Chuquicamata – the world’s largest open pit copper mine

Chuquicamata is, by excavated volume, the largest open pit copper mine in the world. Its depth of 850m makes it the second deepest open-pit mine in the world (after Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, USA). It is located in the north of Chile, only 15 km from the city of Calama and 1,240 km from Santiago. It is the city main touristic attraction and we stayed one night there to be able to visit this place.

Cooper mine viewpoint

The first thing we did to visit this place was to send an email to Codelco (visitas@codelco.cl), the Chilean state enterprise that owns and operates the mine. We sent the email only 2 days before and we were lucky to get a place, because usually you need to make the reservation sooner to guarantee the visit (there's only one visit per day and it's free).

Dressed to visit Chuquicamata

The visit started around 2pm at the Codelco offices in Calama. Here we signed a declaration of responsibility due to the fact that we will be visiting a work place with several potential dangers. Before entering the bus that would take us to the mine (the only way to visit this place) we also received a helmet and a orange vest to use during the visit (even inside the bus).

A truck at the mine

The bus took around 15 minutes to arrive into the mine's town stopping at a viewpoint from which it was possible to see the enormous open pit mine in full operation. At the viewpoint there was also a few panels that explained how the process works from the extraction to sale. We also saw some of the enormous machines and trucks driving around the mine. According to our tour guide, the trucks are 8m wide and run 24h hours per day, transporting between 330 and 400 tons at the time and consuming around 2L of diesel per minute. A tire costs 30,000$ and only lasts one year. The way the mine works has been changing and instead of digging deeper, they are now building horizontal tunnels since it is more profitable.

A truck at the mine

We also visited the old town where the miners lived a few years ago (its inhabitants had to move to Calama due to the expansion of this gigantic operation and international environmental laws). Visiting a ghost town was a different experience too and we could see the old houses, stores, parks and even an hotel and school!

Copper mining still accounts for about 30% of all foreign trade in Chile and this place produces more than 600,000 tons of copper annually. It was in this mine where Che Guevara’s political consciousness began to stir, as described in his Motorcycle Diaries book and movie.

Visiting Chuquicamata ghost town

Next stop: Iquique & Humberstone (Chile!)

Practical information

  • To reserve a place to visit Chuquicamata send an email directly to Codelco: visitas@codelco.cl
  • The visit is free but Codelco accepts donations (for social impact)
  • Remember that is mandatory to wear long sleeves, long pants and closed shoes
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