“Breathe The Pressure”: Potosi in Bolivia, The World’s HIGHEST City

“Breathe The Pressure”: Potosi in Bolivia, The World’s HIGHEST City

I’m a fan of going to places “just to say you’ve been there.” I mean if you don’t like saying that, then why go anywhere? You might as well just get a cup of tea, sit in your armchair and watch James Bond movies. Either way, I believe the main reason I went to Potosi was simply so that I could say “yes I’ve been to the world’s highest city.” It’s a pretty breath taking place, pun fully intended.

I was loving Bolivia. You really feel like you’re travelling when you are in Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru for some reason. Remote, eclectic and forever appealing Bolivia is a country which is very undermined.



Arrival at Potosi was at dawn and I was dropped off at a fairly new bus station well outside the city centre. I’d just been on an exciting rickety bus ride from the height of La Paz down through Oruro (which included about an hour of a stop there). I had slept for a while and felt up for seeing the city and also ready to do a mine tour.

On the way into Potosi I noticed mines, excavators and realised this was an industrial city.

The height of Potosi never really hit me. I had already had soroche (altitude sickness) the previous week on arrival into Bolivia (at La Paz).

I’ll talk about the mining tour on another post as it was so vast and astounding that it really merits a separate story. Through the mining tour I met the lovely Zelinda Choque, a local lady working for a travel operator (Koala Tours) and I struck a deal with her that I’d buy her lunch if she took me round the city. That was a great deal for me – as lunch was cheap, and I now had a local guide to tour the city with.

Potosi was nowhere near as mayhemic as La Paz. Less people, less noise, less cars and more importantly the city centre was not as vast. This meant I could see almost everything I wanted to see very easily. (OK so I missed out on a visit to the world’s highest football club, but I’d already stood on the pitch at La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles, the highest national football stadium in the world, so I’d already had my fix of football for the week).

First up the small central square. Plaza 10 de Noviembre.

Flying the Northern Ireland flag by the world’s highest Cathedral. I actually felt a bit rough that day.

The Cathedral – the highest in the world – and therefore possibly the closest to heaven.

Breakfast in Potosi. I enjoyed Coca Leaf Tea (the proper way) and banana cake at Koala Cafe. I had met an older fella, Robert from England and we shared a taxi to the city together and also breakfast before we booked ourselves on different buses and mining tours onwards. I never got a photo with Robert but enjoyed some wisdom and a walk round the city with him. A nice chap.

Zelinda posed with my Northern Ireland flag. She could hardly resist the urge…

Zelinda had some notes on Potosi, so here’s a few pointers I noted – Potosi sits at a lofty 4,070 metres above sea level. That’s over 4 kilometres high. Insane. It’s population has grown to almost 150,000. It is the real “Silver City” having once been South America’s richest cities famous for mining silver. Above at the entrance to the Silver Museum. The city was founded in 1545 after which the streets soon became paved with silver. Now it’s poor, and dusty. The dust would continue with me on my trip as I later left Potosi for Uyuni.

Time for a local beer – the world’s highest brewed beer – Potosina. Not bad actually!

Lunch with Zelinda at the posh Santa Clara restaurant.

Santa Clara.

My first Pique a lo macho. Bolivian style meal. Utter class. Cost was less than 4 quid.

The corner entrance to the Silver Museum, where once all the minted coins from Bolivia were produced. Beggars now sit on the corners where silver was once paved. I gave one of them the rest of my lunch. I really put a smile on her face.

Typical central street corner.

A typical Potosi market.

A mural depicting some of the city’s history. Zelinda explained a bit of it to me.
Dusty streets of Potosi.
Zelinda by a Bolivia Mural.
A Youth Army Parade. Which I spied in on from a side street.

Another Church. Possibly the world’s highest…actually there must be a higher one in the Andes or Himalayas!

My football sightseeing of Potosi in its entirety – a random football statue in the road. This guy once played for Bolivia. I have admiration for the Bolivian team – World Cup Finalists only in 1994, they play in green and they beat Argentina 6-1 only 2 years ago. Anyone who can play a match of 90 minutes in this heat and altitude merits respect.

The cheap local shower in Potosi came in handy after the mining tour (again – thats covered in another post and they wanted to charge for a shower afterwards so I refused to pay it).

The mayhem at Potosi Bus Station. I left from here around 7 pm on a night bus to Uyuni – a winding road journey.

A cup of tea in a market in Potosi.

This tower gets you a cracking view of Potosi.

But this is the view I had instead while up in the hills on the mining tour. The cheapskate option.

I left Potosi here with this view of the city at rush hour on my way up. As the saying goes…the only way is down. Breathe in that air again…

Where – Potosi

Elevation – 4070 metres above sea level

Population – 149,200

Tourist Appeal – Nearby hiking, miners tours, markets, salt expeditions

Local industry – Mining

Nationalities Met – Bolivian (though the locals including Zelinda class themselves as “Potosians”), New Zealand, English, French, German

Transport Used – 2 Buses, Minibus, Taxi

Strange Currencies – Bolivian Bolivianas

Beer – Potosina Lager

Food – Pique A Lo Macho

Key Drink – Water. Don’t visit Potosi without it.

Key Songs (could really make an entire album including height and breathing related songs) –

RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS – HIGHER GROUND:

THE PRODIGY – BREATHE THE PRESSURE:

ME AT PLAZA 10 DE NOVIEMBRE – POTOSI:

ON MY BUS UP TO THE MINES:

BOLIVIAN YOUNG ARMY RECRUITS VIDEO I MADE:

MY NIGHT BUS LEAVING POTOSI FOR UYUNI:
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