What is the Primary Type of Mining that Takes Place Under the Bolivian Mountain, Cerro Rico?

Cerro Rico, which translates to “Rich Mountain,” stands as a testament to Bolivia’s rich mining history. Located near the city of Potosí, this mountain has been the site of extensive mining activities for nearly five centuries, earning it a reputation as the “Mountain that Eats Men.” The primary type of mining that has taken place under this towering behemoth is silver mining through a method known as hard-rock or underground mining. This article will help you to answer the question: what is the primary type of mining that takes place under the Bolivian Mountain, Cerro Rico?

Bolivian Mountain Cerro Rico

Cerro Rico’s Silver Lode

Discovered in the 16th century, Cerro Rico quickly became the world’s largest silver deposit. The Spanish colonizers, recognizing the mountain’s potential, began extensive mining operations, making Potosí one of the wealthiest cities in the world during its peak. The silver extracted from Cerro Rico not only transformed Bolivia’s economy but also played a significant role in global trade and the Spanish Empire’s finances.

Hard-Rock Mining: Delving Deep Beneath the Surface

The primary method employed in Cerro Rico is hard-rock or underground mining. Here’s how it typically works:

  • Tunneling: Miners create a network of tunnels to access the ore deposits. These tunnels, called adits, shafts, or declines, are dug deep into the mountain.
  • Blasting: Once the ore deposit zones are located, explosives are used to break the rock and access the silver ore.
  • Ore Extraction: Miners then extract the ore, which is transported to the surface for further processing.
  • Processing: The ore undergoes several processes, including crushing, milling, and flotation, to extract silver.

This method is labor-intensive, requiring physical strength and endurance. The conditions inside the mines can be harsh, with limited ventilation, high temperatures, and risks of cave-ins.

The Human Cost: Challenges and Concerns

While Cerro Rico has brought significant wealth, it has also come at a considerable human cost. The indigenous population, under Spanish rule, was subjected to a forced labor system known as the “mita,” where they had to work in the mines under perilous conditions. Thousands lost their lives due to accidents, exposure to toxic chemicals, and silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust.

Modern mining practices have improved, but challenges remain. Small-scale and informal mining operations often lack the resources for safety measures, leading to accidents and health issues.

Environmental Impacts

Hard-rock mining, especially on the scale of Cerro Rico, has significant environmental implications:

  • Deforestation: The need for timber in mining operations led to extensive deforestation around Potosí.
  • Water Pollution: The processing of silver ore releases chemicals that can contaminate local water sources.
  • Soil Degradation: The vast amounts of waste rock and tailings can lead to soil degradation, affecting agriculture and local ecosystems.

The Future of Mining in Cerro Rico

Despite centuries of extraction, Cerro Rico still has significant silver reserves. However, the extensive mining has taken its toll on the mountain’s structural integrity. There are concerns about the mountain’s stability, with some fearing a potential collapse.

Efforts are being made to ensure safer mining practices and to diversify Potosí’s economy, reducing its reliance on mining. There’s also a push towards responsible mining, which focuses on minimizing environmental impacts and ensuring the welfare of miners.


Cerro Rico stands as a symbol of Bolivia’s complex relationship with its mineral wealth. The hard-rock mining of silver has brought prosperity but has also come with significant human and environmental costs. As we look to the future, the lessons from Cerro Rico remind us of the importance of sustainable and responsible mining practices. The mountain’s legacy is a testament to the intertwined destinies of nature, economy, and human endeavor.