the mines and even blow up your own piece of dynamite! It’s not for the faint hearted though, the tunnels are small and cramped and are unlikely to have had the safety inspectors around recently. But if you like a thrill and a once in a lifetime travel experience then they don’t get more unique than this.
If scraping around in tunnels barely bigger than your body with dynamite exploding nearby isn’t for you then Potosi is still a pleasant stop and worth it just to put a tick in the highest city in the world box. However, Bolivian infrastructure makes everything much more difficult than in the rest of South America so it could be understood if backpackers chose to bypass this explosive destination.