With Copiapó's pleasing climate, a leafy main plaza and many historic buildings, you may find yourself oddly comfortable amid its milling miners and down-to-business pace. However, it's not really worth stopping for long unless you're heading to the remote mountains near the Argentine border, especially the breathtaking Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces, Laguna Verde and Ojos del Salado, the highest active volcano in the world.
The town, nestling in the narrow valley floor on Río Copiapó's north bank, is the site of several historical firsts: South America's first railroad (completed 1852) ran from here to Caldera; here, too, appeared the nation's first telegraph and telephone lines, and Chile's first gasworks. All came on the back of the 18th-century gold boom and the rush to cash in on silver discovered at neighboring Chañarcillo in 1832. Today it's mainly copper that keeps the miners and beer-hall gals in the green.