Today your guided tour takes you into the depths of one of the Cerro Rico's oldest private mines. If conditions look harsh in the blood red hills that surround Potosi, they are as nothing compared to those endured by the miners who plummet the depths of this warren-ridden mountain. Inside temperatures can rise into the 50sC and plunge to below freezing point. Ceilings are low, conditions cramped and the tools used primitive. Miners get by on a staple diet of cigarettes - the least noxious of the mine's cocktail of fumes - coca leaves and dogged determination.
As you wind your way deeper into the mountain's heart you begin to get a real sense of Potosí and the life that the majority of its citizens have endured since the time of the conquistadors. This is a working mine so you see the miners at work and there are frequently wagons coming along the tracks. You are provided with helmet, headlamp, overalls and wellingtons.
Potosí itself, with its narrow streets and grandiose architecture is one of Bolivia's great treasure troves. Your walking tour takes you to some of the city's principal historical attractions. These include San Lorenzo church, with its baroque façade of flesh coloured stone mined from the nearby hills. Inside, works of art adorn the ornate altar along with two original paintings by Holguin. Also visit Santo Domingo church and the vast 16th century Cathedral.
The Casa de Real de la Moneda occupies an entire block near the cathedral. The museum has a fascinating history, being not just the Royal Mint, but also a prison, fortress, and HQ for the Bolivian army during the Chaco War. The museum displays crafted silverware, oil paintings and Bolivia's first locomotive train.