The Highest City on Earth: La Rinconada, Peru

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

So, hmmm, I have a lot more to say and a lot more to write about La Rinconada – the world’s highest city, but what I have to work through, is how terrible, horrible and exploitative it is / was, is just not quite the hell we were expecting.

Notice the altitude (over 5000 meters). This is the Plaza de Armas, in the centre of Rinconada. It was 5 degrees celcius outside – warm! So people were sitting around, enjoying the weather, reading the paper and playing with their kids. The broken window in the police headquarters has not been fixed in two years!


As always, I need to tread lightly around such themes as (and in no particularly order): prostitution, dangerous working conditions, environmental degradation, high-attitude living, lack of governance, underfunded and disempowered police, limited sanitation and violent highway robberies … so far not a pretty picture. However – wages far beyond anything typical in Peru, vibrant Quechua culture, community efforts for garbage management, proper mining equipment and uniforms, managed work hours and clearly friendly with the engaged sort of humour among residents one rarely encounters.

We went over-protected and over worried. Two armed guards, an armed and well know journalist, myself and my American friend Rafael. The journey was three hours from Juliaca, not six and the narrow road mostly paved. The environment en route is spectacular, though I had to focus on driving due mostly to the unbelievably volume of new four-wheel drive vans racing around the bends, loaded with miners, service workers and presumably of-age prostitutes.

The local police told us to leave before dark, but I really would have preferred to stay the night. At least it gave us the opportunity to visit other informal and slowly formalizing mining areas … as well an awesome and terrifying 3000 meter decent into the jungle, dodging every form of smuggling vehicle possible.

For now, please let me leave you with few words and several photos, as I gather my thoughts. I leave Cusco this weekend (for a little more climbing) and have at least one more essay to write about this city and something much more in depth to produce about La Rinconada…

Have a look at this excellent and well written article from the New Yorker about La Rinconada: Tears of the Sun

This is where the mercury is cooked off and the gold purchased. Rinconada has at least 50 of these stores.


These ladies are hoping for 2-3 grams (about $100) of gold a day in old killings. The ore is mixed with mercury to bond the gold.


Miners – well dress, but extremely difficult conditions.


A quick photo of the many prostitutes


Miners hanging around the central square. Due to altitude temperatures are rarely above freezing and the snow can be a meter deep


Alpacas living off the trash…


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