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Pulacayo Mining Site Near Uyuni, Bolivia

Written by Peter Lauffer
June 13, 2021

The Huanchaca-Pulacayo Mine is 20 km from the city of Uyuni on the main road to Potosi in the Bolivian Andes. The mining site is part of an abandoned city known as Pulacayo, which is fascinating because of its size, history, and the events that took place there.

After being a "ghost town" for many years, Pulacayo attempted to attract tourism with the development of the Huanchaca-Pulacayo Mining Museum. The city of Pulacayo had a population of up to 60,000 inhabitants at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. Today only about 400 people live there.

Pulacayo Mining Site bear Uyuni, Bolivia
Pulacayo Mining Site bear Uyuni, Bolivia

Mining in Pulacayo

Mariano Ramírez, a Spanish settler in Bolivia, received permission to exploit silver in the region around Pulacayo. He did not have enough money to start the mining business alone; therefore, together with three other partners he founded the "Huanchaca Mineralogical Society" in 1833.

In 1856, Aniceto Arce, a relative of Ramirez, bought Ramirez’s shares. It soon became evident that Arce and his Bolivian shareholders lacked the knowledge to run a modern mine. Technical and economic problems forced the owners to form a business association with Chilean and English capitalists specializing in mining. It was in 1873 that the "Huanchaca Company of Bolivia" was founded. Immediately, the newly established company modernized the mining site and its administration.

Oldest Steam Locomotive is found in Pulacayo, Bolivia
Oldest Steam Locomotive in Bolivia

Part of the renovation process was building a railway linking Pulacayo with Uyuni in order to connect directly to the Uyuni–Antofagasta Railway that was also being built at that time. The resulting Pulacayo–Uyuni railroad opened in 1888, a year earlier than the Uyuni–Antofagasta Railroad.

At the end of the 19th century, the "Huanchaca Company of Bolivia" was the second-largest silver mine in the world, after Cerro Rico in Potosí, Bolivia. At the mining site, deposits of lead and zinc were also discovered.

Casa Arce the Mine Administrator House in Pulacayo, Bolivia
Casa Arce, Pulacayo, Bolivia

The Pulacayo Mine and "Casa Arce," the Mine Owner’s House

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

Placa Casa Arce, Mining Site Pulacayo, Bolivia
Placa Casa Arce, Pulacayo, Bolviia

"Casa Arce" was the exclusive residence of the mining administrators. Bolivian, Chilean, Argentine, German, and French managers and administrators lived in the house until 1952, making it the house from which this vast mine and city was administrated. 

The "Casa Arce" is unique because the building has direct access to the silver mine. The house contains ballrooms, meeting rooms, play spaces, a library, bedrooms, a bar, a kitchen, cupboards, and fireplaces. The house's interior has a luxurious finish, with rooms decorated with imported marble and the walls covered with imported wallpaper from Europe. 

Centro Minero Pulacayo, Bolivia
Centro Minero Pulacayo, Bolivia

Pulacayo today

At the entrance to the town of Pulacayo, there are old trains and locomotives. Among these old trains is the original railcar attacked by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the legendary, most-wanted thieves in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Between 1959 and 1986, most people abandoned Pulacayo. Today, the small town has only about 400 permanent inhabitants. Nevertheless, people have started returning to this unique place, hoping that the spectacular mining site will attract many tourists.

Entrance to the Pulacayo Mining City
Entrance to the Pulacayo Mining City

If you are interested in industrial history and like abandoned sites, Pulacayo is a fascinating place to visit. The town is easily accessible by way of the Uyuni–Potosi Road, about a 30-minute drive from the town of Uyuni. It is possible to reach Pulacayo via the local bus from Uyuni to Potosi. If you are interested in learning details about the site, be sure to bring a tour guide from Uyuni. Also, bring food, a hat, and sunscreen, as Pulacayo is located at a high altitude in a desert-like mountain valley with minimal vegetation. Note that there is no accommodation available in Pulacayo.

We visit Pulacayo on our tours "Majestic Andean Rail Adventure."

Abandoned Steam Locomotive in Pulacayo, Bolivia
Abandoned Steam Locomotive in Pulacayo, Bolivia


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