Pulacayo Mining Site near Uyuni, Bolivia

I am very interested in exploring abandoned industrial sites. One of these sites is the Huanchaca-Pulacayo Mine, located about 25km from the city of Uyuni in Bolivia.

After being a “ghost town,” for many years, Pulacayo seems to be reborn due to the planned development of the Huanchaca-Pulacayo Mining Museum. The town of Pulacayo had during the silver mining boom at the end of the 19th, beginning 20th century, a population of up to 60’000 inhabitants, nowadays, about 400 people live there.

Pulacayo Mining

History of the Huanchaca-Pulacayo Mine

Mariano Ramírez, a Spanish settler in Bolivia, got the right to exploit Huanchaca-Pulacayo Silver Mine. To get the necessary money for the exploitation, he founded with three other partners, the “Huanchaca Mineralogical Society” in 1833.

In 1856, Aniceto Arce, a relative of Ramírez, bought his shares and partnered with Bolivian shareholders. The lack of knowledge of how to run a modern mine, and the resulting economic and technical problems, they decided to associate with Chilean and English capitalists specialized in Mining. It was in 1873 that the “Huanchaca Company of Bolivia” was founded. The newly established Company modernized the whole mining site and its administration.

Part of the renovation process was to build a railway that linked Pulacayo with Uyuni, to join the Uyuni – Antofagasta Railway. The railroad Pulacayo – Uyuni opened in 1888, a year earlier than the Uyuni – Antofagasta Railroad.

At the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century, the “Huanchaca Company of Bolivia” was the second-largest silver mine in the world, after Cerro Rico in Potosí. It also had deposits of lead and zinc.

Casa Arce

“Casa Arce,” the Mining Owners House

“Casa Arce” was the exclusive residence of the mining administrators.
Aniceto Arce and Mauricio Hochschild had a presence there, as well as Chilean, Argentine, German, and French managers and administrators, until 1952. “Casa Arce” has direct, private access to the silver mine on the ground floor. The house has ballrooms, meeting rooms, play spaces, library, bedrooms, bar, kitchen, cupboards, safe and fireplaces made of imported marble: all with finely wallpaper walls, wooden furniture with a luxurious finish, and beveled mirrors.

Between 1879 and 1959, Pulacayo had more than 60,000 inhabitants, thanks to the mine. Many important revolutionary events took place in Pulacayo, such as the signature of the Pulacayo Thesis, the first political-ideological manifesto of Bolivian trade unionism.

At the entrance to the town of Pulacayo, you find old trains and locomotives. Among these old trains is the original railcar that was assaulted by Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid, the legendary, most wanted thieves in the United States. These thieves were killed on November 7, 1908, by a Bolivian Army patrol in a shooting in the mouth of the San Vicente mine, about 15km south of the small Bolivian town of Atocha.

Between 1959 and 1986, most people abandoned Pulacayo. Currently, it has about 400 inhabitants, and people start to return in the hope that the spectacular mining site attracts many visitors.

If you plan to visit, Pulacayo is accessible from the Uyuni – Potosi Road. Bring food, a hat, and sunscreen. We visit Pulacayo on our tour “Rail Adventures in the Andes” and the “Journey from Buenos Aires to Lima.”

Locomotora Pulacayo

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