Calama is a city and
commune in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
It is the
capital of El Loa Province, part of
Calama is one of the driest cities in the
world with average annual precipitation of just 5 mm (0.2 inches) .
Loa, Chile's longest, flows through the city.
Calama has a population of 143,000 (2005 census
commune also encompasses the Quechuas
communities of Estación San Pedro, Toconce and Cupo;
and the Lickan-antay communities of
Taira, Conchi Viejo, Lasana, San Francisco de
Chiu Chiu, Aiquina-Turi, and Caspana.
At an elevation of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft), Calama is the gateway
to the geological and archaeological wonders of Chile’s high
central desert. Some of these places of interest include: the
town of Chuquicamata, the village of San Pedro de Atacama, Valle de la
Luna (Valley of the Moon), the Licancabur volcano, R.
Gustavo Le Paige
Archaeological Museum, Los Flamencos National
Reserve, the Aguas
Calientes salt flat, the Tuyajto
lagoon, the El Tatio
Geysers, the village of Chiu-Chiu.
the nearby town of Chuquicamata, by one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the
world, was dismantled, partly because of environmental reasons, and
partly due to encroachment from the mine's expansion.
of Chuquicamata then moved to Calama, away from company-owned
residences, to find housing on their own.
There are a variety of hypothesis with respect to the origin of the
name "Calama," but the two main accounts maintain that its origin
comes from the language Kunza
, spoken in the
past by the Lickan-antay
, an ethnic
group that to this day resides in the El
Hector Pumarino Soto suggests that "Calama" stems from the Kunza
word "Ckara-ama," which means "town in the
middle of the water". This affirmation is supported by the fact
that, until the middle of the 20th century, the urban site of
Calama and the surrounding oasis were flanked by the River Loa (in its south and east borders) and the fertile
plain and swamps of the western sector, creating a true island in
the middle of the desert surrounded completely by
Emilio Vaïsse, meanwhile, says that Calama comes from the Kunza
word "Ckolama," which means "place where
abound". This is supposed
testimony to the abundance of such a bird, living over everything
in the middle of the western swamp sector.
evidence related to the history of Calama does exist, including
petroglyphs and the caves of Yalquincha
(NE of the city), the chullpas of Topáter (pre-Columbian cemeteries
to the east of the city), the Copper Mummy, and other remains in
At the intersection of the Camino del
(the longitudinal one) and the routes that crossed the
coast of the Altiplano, Calama became the main shelter of the
Despoblado of Atacama. Their extensive lands for growing corn
of the high capacity to supply food to the troops of Chasquis and
to give tribute to the Inca
. In fact, when
Diego de Almagro, returning from
Cusco, passed by the Calama shelter, the natives gave him
copper horseshoes, which were made using a mysterious Incan
technique used by towns conquered by the Incas.
of such a technique still has yet to be explained, but the presence
of such horseshoes further suggests strong Incan influence in
Spanish colonization obviously caused some changes; however, the
hostile climate impeded establishment of greater control. These
changes influenced the control of trade routes that crossed the
desert and communication to the port of Cobija with the deposits of
and the cattle farms of Salta
and Tucumán. In this sense, Calama continued as a main point of
provision for commercial routes. In the 18th century, with the
, Calama depended
directly of the Intendencia de Potosí.
Bolivian Republic Era
Bolivia's Declaration of Independence (6 August 1825), and
with gradual changes in the administration of the territory, Calama
remained constituted under the Departamento de Litoral (1829),
subdivided in the Provincia de Lamar y la Provincia de Atacama
(Cobija being the departmental capital). Calama was an
important town in the Provincia de Atacama, through which traveled the weekly mail between
Cobija and Salta-Potosí, since 1832.
In 1840, the provincial
capital transferred from Chiuchiu to Calama, increasing the
border conflicts between Chile and Bolivia did not reach either Calama or the Province of
The greater dispute concentrated in the
central prairie and in the coast, where they began to discover rich
, and guano
ambiguity that led to the frontier conflicts was the possession of
the central plain and the Atacama coast. The environment was
made tense when Chilean troops, under the command of colonel Emilio Sotomayor Baeza, disembarked and
peacefully took the port of Antofagasta on the morning of February 14, 1879.
Bolivia declared war on Chile on March 1.
Chilean Republic Era
Since that day, the changes in the administration have been very
being part of the administrative center of 2° order in Bolivia, returned as one of 4° order under the Chilean
Recently in 1888, under the
of José Manuel Balmaceda
returned as an administrative center of 3° order, inaugurated as
the municipality on the 13th of October. Prior to that, in 1886,
Calama was chosen for a railway station of the Antofagasta-Bolivia
, which further expedited shipments through
Calama contains two distinct entities: the desert
and the Andes
Range. Between and , the cold desert climate
is characterized by annual
not surpass . The average temperature
is throughout the year
(with drastic changes between daily highs of over
and daily lows below zero in winter and maximums of over in