Copiapó: Desert capital

A starting point for those who want to venture into the coast and also for those who choose to visit the mountains in the Region of Atacama.

Copiapó, atardecer de Otoño. Foto: f.Seida
Copiapó, atardecer de Otoño. Foto: f.Seida

This aristocratic desert capital is a must-see destination for those  who want to visit the beaches along this coast, many of them secluded, and for mountain enthusiasts who wish to climb the Ojos del Salado, the world’s highest volcano that rises over 6,893 meters.  Copiapó is also the cradle of important Chilean thinkers and prominent mining entrepreneurs.

Its founding is linked to the discovery of very rich silver mine in Chañarcillo.  Extraordinary fortunes were made in this area from the exploitation of this and other mines.

The city lies in the very heart of the desert, halfway between the mountain and the ocean, which is why tourists and adventure lovers choose it as a starting point for their expeditions, just like Charles Darwin, the naturalist, did over 150 years ago.

The area is currently undergoing the early table grape growing boom, since grapes ripen here earlier than other regions in the country.  In these past few years, olive oil production has also flourished. It earned its fame as a city that draws adventure lovers by hosting the Dakar Rally and the Atacama Desert Trophy extreme raid.  An additional attraction is its recently built gambling casino.

Main attractions

Mineralogical and Geological Museum

This Museum showcases a valuable collection and is one of the world’s most complete museums of its type.  A rare sample is a silver rosicler (red silver ore), a strange mineral that is sensitive to light and is not found in other parts of the earth. Colipí St. corner of Manuel Rodríguez St, Phone: 52-206606

Copiapó Train Engine

This is the engine of the first railroad in Chile.  It can be visited in the courtyard of Universidad de Atacama. Copayapu 485, Phone: (52) 206500

Viña de Cristo Villa Estate

In the wealthy days, an eccentric miner named Apolinario Soto commissioned the building of a peculiar Italian Neoclassical castle, which currently houses a campus of Universidad de Atacama. It is a good opportunity to catch a glimpse of the area’s past opulence. Coyapayu 485, Phone: (52) 206500

Candelaria Church

This church houses the image of our Lady of Candelaria, patron of Chile’s miners.  Every year it is paraded through the town in the festival in her honor on February 2, commemorating the date a miner found the image of the Virgin in a cave in the Maricunga Salt Flat. Los Carrera s/n, Phone: (52) 221358

This post is also available in Spanish