Mine sights in The Southwest
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At this virtual ghost town, brilliantly colored rocks rise beside the road and a mineral-rich stream reveals streaks of blue, yellow, red and green. The silver mines north of the village finally closed in 1959, and today only a few hundred hardy souls remain. There are several kilometers of mine tunnels to explore.
Also worth seeing here is the mill that spins llama wool into cloth, and the mansion of the 22nd President of Bolivia, Aniceto Arce Ruíz. Nearby is a collection of decaying steam locomotives that were originally imported to transport ore. They include Bolivia's first steam engine, El Chiripa, and the train that was robbed by legendary bandits Butch Cassidy and…
There are numerous mines in the Oruro area, most of which are abandoned or operated by cooperativos (small groups of miners who purchase temporary rights). One of the most important is Mina San José, which has been in operation for over 450 years. Now run by six cooperatives, they have opened a part of the mine to tourists. The tour lasts about three hours and costs B$50. It’s available in Spanish only; English tours are available through Charlie Tours for B$250, with transport and guide. To get there take a yellow micro (marked ‘D’ or ‘San José’) or the light-blue mini (B$5) from the northwest corner of Plaza 10 de Febrero.
The around US$12 million Complejo Metalúrgico Vinto tin smelter was constructed in the early 1970s during the presidency of General Hugo Banzer Suárez. By the time it was put into operation, the Bolivian tin industry was already experiencing a steady decline, but it still processes up to 20,000 tons of ore annually.
Vinto is 8km east of Oruro. It's wise to phone in advance for permission to tour the operation. To get here, take micros marked 'Vinto ENAF' from the northwest corner of Plaza 10 de Febrero or Calle Bolívar.