To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

What it's like in the 'closest town to space' dubbed 'most hellish place on the planet'

What it's like in the 'closest town to space' dubbed 'most hellish place on the planet'

La Rinconada is found high in the Peruvian Andes.

It's tempting to romanticize what it's like to live in a mountainous region - imagining the amazing sunrises and sunsets, and the incredibly clear air.

However, that could be a little naive - particularly if you think of how challenging it is to live in one of the towns with the highest altitude on planet Earth.

La Rinconada, Peru, is nestled up in the Andes at about three miles above sea level - it's remote and quite hard to get to, but still holding a population of around 50,000, according to NASA. It's so high, it's often referred to as the closest town to space.

E Michael James / Getty
E Michael James / Getty

It's a town without running water in most homes, and with only the flakiest of electrical networks - hardly the lap of luxury.

Crucially, the altitude also means that people live on around half the amount of oxygen that you'd get from breathing at sea level, which has led some to call it one of the most hellish places you can possibly live.

This means that visitors, which aren't exactly that common, are often forced to take oxygen tanks and breathing masks to avoid serious altitude sickness, just like they would if they were going diving.

That altitude also means that La Rinconada gets buffeted by fairly extreme weather, and its winters are reportedly brutally cold.

One good way of thinking about the altitude is that while walking around the narrow streets of La Rinconada, you'd actually be about 200 meters higher than climbers on the very peak of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.

This underlines just how hardy those who make the town their home are, although that doesn't explain quite why they've done so. The answer to that question is actually pretty straightforward - La Rinconada is a mining community, thanks to the gold mines in the surrounding areas.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin

So, just like the Gold Rush in the United States so many years ago, people in the town are trying to make it through pretty incredible hardships in the hope of finding the wealth that will help them build a better life.

Ironically, now that the mining community has been there for so long, there's actually a second slice of the population. It turns out that plenty of researchers have headed to La Rinconada over the years to investigate the many possible effects of prolonged high altitudes on human bodies and minds.

Altitude exposure risks giving people chronic mountain sickness, which can cause dizziness, palpitations, and even heart failure, and according to NASA, researchers estimate that a quarter of people living in the town suffer from it. So being able to understand it better would be a step forward for La Rinconada and other high-altitude communities around the world.

Featured Image Credit: Anadolu / Contributor / E Michael James / Getty