La Rinconada – Putina, Peru - Atlas Obscura

La Rinconada

Putina, Peru

The highest and saddest town in the world. 


It’s hard to imagine living three miles above the sea. High in the Andes, the people of La Rinconada have been fighting for years to survive in a climate where most people on this world would be struggling to catch their breath.

There is absolutely no reason to settle in as harsh a climate as La Rinconada. 16,732 feet above above sea level, the weather remains freezing throughout the year, and the only way in and out of the town is via icy roads that are rarely accessible by truck. Yet for 45 years, the allure of the gold mine has brought cheap labor willing to endure the hellish conditions.

Besides the remote location and harsh climate, La Rinconada is also without basic infrastructure. The town is completely without plumbing or any form of sanitation, making the village a veritable slum in the sky. Matters have only gotten worse since the population grew over 200% to 30,000 in 2009. For many Peruvians, working in the mine in the Andes is a last choice, and their labor is brutally exploited by Corporación Ananea, the company that owns the mine.

Often going a month without any wages, workers are allowed to keep whatever ore they can carry once a month as the only compensation for their work. There is nothing positive about La Rinconada, and its residents remain trapped in their isolated village, which serves as a perfect metaphor for their near-enslavement in the town’s gold mines.