It is reached from the Pacific by way of Challapata, a station on the Antofagasta & Oruro railway.
It was formerly capital of the Bolivian department of Atacama and the only port possessed by Bolivia, but the seizure of that department in 1879 by Chile and the construction of the Antofagasta and Oruro railway deprived it of all importance, and its population, estimated at 6000 in 1858, has fallen to less than 500.
Antofagasta is the seaport for a railway running to Oruro, Bolivia, and is the only available outlet for the trade of the south-western departments of that republic. The smelting works for the neighbouring silver mines are located here, and a thriving trade with the inland mining towns is carried on.
The town owes its existence to the Bolivian trade from La Paz and Oruro, and is the residence of a number of foreign merchants.
One of these, running from Antofagasta to the Caracoles district, was afterwards extended to Oruro, Bolivia, and has become a commercial route of international importance, with a total length of 574 m., 224 of which are in Chile.