The gold miners who work for free

Men flock to this brutal, lawless land – sometimes with their entire families – in search of a fortune that will give them a better life.

A man’s world

Perched in the southern Peruvian Andes at an altitude of more than 5,000m, the gold mining town of La Rinconada is the highest human habitation on Earth. 

Known as the "land of males" due to the brutal work conditions men face, the town draws workers from throughout the Andean nations seeking their fortunes. Few can handle the extreme cold and altitude, while the heat and humidity in the mining tunnels can be almost unbearable. (Credit: Sebastian Castañeda)

Seeking their fortunes

Over the last few decades, thousands of men have gravitated to these mountains from small towns all over Peru to try their luck. Some have been here as long as 20 years. 

More than 100 tons of the metal are extracted from the mines each year, and the surging price of gold has caused the town’s population to double in the last five years to about 50,000. (Credit: Sebastian Castañeda)

A harsh life

There are few creature comforts in La Rinconada. The streets are always muddy from snowmelt, and there’s no running water, sewage system or public latrines. Even the nearby lakes from which many residents collect water are polluted, contaminated by discarded mercury that is used to separate the gold from the stones. (Credit: Sebastian Castañeda)

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