Potosi and Sucre are Bolivia's most beautiful cities and the richest in its colonial history and for at least the first 70 years of its Republic (since 1825). Bolivia was more important for the Spanish crown than Chile and Argentina- Chile was a backwater and Argentina supplied the mules to transport the minerals.
By visiting these cities you are able to see how important Bolivia was in colonial times, when many of the world's richest men lived in Bolivia, mainly in Sucre for its proximity to the mines Potosi, but warmer climate.
Sucre's university was one of the most important universities in colonial times, one of the oldest in the new world. It was founded in 1624 by order of the Spanish King and support of the Pope to provide education to the wealthy and aristocrats of the Americas. It was the centre and starting point of a revolution to be freed from the Spanish crown in 1809. Bolivia was the last to be liberated in 1825 by Simon Bolivar and Mariscal Sucre. The university law faculty remained famous all across South America until the first few decades of the 20th century.
After the silver boom of the early 19th Century the city of Sucre had a facelift but Potosi didn't, that is why Potosi has more colonial buildings than Sucre. However the buildings in Sucre have been preserved nicely. Those in Potosi are less well-kept but retain authenticity, and the city's past wealth can be appreciated in its churches and the royal mint (Casa de La Moneda).
Sucre is now a small and sleepy city, it is Bolivia's constitutional capital but since 1899 La Paz is the government capital. It is the starting point of many of our tours as it is located at 2,790m altitude to allow for gentle acclimatisation before heading to the highlands. Apart from its colonial heritage, Sucre offers great pre-colonial tradition. This is showcased at the Sunday market in Tarabuco (90 minute drive). Here local communities meet to trade textiles or agricultural produce. Locals come dressed in traditional clothes. While popular with travellers the market has kept its tradition. The region is also rich in pre-historic sites. Thousands of dinosaur foot prints can be seen at the Cal Orcko paleontological site in the outskirts of Sucre (discovered by the cement factory but on display to the public).
Nice walks can be organised outside Sucre. One takes you to a site of The Cordillera de los Frailes. Cave-paintings have been left by early inhabitants. The area is now the home of the Quechua-speaking Jalq'a people - famous for their intricate hand-woven textiles . There are basic tourist lodges which are great centres for hiking in the surrounding hills.
Potosi, the highest city in the world, has a tragic but fascinating history that offers visitors a rich cultural and photographic experience.
Potosi remains a blue collar working/mining city; tours to visit the working mines can be organised, the experience down the mines or "socavones" can be claustrophobic and is not for the light-hearted as it showcases the mine's poor working conditions but a reality of Bolivia as mining remains one of its main income generators. Visits to Pulacayo mine can be organised on route to Uyuni.
Current issues in Potosi
The Bolivian city of Potosi has been a World Heritage Site since 1987 but has had special danger status since 2014 due to the threats it faces from ongoing mining operations.
Silver mined from the Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) once bankrolled the entire Spanish Empire and claimed the lives of millions of indigenous and African slaves but the hill's vast network of tunnelling has left the whole site at risk of collapse.
The mines of Cerro Rico continue to be mined under extremely difficult conditions with few rights or protections for the miners, who can die at an early age due to lung disorders.
Showing visitors around the mines became one of the few alternative employment options available.