This is a World Heritage site, but there is little information on the guide books and few people visit. It is a short drive from Uyuni, on the way to Potosi.
Pulacayo and the Huanchaca mine was the largest silver mine in Bolivia in the 17thC and the second largest in the world. It belonged to Aniceto Arce, former president of Bolivia who had a large house here. It’s wealth generated an economic boom in Bolivia. It was the first place to use steam engines and modern mining equipment. The first railroad in Bolivia served the mine, taking the ore to the coast for export. It was one of these trailns that Butch Cassidy robbed. Although now closed the remains of the railway tracks can be seen on the drive to Pulacayo. It still employed 20,000 when it was closed in 1959.
Now Pulacayo is a semi ghost town with a small resident population. The town sprawls across the hillside surrounded by the remains of the old fields. There is a small square church at the end of the town surrounded by low rows of terraced workers’ houses. The childrens’ playground was deserted and sad. We went through a set of large wooden gates into the remains of the silver workings. There was a turntable and several old locos with assorted workshops; all falling down.
The population are now mainly farmers. Some work the mine using primitive methods and sorting through the spoil. The ore contained silver, lead and zinc. Scroungers (all women) put rocks into a bucket water and shake it up. The heavier ore rocks sink. The rocks are ground and bagged and then taken to the mineral market in Oruru. Samples from bags are analysed for mineral content and the miner paid.
The company who owns the mine is currently carrying out drilling programmes and have a lease until 2025. Maybe the mine may once again come to life…..Meanwhile it is a decaying relict of former glorious times.
There is further information here:
Our pictures are here: