It may appear drab and gritty but Calama happens to be the pride and joy of northern Chile, an economic powerhouse that pumps truckloads of copper money into the Chilean economy year on year. And while it holds little attraction for visitors – most people will only stop here for the night (if they have to) on their way to the la-la land of San Pedro de Atacama – there is a visceral appeal to this mining town that definitely goes that extra mile in 'keeping it real.'
Calama sits on the north bank of the Río Loa. Though the city has sprawled with the influx of laborers from Chuquicamata, its central core is still pedestrian friendly. Calle Ramírez begins in an attractive pedestrian mall leading to the shady Plaza 23 de Marzo, which bristles with market stalls and pigeons.