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Gold Mining and Prospecting in Bolivia

Bolivia is a country in South America northeast of Brazil, southeast of Paraguay, south of Argentina and west of Chile and Peru. Bolivia occupies an area of 1,098,581 square kilometers. The country has a thriving and growing mineral exploration industry.

This is due to consistent investment by Canadian and US-based mining companies. It is estimated that half of Bolivia’s economy is based on its mining operations alone.

The Bolivian government has consistently supported pro-gold mining policies and exploration. For example, it continues to protect the existing 120 kilometers north of La Paz specifically for gold mining and exploration. This is just one of Bolivia’s gold mining protected-land sections.


Bolivia’s primary mineral resources include gold, copper, silver, zinc, sulfur, bismuth, lead, antimony and tungsten. One can even find salt, oil and natural gas within the countries borders.

Additionally, Bolivia is one of the leading producers of tin. Major mines have also found deposits of precious gemstones that are used primarily in jewelry; the most requested is bolivianita, a rare stone found in only few places in the world.

Just like the stone, Bolivia is unique in an understated fashion. Bolivia is one of just two landlocked countries in South America without direct access to the ocean. Yet it has a plethora of fresh water within its borders. The Pilcomayo is the largest river in Bolivia. There are also major lakes, including Lake Titicaca.

Bolivia’s landscape is challenging to say the least. Bolivia’s Andes stretch from north to south across western Bolivia, and reach impressive heights. The Andes are the location of most of Bolivia’s richest mineral deposits.

Vast deposits of gold hard rock and placer deposits are rich within the rivers and streams in Bolivia. These rocks and deposits are a direct result of thousands of years of ongoing volcano activity, which have created the ideal conditions for gold to form. Hydrothermal waters from extinct volcanos along with other environmental factors create the perfect conditions whereby gold deposits precipitate and dissolve gold from solution.

During the 1952 revolution, Bolivia nationalized three mining companies. These companies received public funds creating steady increase in production, independent of market conditions. However in the long run, this strategy may have slowed down mining technical innovation due to lack of financial support. As such, technical conditions for gold mining in Bolivia have evolved slowly.

During that time, gold was mined almost exclusively by over 300 cooperatives throughout the country, along with about 10,000 prospectors.

A large percentage of the cooperatives worked in Tipuani, Guanay, Mapiri, Huayti, and Teoponte in a 21,000-hectare region set aside for gold mining and located 120 kilometers north of La Paz. Mining cooperatives in the late 1980s had requested an additional 53,000 hectares from the government for gold prospecting. A few medium-sized mining operations, as well as the Armed Forces National Development Corporation became involved in the gold rush in the 1980s.

Others panned for their fortunes in remote villages like Araras along the Brazilian border in Beni. Many artisanal miners and local villagers in Bolivia make a living from the placer deposits in the country.

Analysts predicted that more commercial production, such as the dredging of alluvial deposits, would maximize gold output. Government policy favored augmenting gold reserves as a means of leveraging more external finance for development projects.

In the last ten years, Bolivian mining is expected to have best market performance of all metals. Experts agree that gold has the biggest potential for growth in the coming years, as companies continue to invest in exploration.

Conventional wisdom dictates that Bolivia’s international private sector mining will continue, and many more gold discoveries are likely to be made in the coming decades.

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