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.
Four of these capitals - Sucre or Chuquisaca, La Paz, Cochabamba and Oruro - have served as the national capital, and Sucre was chosen, but after the revolution of 1898 the capital was at La Paz, which is the commercial metropolis and is more accessible than Sucre.
Among the smaller towns prominent because of an industry or commercial position, may be mentioned the Huanchaca mining centre of Pulacayo (pop. 6512), where 3200 men are employed in the mines and surface works of this great silver mining company; Uyuni (pop. 1587), the junction of the Pulacayo branch with the Antofagasta and Oruro railway, and also the converging point for several important highways and projected railways; and Tupiza (pop. 1644), a commercial and mining centre near the Argentine frontier, and the terminus of the Argentine railway extension into Bolivia.
Up to 1903 the only railways in Bolivia were the Antofagasta and Oruro line, with a total length of 574 m., of which 350 m.
Lines were in 1907 projected from La Paz to the navigable waters of the Beni, from La Paz to Cochabamba, from Viacha to Oruro, from Uyuni to Potosi and Sucre, from Uyuni to Tupiza, and from Arica to La Paz via Corocoro.
The latter includes the lines belonging to the Antofagasta and Oruro railway, which are partly within Chilean territory.
The latter include so-called universities at Sucre (Chuquisaca), La Paz, Cochabamba, Tarija, Potosi, Santa Cruz and Oruro - all of which give instruction in law, the first three in medicine and the first four in theology.
There is a military academy at La Paz, an ` agricultural school at Umala in the department of La Paz, a mining and civil engineering school at Oruro, commercial schools at Sucre and Trinidad, and several mission schools under the direction of religious orders.
The first includes the departments of Chuquisaca, Oruro, Potosi, Tarija and the Chilean province of Antofagasta, with its seat at Sucre, and is known as the archbishopric of La Plata.
In June 1823 the expedition of General Santa Cruz, prepared with great zeal and activity at Lima, marched in two divisions upon Upper Peru, and in the following months of July and August the whole country between La Paz and Oruro was occupied by his forces; but later, the indecision and want of judgment displayed by Santa Cruz allowed a retreat to be made before a smaller royalist army, and a severe storm converted their retreat into a precipitate flight, only a remnant of the expedition again reaching Lima.
On the news of the victory a universal rising of the patriots took place, and before Sucre had reached Oruro and Puno, in February 1825, La Paz was already in their possession, and the royalist garrisons of several towns had gone over to their side.
General Jorge Cordova succeeded him, but had not been long in office when a new revolt in September 1857, originating with the garrison of Oruro, spread over the land, and compelled him to quit the country.
Colonel Pando, the insurgent leader, having gained a strong following, marched upon Oruro, and entered that town on 11th April 1899, after completely defeating the government troops.