Potosí Cooperative Mines

Cerro Rico de Potosi Mine

Useful Information

Location: Southeast of the city of Potosí.
Fee: about US$15.00
Classification: MineSilver Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: A=4,200 m asl.
Guided tours:  
Bibliography: R. Dodoy (1990): Mining and Agriculture in Highland Bolivia, Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1545 silver in Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) discovered.
1987 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Potosí is the world's highest town. After the discovery in 1545 of silver in Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), Potosí grew into the largest and most opulent city in the Americas. The city's rich colonial architecture and tragic history as a colonial mining town has earned recognition from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Various Tourist Agencies as well as some of the younger miners offers tours of the silver mines. Your visit will come as a real eye openers as nothing has changed for the last 450 years. The miners work in appalling conditions, the ceilings are low and the passages steep and muddy. The temperature varies from below freezing to 45 °C. All work is done by hand as in Agricola's day, in an atmosphere polluted by toxic chemicals. No wonder most men die after working for only 10 years in the mines. Visitors should wear their oldest clothes, and scrounge a helmet.

Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.

The Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) is considered the world's largest silver deposit. The Cerro Rico de Potosi Mine encompasses four veins, San Miguel, San Pedro, Mesapata and Alkco Barreno. It is believed to hold 5.5 million metric tons of ore with more than 938,130kg of silver. Additionally the ore contains 250,004 tons of zinc and 72,377 tons of tin. The reserves of San Pedro vein alone are projected to be over 11,937,569 tons of ore. This means 208,320 kilos of silver and 62,496 metric tons of zinc. This numbers were publishedlately in COMIBOL prospective reserve reports.

The mine is owned by COMIBOL, Bolivia's national mining company, and mined in a partnership with Franklin Mining, Bolivia S.A., a subsidiary company of Franklin Mining, Inc. The idea is to increase silver production by the introduction of modern mining technology. This might push Boloivia to be one of the biggest producers of silver in the world.

At the moment the working conditions pretty bad. The miners are organised into cooperatives and lease their respective sections of the mine from the government for a fee of 6% of their earnings. The mining companies simply purchase the refined minerals. 12,000 miners, the big majority of indigenous Quechan descent, have to organize their own tools and security devices. As a result safety precautions are limited to hand gloves and helmets. Asbestosis or silicosis afflicts every miner, miners who begin working as young men die before they are 50. Visitors should avoid to suck or lick their fingers because of the trace elements of asbestos and arsenic.

Legend has it, that during 450 years of mining enough metal was extracted from the deposit to build a bridge of silver from South America to Europe. True or not, this mine is of enormous importance and economic value.