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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 (5,100m), 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)

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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 temporary 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.

La Rinconada 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

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.

Satellite & Map: click here

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25 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.

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