Chile creates Mining Tourist Route – by Carolina Contreras ( – April 16, 2014)

In 2015, tourists can see mining developments, learn copper extraction and refining and marvel at the size of the machinery used in large-scale mining.

ANTOFAGASTA, Chile – Beaches, mountains, desert and the Patagonia are some of Chile’s biggest tourist attractions. But in 2015, the country will add a new one: mines in Chile’s northern region, such as Chuquicamata – the largest surface mine in the world that’s in the Antofagasta region – 1,585 kilometers north of the nation’s capital of Santiago.

The excavation area, which is 4.5 kilometers long, 3.5 kilometers wide and 1.1 kilometers deep, is one of Chile’s main mines.

The South American country is the world’s largest copper exporter, with 5.77 million metric tons of annual production and exports worth US$43.1 billion in 2013, according to the Mining Council, which represents the country’s largest mining companies.

Beginning in 2015, Chuquicamata, along with 23 other mines, will be open to tourists as the main attraction on the Mining Tourism Route, created by the Antofagasta Regional Branch of the National Tourism Service (Sernatur) in collaboration with mining companies and the Regional Ministerial Secretariat for Mining.

From viewing areas, visitors can see the expanse of the mine and its massive machinery, as well as the copper extraction and refinement processes.

“It’s a different experience, a novel and interesting type of tourism for domestic and foreign professionals,” said Miguel Quezada, Sernatur’s acting regional director.

There are 19 large mining developments in the Antofagasta region, 20 medium-sized, 540 small mines and 100 micro-mines, which collectively extract 53% of Chile’s copper production.

“We wanted to bring mining closer to the public through tourism,” Amanda Pérez, Antofagasta’s Mining deputy secretary, said. “There’s a lot of potential to develop in this area.”

Twenty-four surface and underground mines in Antofagasta, which extract gold, lithium, sulfur and saltpeter, will be part of the Mining Tourist Route.

“[We are looking to] promote activities that can contribute to and become a source of direct revenue for regional tourism,” Quezada said. “[We are] inviting the visitor to directly witness the mining work. A new focus of interest is opened up for tourists, who will be provided with information, tours, and frequent visits to the mining works.”

Antofagasta welcomed 700,912 tourists in 2013, compared with 664,703 in 2012, according to Sernatur. Authorities expect a 10% increase in the number of tourists who visit the region.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the work we are doing to everyone who visits us,” Claudio Olguín, the manager of the Ministro Hales Mining Division of the Corporación Chilena del Cobre (Codelco), said.

Currently, the only way of visiting an operational mine is by requesting a private tour.

“The size of this operation is startling,” said Víctor Moraga, a 48-year-old engineer who visited Chuquicamata in November of 2013 privately because of professional interest. “It’s surprising to see the technological capacity that they work with.”

When visiting the Mining Route, tourists will wear helmets, reflective vests, sunscreen, safety goggles and special footwear.

An initial public-private investment of $33 million Chilean pesos (about US$58,000), provided by the National Fund for Regional Development (FNDR) and mining companies, was allocated for the Mining Route last year.

In addition to the visiting the mines, tourists will be admitted to the Mining Museum in the city of Calama, about 18 kilometers south of Chuquicamata. Tourists also can purchase tours of the towns of Mejillones, Sierra Gorda and San Pedro de Atacama in the Antofagasta region.

Tourists are urged to visit the Los Flamencos National Reserve or a vineyard in the district of Toconao in the San Pedro de Atacama, about 340 kilometers from Antofagasta.

How to get there?

There are daily local flights from Santiago to the city of Antofagasta. Chuquicamata is 231 kilometers east of Antofagasta. Officials, who haven’t set ticket prices, estimate the Mining Tourist Route will take two days.

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