La Rinconada’s population fluctuates with the price of gold. Since the early 2000s, countless people have gravitated to its mountain from small towns all over Peru, seeking their fortunes in a place where there are no guarantees. Located in the southern Peruvian Andes, the isolated town sits below a daunting peak known as la Bella Durmiente, “Sleeping Beauty.” More than 100 tons of gold are extracted from it annually. At an elevation of 17,000 feet above sea level, La Riconada is the highest habitation of any community on earth.
The environment is harsh. Those who come here face various forms of altitude sickness, like exhaustion, striking headaches, dizziness, nausea, and insomnia. Elevation also causes blood problems for long-term residents. It is said that the mines of La Rinconada kill workers quickly, through accidents and cave-ins, as well as slowly, by developing terminal health problems from the poor living conditions.