Museo y Convento de Santa Teresa

Top choice in Potosí

The fascinating Santa Teresa Convent was founded in 1685 and is still home to a small community of Carmelite nuns who have restored the sizable building and converted part of it into a museum. The excellent guided tour (1¾ hours; in Spanish and English) explains how girls from wealthy families entered the convent at the age of 15, getting their last glimpse of parents and loved ones at the door.

There are numerous fine pieces, including a superb Madonna by Castilian sculptor Alonso Cano, several canvases by Melchor Pérez de Holguín, Bolivia’s most famous painter, and a room of painted wooden Christs. Some of the artworks verge on the macabre, as does the skull sitting in a bowl of dust in the middle of the dining room and a display of wire whisks that some of the nuns used for self-flagellation.

The building itself is as impressive as the works of art on show (a good portion of which were paid for by the sizable dowries given for the privilege of entering the convent), with two pretty courtyards housing numerous cacti and a venerable apple tree. It provides a glimpse into a cloistered world that only really changed character in the 1960s, with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Note that some of the rooms are particularly chilly.