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1,574km (976 miles) N of Santiago; 98km (61 miles) NW of San Pedro de Atacama

Originally a desert way station, Calama has grown into a city of 120,000 serving the gigantic copper mines in its vicinity. While it's ugly and hodgepodge and has a nasty reputation for crime and prostitution, its downtown commercial heart is safe enough and unemployment has almost disappeared. Its sole real attraction is slightly to the north, the Chuquicamata copper mine, whose huge tailings -- hills of extracted dirt -- form a partial backdrop to the city. The pre-Inca fortress Pukará de Lasana and the villages of Chiu Chiu, Ayquina, and Caspana are also close to Calama, though they can also be visited from San Pedro via the Tatio Geysers. Adventurers can take the trip farther northeast toward Ollagüe on the border with Bolivia by train or bus.