America,  Bolivia,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Potosí (Bolivia): the city classified by Unesco

JB will tell you about the inhumane working conditions of the miners in Potosí. But I will talk about Potosí with its beautiful churches and casas dating back to the time of the conquistadors. The city isn’t only one of the highest in the world (4070m above sea level), it is also one of the most deserved because all the streets are sloping

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Day 1 :

Route Uyuni – Potosí

The Uyuni – Potosí road is very picturesque. You can see the salar of Uyuni from afar and observe its “giant mirror” side. It is incredible!

We then cross many small villages, with breathtaking landscapes. Thus, the 3h30 of journey pass very quickly

We are dropped off at the Antigua terminal outside the city. Anyone who wants to go to Sucre must get off here as well and manage to get to the other bus terminal (Nueva Terminal), from where buses to Sucre leave. Being aware of this “trap”, we deliberately spend two days in Potosí, to visit the city and the mine, before leaving for Sucre later

The funny thing is that there are an incredible number of people who want to go to Sucre and get dropped off at the wrong terminal. So they are lazy to go to the other terminal and prefer to take collective cabs (hardly more expensive than the bus). Every tourist who looks a bit lost is surrounded by 4-5 people asking if he or she is going to Sucre, since the first collective cab filled will be the first to leave

Our hotel is 11mn drive away. We have no choice: you have to take a cab. We stop a cab with a logo which seems official (one of the risks for the tourists in Bolivia is to be embarked by a “false cab” which will take you in an isolated place to strip you with accomplices). 15$B announces us then that Lonely Planet announces us a rate of 4$B/person. Moreover, the driver does not seem to know our hotel. We try without success to negotiate the race at 10$B. Too bad, we will stop a second cab, 10$B. Super! This driver has the compass in the eye, he brings us to our hotel by following lanes hardly broad enough to make pass a car, parks in crenellated on the sloping streets in 10 seconds shows in hand. It is impressive! While getting out of the car, we thank him warmly without forgetting to compliment him on his driving out of standard

The receptionist of the hotel tells us that it is also possible to take buses for 1.5$B. We will do it the next time when we go to the bus terminal. In spite of very bad opinion on TripAdvisor (all the accommodations are badly noted in Potosí anyway), we find the room very acceptable even if everything seems old-fashioned. We are even outclassed! With a (very hot) private shower. Very happy with the room, we reserve one more night and a tour to visit the mines the following day for JB (not for me)

We stroll through the streets of Potosí to reach San Francisco, which has been converted into a museum. This church is well known for its crypts where you can see real human bones (20$B/person). We will visit it later

We continue to Plaza 10 of Noviembre, in front of the cathedral. There are lots of people sitting on the benches, a small group of young people singing rap music, vendors selling freshly squeezed orange juice (between 5$B and 10$B) and donuts (1$B). It’s super nice!

We get lost in the lanes and fall on the tourist office which proposes us to pay 10$B to go up to the mirador to the building opposite. Since this one, we have a breathtaking view on all the city (it is the case to say it, to go up to the mirador ended up killing us – we breathe the mouth wide open – it is rather pathetic)

It doesn’t get any better with cars dating back to antiquity (especially local buses) whose exhaust pipe lets out a black, toxic and stinking smoke. We block our nose every 30 seconds when we cross a bus. Already that there isn’t much oxygen, the streets are sloping, to be obliged to breathe this black smoke cuts off any desire to explore the city. It’s a pity because it’s too beautiful!

Day 2: Itinerary to be redone

Yesterday, we went from 3500m of altitude in Uyuni to 4070m of altitude in Potosí, it’s nothing 500m isn’t it? That’s why I didn’t take any medication. The mountain sickness will not strike right away, it arrives gradually, to finish me completely the next day. Luckily, it’s not as bad as in San Pedro de Atacama, I just have a very bad headache, and will spend the day sleeping

It is when you are sick that you are most hungry for the food of your country. I wish I had some sausage, or a papaya salad right now

JB and I spend a lot of time discussing the feasibility of a Cuzco-Havana round trip. If the direction Cuzco – Havana does not pose any problem, the return could be problematic given my problems with the altitude. To go to Cuzco, one passes from 0 altitude in Havana, to Bogota (2500m of altitude) with 12h of stopover to then finish at 3500m in Cuzco. One spends long moments to find cheap flights from other destinations in South America, in vain

It is then that we decide to visit Havana at the end of our world tour, but from Paris (the round trip from Paris is at the same price as from Cuzco, isn’t it crazy?). In the meantime, we will go to Cuzco and Machu Picchu as soon as possible to avoid the rainy season in February, to return quietly in Bolivia and finally… cross Paraguay until the falls of Iguazu: a country more to visit and the bonus to discover the second best carnival of South America apparently. It’s great to add countries like this on a whim. Plus, it’s cheaper than the first itinerary I set up for South America

So, instead of going to Sucre, we will go as soon as possible to La Paz to go up on Machu PIcchu in express mode. The advantage of La Paz is its altitude (3500m) and its lot of French, Vietnamese or Korean restaurants where I will be able to recover some strength

Day 3 :

I am cured! The time to have our luggage kept at the hotel reception and here we are in a local bus to go to the bus terminal. We prefer to buy the tickets in advance just in case… Very good decision because we quickly understand that travelling by bus isn’t at all a good option. We took 40mn to go to the Nuevo Terminal. This evening, we will go to the Terminal by cab

Local buses look like this. 50 is the number of the bus. There are also U, F, G… buses and the main stops are marked on the sign. However, we don’t really know in which direction the bus is going so it is better to ask the driver. This type of bus also exists for long distances. It isn’t uncommon to come across buses serving Uyuni and Oruro

There are about ten bus companies at the terminal. They go to Sucre, Cochabamba, La Paz, Tupiza… but Trans Copacabana S.A was recommended to us by the hotel receptionist for La Paz. Night bus trips are particularly dangerous in Bolivia (because of drunk drivers), it is better to choose a good company. 100$B/person later, we have our tickets, 2 seats in cama (the best category, completely reclining chair)

We will arrive in La Paz at 7:30 am to 7:30 am. The receptionist of our hotel warns us that it is better to stay inside the terminal until 8:00 am and then take a cab from the company “Terminal”. Taking a cab in the street or walking around the terminal in La Paz is very dangerous

Following these not very reassuring recommendations, we decide to withdraw money here, so as not to have to do it in La Paz

We stop at the Mercado Central to eat, 10$B/person, we took Calde de Res (a soup with a huge piece of meat and 2 potatoes) and Albondiga (meatballs with pasta). It’s good and cheap!

Next to it, there are stands of the “salad bar” type. One buys one’s salad by weight. It is too tempting, but we are going to take the bus this evening, it is better not to take risks

JB in front of the Mercado Central

On the other side of the central market, a beautiful church

Part 2: Practical Tips


  • Hostal San Pedro Velmont: 124$B/night with twin beds (+50% more expensive if it is a double bed), breakfast included
  • Laundry at the hotel: 10$B/kg
  • Food

    • between 10$B and 25$B/dish in local restaurants
    • 5$B per 2L bottle of water in supermarkets
    • 5$B – 10$B the squeezed orange juice

  • Visits (rate per person)

    • 100$B the visit of the mines (the price varies greatly from one agency to another), we went through our hotel so less expensive
    • 25$B of gifts for minors
    • 20$B the visit of San Francisco (there is a watchtower here too)
    • 10$B access to the watchtower from the tourist office

  • Bus: Uyuni -> Potosí: 30$B with 11 from Julio. Buses leave from Uyuni to Potosí every day at 10am and 1:30pm with Emperador; and at 11:30am and 6pm with 11 de Julio. These are the two best bus companies leaving from Uyuni
  • Transportation

    • Cab: 5$B/person from the Aguia terminal to the city center

      • 8$B/person from the Nuevo terminal to the city center

    • Local bus: $1.5B/ride, to be paid at the bus exit. You can hail the bus anywhere and get off anywhere

Practical advice

  • Transportation

    • Buses to Uyuni depart from the Antigua terminal
    • Buses to Sucre and La Paz leave from the Nueva Terminal.
    • All buses leaving for La Paz are night buses, the bus departure times (non-exhaustive list) are available on the website
    • It is possible to take shared cabs to go to Sucre (3 hours drive), the town of Potosí is quite safe. We will avoid doing that in La Paz for example.

  • Mountain sickness

    • Don’t walk too fast here, don’t run up the streets, take the bus if needed (1,5$B), to be paid at the bus exit
    • Take the medication before coming to Potosí

  • Brush your teeth with mineral water, the tap water here is too loaded with metals
  • Prepare yourself psychologically for exhaust fumes, the city is highly polluted
  • Always choose a hotel with hot water (if possible with heating), as the city is at a high altitude, the air is freezing in the evening.

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