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Exactly how high is the highest city in the world? How about over 3 miles? La Rinconada Peru is a rare case: an old gold-mining camp in a remote location that has grown to ‘major city’ status, and stayed there.

Over 50,000 people live in this mountainous city located in the Peruvian Andes. At an altitude of 16,732 feet (5,100 m), it lays claim to the title of “highest city in the world.”

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Economy

La Rinconada’s economy is fueled almost entirely by the nearby gold mine. Tens of thousands of workers have emigrated to the remote location hoping to secure work and stake their claim in the riches.

Employment at the nearby Corporación Ananea gold mine is through a unique system called Cachorreo. Employees work for 30 days without payment, and on the 31st day they are allowed to take as much ore from the mine as they can carry. Whatever the miners are able to extract from that ore is theirs.

Despite the companies utilizing such a non-traditional system of payment, miners continue to flock to the region. The population of La Rinconada has skyrocketed over 230% in the last decade.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

La Rinconada Peru
A street in “La Rinco”

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Permanently Temporary

Despite housing over 50,000 people, the town’s infrastructure is well below even normal Peruvian standards. Originally founded as a remote gold mining operation, the town’s planners did not plan for a population this large.

It was also temporary, with no designs for permanent infrastructure or city services. As such, “La Rinco” (as it’s known) has no plumbing, sanitation, or heating services, and the ground is heavily contaminated with mercury from the mining operations. The city was built, and continues to expand, haphazardly on a permanently-frozen glacier.

La Rinconada is accessible only by truck, the several-day journey made via treacherous winding mountain roads.

The town sits higher than any point in England, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the contiguous United States. The tip of the highest peak in the Alps range – Mont Blanc – is 1,000 feet lower than La Rinconada, Peru. The only place in Europe higher than La Rinconada is approaching Eurasia: Shkhara in Georgia (only 100m higher), and Mount Ararat in Turkey (37m higher).

Female miners working high above La Rinconada

La Rinconada Peru
Work in La Rinconada is difficult and hazardous.

There is no trash service. Disposal of waste is the responsibility of each individual resident; many just leave trash where they last used it.

Those that bother to dispose of their trash either bury it outside of town or burn it in the street.

La Rinconada Peru
Trash burning in La Rinconada, Peru

Satellite & Map: click here

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54 COMMENTS

  1. I just came home from La Rinconada. I worked and lived there for three weeks as a manual laborer. Needless to say it was amazing. I was the first American and Korean to work directly in the mines

    In the mines

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yti9xGzO2t4&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Pulling a car up a mountain

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv5wGWvUIuE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    The landscape after hiking a mountain

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ykb1ITc8wLk&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Testimony from a local

  2. It is very sad. Whenever there is an increase in the PBI of a country we need to take into account of “how this income is being distributed into the population”!. Whenever mining companies produce a peak in the economy growth of a region most of the income goes back to the country of origin of the mining and high salaries paid to the locals are paid to rich class Peruvians who were able to have an education and become engineers for example, Locals who live in the area of the mining exploitation just experience the contamination of the environment they live in. (Read back the article and extrapolate between the lines the quality difference in their lives.since the mining company arrived!)

  3. I stayed at la Rinconada for 1 week and it was a real eye opener.. One of the few gringos to visit this place (well kiwi to be exact).. Its a sad place to live and visit.. Really depressing.. Very hard to sleep due to the altitude. Chewing coco leaves helps but keeps you awake. So much pollution and sad people.. Prostitution and crime are common. People not only die evey week in avalanches and cave ins but there are murders for gold.. Horrible dingy bars and much alcohol. Accommodation if you could call it that consists of freezing cold plywood rooms built next to each other where you can hear everything including the prostitutes working.. The mountain is beautiful but suffering under this constant mining.. The whole area surrounding the mountain is just tailings and desolate abandoned mines rubbish and polluted water ways for miles.. Whole hillsides of rubbish around the city and on every street. Greed creates such a terrible situation.

  4. Thank you for this article and for the pics by Jay. I am planning to go to Peru in mid Feb and am also seriously considering going to La Rinconada. I will have a Peruvian American friend join me in Lima to be my ‘guide’. Any ideas as to where should we stay in La Rinconada? Thanks.

    • Hiya Meengla
      I have some good advice and info for the area. Its totally off the tourist trail. Basically the only way to get there is from the Bus terminal in Cusco. You go to Cusco (which youll be doing anyway) and then get one of the many buses that go to Puno. One hour before reaching Puno is Juliaca, this is where you want to get off. Julica is a strange concrete city that doesnt have much to offer but its a necessary stop to go to Rinconada…
      Youll arrive late in the day and will need to stay a night in Juliaca. If you get a taxi from the Bus terminal to Plaza Bolognesi then from there you can check out the Hotel Royal Inn or Don Carlos Hotel. Both of these are up market (expensive for Peru) accommodation. There are also secure banks and ATMs in this block. If you want somewhere cheap to stay go up Sta Elisa (a small pedestrian only street off of 140 San Roman) down here is a modest and very cheap hostel I forget the name of..
      If noones home call the number on the door and arrange viewing. Cheap shared (but always empty) rooms with 2 or 3 beds in them. Cost about 15 soles per night per person. Hotels may be more like 100 to 150 soles or more. Hostels are hard to find in Juliaca so this is useful to know. It has real hot water showers in some of the rooms which are hot in the mornings (when they light the furnace).. this is very rare in this area. The hotels will usually have hot showers also. No guarantees in Julicaca however. There are some nice food places in this area like Cafe Dorado and some pizza places.
      So after staying a night in Juliaca you then need to find the correct bus terminal to take you to Putina. Youll need to ask the locals as the terminals change fairly often. Then when you reach the terminal by taxi find a mini van (collectivo) that is driving to Putina.. usually 2 or 3 will be waiting and filling up at all hours of the day and will leave as soon as they are full.
      Its 2 hours to Putina on good roads except for one stretch of about 2 kms where you drive over extremely bumpy cobble stones.
      This is the real Peru. Your now totally off the tourist trail and wont bump into any foreigners once you leave Juliaca. In fact Juliaca hardly sees any foreigners either as most people go directly from Cusco to Puno on the tourist route.
      Putina is an undiscovered Gem. Full name is San Antonio de Putina (there are a few Putinas in Peru). Its a small quiet little town which is very clean and tidy by peruvian standards. Its constructed around a river in between two hills and has amazing natural hot pools that cost only a dollar to stay in all day. The pool complex has over 40 private bath rooms where you can fill up the tiled huge baths with fresh steaming unfiltered very hot thermal spring water and soak to your hearts content. Putina is worth a visit even if your not going to Rinconada, but it would be silly not to go to Rinconada if youve come this far.
      There are a bunch of cheap hostels (15 to 25 soles per night) which are generally quite good. Not all with hot showers but usually if you ask there might be an electric shower in one of the rooms for a small fee. Everyone uses the hot pools to clean so showers arent really needed in Putina.
      Putina is a great place to rest up for a day or two before and after going to Rinconada.
      Nothings on the internet here so you cant book ahead accomodation before arriving in Putina or Rinconada. There are a couple of internet shops where you can check emails on computers but no wifi in any hostels.
      At this gps location -14.915827, -69.867617 there is a nice cheap hotel (if its open) or if you cross the bridge from that spot and turn left there are a number of hostels on that street and also the main area where the collectivos leave and arrive from Rinconada. Theres good street food, hot drinks (canihua) and a market and one quite good restaurant right next to the police station. It has quite nice food. Most places just serve broilled chicken and rice in this area.

      On sundays they have a market next to the bridge.
      Putina is a taste of the real Peru. The locals are really friendly and peaceful in Putina.
      But they dont see foreigners and you will be stared at and laughed at and get some funny looks.
      Next stop is Rinconada. Collectivos leave from here throughout the day. You could go early in the morning, spend the day at Rinconada and then head back to Putina before night.
      The road up and down is very bumpy and hard work. Everyone is crammed in tight on tiny seats. No safety belts, its Peru!
      Rinconada is like the exact opposite of Putina. Only a couple of hours away but a world apart.
      Its cold and snowing most days. Ice, rock, rubbish and shit on the streets.
      Accomodation is very tricky and terrible. I wouldnt recommend staying there unless your guide can arrange some private accomodation, but even that might just be a tin shed. Hostels are designed for miners and are just a bed and a light. Nothing more. The toilet will be a hole in the floor in the hallway that everyone shares with maybe a curtain for some basic privacy.
      Rinconada is reasonably safe if you stick to the main streets, dont go to the brothels, clubs or certain bars after dark. Murders for gold are common. People die every week in the mines from cave ins and avalanches and life is cheap. Lots of drugs, prostitution and drinking.
      But there are friendly people and familys living there just trying to make some money.
      There are also miners that are all about the gold and very suspicious of gringos. They think your there to check out their gold and minerals and might be working for an american company. The whole district is very rich in minerals of all kinds.
      There are no showers at all in Rinconada. The water is so contaminated with mercury so you wouldnt want to shower in it. Drink only bottled water strictly. Be aware that food in restaurants are cooked in this contaminated mountain water.
      I think a day trip is good or maybe one or two nights if you really wana experience the hell of trying to sleep at 5300 meters with the noise of prostitiutes in the next room and freezing cold rooms with no heating.
      Assuming you spend 4 to 5 days adjusting to the altitude in Cusco youll be reasonably prepared for Rinconada. Rinconada is at 5200 to 5300 meters which is about the same as base camp at Mt Everest. Ok if your a seasoned mountain climber but pretty hard if your not. I hardly got any sleep in the 5 or so nights we stayed up there. It sucked. I couldnt wait to get back to Putina and soak in the hot pools. Putina is also really safe with a strong police presence. Cant say the same for Rinconada.
      Im not trying to put you off im just preparring you for it. Maybe its better to go unprepared and just see what happens. More of an adventure then? But as youll have a Peruvian guide this will make everything much easier for you. You can likely get a look in one of the mines.
      We sneaked into one of the old unused mines for a quick look while wandering about town. The rock and dirt is so jet black that once you turn a corner your light doesnt really illuminate anything as its just absorbed by the darkness. The miners use very powerful head torches to see.

      So I hope this info helps. Cheers!
      I also have a lot of info for the sacred valley near Cusco where I lived for 18 months in Pisac if your interested. This is the most amazing place to visit in Peru to see some of the famous pre-inca ruins built by a mysterious ancient race that noone still knows anything about. These ruins were found by the Incas and then they built their temples around them so they are very old..

      • Jay, thanks for taking the time to type this out here. I appreciate how much help this information will be to anyone that considers visiting.

        And good luck Meengla, sounds like it will be a real adventure! Please do come back and let us know how the trip went, and share photos too. The rest of us like to live vicariously through folks like you and Jay’s adventures. 🙂

  5. @awakekiwi: Thank you so much! I am going to re-read your post above and absorb the info–a lot of very useful info! And I will probably email you a suggested itinerary I sent to my Peruvian-American friend… Thanks again!

  6. @Sometimes Interesting: Sure thing! I will write about my experience and photos when available. My trip will/may be slightly different from the route that Jay seems to think above: I will be arriving in Lima, spending maybe a couple of days, then taking a bus route as in “Step 3” per http://traveltips.usatoday.com/travel-lima-peru-cuzco-peru-11310.html where I will go to Arequipa from Lima and then to… either Cuzco first or La Rinconada first. I will run this thread by my ‘guide’ when he is back in Peru (he is himself globe trotting right now till 11 Feb!).
    This is so exciting!
    PS. I contacted the Korean guy Aaron (as commented above and also in You Tube) about his advice for staying in La Rinconada but I haven’t heard back from him. Like him I too would like to spend a few nights in La Rinco! But don’t know how yet?

    • Good luck! I believe Jay said there were hostels in La Rinco, but these places won’t have internet websites obviously. We look forward to hearing how your journey goes and seeing your photos. Thanks again for the comment.

      • Heya All, yes going via Arequipa is a good option, its about the same distance that way. From Arequipa you go to Puno on the edge of Lake Titicaca, and then around the side of the lake to Putina in a few hours usually also via Juliaca (which is one hour from Puno).
        You will need to rest in Puno for a few days to adjust to the altitude, or in Cusco if you go the other way. Lots of good hostels in Puno and european food, its very touristy.
        You can go to Cusco after La Rinconada and visit the sacred valley (Pisac).. which also takes you to Machu Pichu etc.
        If you go via Arequipa then its best to not go to Cusco before La Rinconanda or youll end up backtracking quite a bit and covering the same ground.
        Lima, Arequipa, Puno Putina La Rinco, Putina, Juliaca, Cusco and then the sacred valley is a good round trip.
        Or you can go the common tourist route
        Lima Cusco, and sacred valley, then Cusco, Juliaca, Putina, la Rinco, Putina, Puno (if you wana check out lake titicaca for a bit), then backtrack to cusco or continue onwards to Bolivia via Copacabana.

      • Heya, I your only in the country for a couple of weeks its not long enough to adjust to the parasites and bugs in the water so I wouldn’t eat prepared meals in restaurants at la rinconada because all the water is heavily contaminated. Stick to things like pan (bread) and fruit and instant food like yogurt drinks and snack food 🙂
        Hope you goto la rinco, look forward to hearing the storys!

  7. [sorry if this is duplicate but my earlier post today is not showing up here. hmmm]
    @sometimes interesting and Jay. Thanks; its reassuring the money would be enough though I am planning to make several trips by mid June including a land-tour to Deadhorse/Arctic Ocean via Dalton Hwy, Alaska early June. So I am not quite planning to be a ‘rock star’ 🙂

    • Sorry about that Meengla, the site’s spam filters get a bit nervy when there is a link included in the comment. Don’t worry about your comments though, they’re just awaiting moderation. I always manually approve the comments that hang when I get the next opportunity. 🙂

      I checked out your map, looks like a fun trip! Looks like you’ll see Titicaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu and La Rinco, among others. Quite the trip! Sounds like you’re going to see a lot of what Peru has to offer.

      Congratulations and good luck on your journey! I look forward to seeing the pictures when you come back, please do share them. 🙂

  8. @Sometimes Interesting. That’s reassuring that Comments would eventually go through; I was kind of getting worried and even emailed Jay offline. Yes, the first draft plans looks good. However, I am learning that drive from Lima to Arequipa is probably not the best idea in the beginning. So I am now thinking of spending a couple of days in Lima then fly/bus to Cusco, then MP, then to Puno, then Juliaca then La Rinco. This way I get to spend the maximum time in LR after getting the more ‘touristy places out of the way; I could always fly back from Puno to Lima or take the bus via Arequipa. Let’s see what my poor friend in Peru says–he is probably thinking: “La Rinconada? WTH!”. LOL!
    Thanks for letting us post here.
    PS. Barely 30 minutes to leave for the airport. Packing done. Need to figure how how to hide/split the money….
    PPS. I could extend my stay beyond Feb. 29 return date–I am on a ‘sabbatical’ from the job and have all the time (and some extra $) in the world till around August. I know, I am lucky!

    • Sorry about that, thanks for continuing to comment! Sounds like the redirect might make your journey easier. You are very lucky, sounds like you have a good job my friend. I’m laughing picturing your friend’s response to the suggestion you visit Rinconada. Ha!

      Good luck, I look forward to hearing how it goes. Please keep us updated. 🙂

  9. not a good start here in Lima. Misunderstanding with my guide leading me to go solo to Cusco–don’t have the stomach for La Rinco alone because was thoroughly counting on the guide friend. It was a combination of lost in translation and his own extensive/extended travels until two days ago! I should just salvage a visit to Machu Picchu from this trip. Sorry

    • Meengla – oh no! That’s not good, I’m sorry to hear about the poor start to your trip. I think it is wise to not go to La Rinco alone, Machu Picchu is surely a better place to visit anyway. If Lima was jittery for your buddy, I would think La Rinco is going to be worse. Sorry if you can’t make it, but that doesn’t mean your trip won’t still be a lot of fun. There is much to see still, keep us updated either way. 🙂

      • Hiya, bummer about your guide. He sounds a bit lame anyway if he cant handle Lima. Lima isnt the real Peru, its just a big crappy city. Cusco is much nicer, while your there you could visit some of the free and very unusual pre-inca ruins right in the city. I lived for 18 months in Pisac which is 20 mins from Cusco in the direction of Machu Pichu.. My spanish was crap but its very safe there, nothing to worry about.. if you have the time id visit Pisac and just enjoy the vibe there, its pretty nice.. There are ruins above Pisac that are almost as good as Machu Pichu also, made by the same pre incan “gods”, and very unusual. Machu Pichu is worth seeing. If you stay in Pisac ask anyone about “Lares” which is the natural hot pools about 3 hours bus.. its pretty amazing but that will take up 2 days to visit there from Pisac via Calca. Its off the tourist trail up a windy mountain road, that place is a doable side adventure if you like very hot natural springs and a taste of real Peru (no internet or wifi at all in the hot springs valley, just stunning scenery)
        $50 per night in cusco, wow must be a palace, but i guess your only there a short time so moneys not an issue 🙂 usual cost of hostels in Pisac is about $10 per night 🙂

        • Thanks for the input Jay, hopefully your experience helps out Meengla here. Also sorry about the comments hanging in the moderation queue, rest assured I’ll get to and approve them if they don’t post right away. Thanks man!

      • Hiya, you could try the cusco explorers club (on facebook) but think its too short notice to get anyone to come with you.. anyways have an awesome time there.. and you can always extend your return flight if you find some place to hang for a while (like Pisac) many have done this after arriving there 🙂

  10. checked into a very nice near Starbucks lication in Cusco… at $50/night for three nights… if i find a realiable local or a team willing then La Rinco still on… Just dont have the nerves for solo… Lima was jittery even for my buddy…no incidence though…

  11. Guys, I am chickening out and heading back to America on 23. My Peruvian friend can’t make to Puno until ‘next week’ and that’s too late. A couple of bartenders here showed interest in going to La Rinco with me but due to their college schedule can’t. Tried a few other people but no one bit. I don’t have the stomach to try on my own and the hotel I am staying is not cheap by Peruvian standards in Cusco. I am having a blast. Tonight/early tomorrow morning is the departure to Machu Picchu. I will write more about it later. Actually, I did write some before but this website went offline and then this hotel’s internet can be iffy.
    Adios for now.

  12. Barely two hours remain before I check out of this hotel in Cusco. Finally got to see Machu Picchu yesterday in a pretty tiring (18 hours round trip) visit. The clouds took away some but still a very fascinating place.
    Believe me, right after I came home around 11 pm last night I seriously considered postponing my departure to America and slept on the decision but this morning decided to try another day–come better prepared. Probably within a year.
    I will leave with a lot of love for Peru and the people of Peru. They are mostly genuine–don’t have the smiles stuck on faces like lipstick on many of we Americans (I am one of them sometimes).

    More later as I get back to the States and organize my photos/blogs–will take some time. It’s been an intense 6 days here–well worth it. Not going to La Rinco has been a disappointment but I am still young, have energy and the desire to try it again.

    Bye

    • Hi Meengla, thanks for sharing the updates on your trip. Sounds like a real bummer you couldn’t make it to La Rinco but better to be safe than sorry. I’m glad your trip to Machu Picchu was successful, sounds like an arduous journey. What a day trip that must have been! I’m glad your trip overall wasn’t without its positives, sounds like you made some Peruvian friends down there. 🙂
      La Rinco will be there next time. And it sounds like you’ll be back soon anyway.

      Have a safe flight home Meengla. 🙂

      • Your from the states so its a short pretty cheap trip to Peru so you can go back easily and I’m sure you will make it to Rinco, maybe next time I’ll come along, but just as far as Putina, I can hang in the hot pools while you “enjoy” rinconada 😉
        From new zealand is a big and expensive trip to Peru so when I go I’ll stay for a year or so each time 🙂

  13. Jay, I will try to “enjoy” La Rinco. If you are serious about meeting up then let me know, please? On the other hand, my Peruvian American friend is planning to be in La Rinco very soon; I asked him to take plenty of pics and share with me.

    Oh, I am back in the States. The return trip was a long one with Delta’s late departure. So the passengers had to have a miserable night trying to sleep/sit on the floor of the Lima airport while selfish (mostly American) parents had their kids sleeping on the limited seats. Sigh.

    I had a very exhausting 6-day trip in Peru, starting from the arrival in Lima (and the fiasco with the friend). But I have now about recovered. The cooler weather of South Carolina is actually a welcome after Peru!

    I am going to organize the pics. Could take some time. Here are a few–the links may not work in the future as I move things around. https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=E4052BD82582B07!369606&authkey=!ANE2HcFk2NbLUiU&ithint=folder%2c

    They show: The two bartenders in Cusco who almost agreed to go to La Rinco with me. Another pic shows another bartender who said would go to La Rinco but thought that the altitude would be too much for him–he’s from Lima and Cusco’s altitude was enough bad for him. The 3rd pic shows some Guatemalan tourists on the train ride back from Aquas Calientes–I practiced my Spanish on them and the result was laughter all around our seats.

    What memories!

    • They look like great people Meengla, thanks for sharing the photos. I can imagine how the conversations went on that train ride. 😉 How is your Spanish?

      I saw the three photos in the link above, did you add more?

  14. Guys, I have uploaded all the pics to my cloud storage (Microsoft One Drive) and right now organizing them and putting captions below some. I took my Nokia Lumia 920 phone as well as an Olympus point and shoot camera. The phone has GPS and so will show the pics with exact GPS locations. The Olympus is a simple camera with no GPS. I used both of them alternately so that I would have some redundancy as well as to keep battery usage manageable. I will be back.
    I know, no La Rinco pics. My apologies for that. Hopefully, the pics would still convey some useful, if not inspiring information…
    I will be back.

  15. @Sometimes Interesting,
    Sorry for being late. There are many more pics. Kind of being a bit lazy in organizing plus there is another trip (to Washington DC) starting tomorrow. I should have the photos link ready very soon–next few days.

  16. Guys, I have not forgotten. Back from DC now–and indeed it was very busy in DC. Too busy for my timid country soul. But enjoyed nonetheless. I have the Peru trip photos being organized now–kind of trying to crash-learn Sway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcg6DGO9hpI to better tell a ‘story’. Got to do a lot of things though: Going to a 13 day transatlantic cruise to Rome and then about a week’s stay in Tuscany in early April… (yeah, to that was to tease you guys!). I will be back… Thanks for the patience.

    • Wow Meengla, busy schedule! Thanks for sharing Sway, that looks like a good presentation tool. I look forward to seeing what you put together, might try it myself too. I share your preference for the country over the city, but they’re still fun to visit. Sounds like you have a lot on your plate in the future, thanks for sharing your adventures with us. 🙂

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