A city in the Acatama Desert in northern Chile, Calama is famous for being one of the world’s driest places, with rainfall almost non-existent here. Despite being a major settlement in the Antofagasta region, it is surprisingly remote. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most fascinating places in South America, not only because of its unique location on the continent near the Andes.
Calama is a good starting point for exploring different parts of the continent, being close to the borders with Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. It’s also near some of the region’s most amazing natural wonders from the salt plains to the desert which surrounds the city. It’s also a place which has its fair share of modern facilities such as museums, shopping centres, cinemas and theatres.
For the rougher roads in some of the suburbs of Calama, it’s worth driving something larger like a family saloon in order to make for smoother journeys.
The Chiquicamata copper mine, open for centuries, has long been a major source of fascination in the region. Tours of the open mine, which is a major source of revenue for the area, are available if you want to know how integral copper is to this part of Chile.
One of the most amazing natural sights is El Tatio, a field of geysers which have attracted visitors for generations. Some of the geysers erupt with hot water rising as high as six metres up into the air, while they can be used for bathing if careful.
R. P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum is one of the biggest local attractions. The museum documents history and prehistory in the local area, hosting around 380,000 artefacts, many of which from the Atacameño culture.
Back outside the centre of Calama, there are a handful of National Reserves within easy reach by road. The two most notable are Reserva Nacional Alto Loa to the north in the Andes and Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos to the southeast.
Highway 24 is the best route to take if driving in from the west, although the route does split in two towards the city.
Some of the roads on the edge of town are dead-ends, so it’s best to stick to the highways if trying to get out.
The junction at Highway 23 to the southeast of the city is a little complicated to negotiate. Drive there with care.
El Loa Airport is a regional airport, lying around two miles south of the centre of Calama. Although small in size, it handles a lot of flights to other destinations in Chile including capital city Santiago and Antofagasta.
The airport is just off Highway 25, which is connected by a short link road to the main terminal. It ends there but there is a road going north into central Calama.