El Salvador

El Salvador is a mine of copper in the North of Chile
El Salvador is a mine of copper in the North of Chile

El Salvador has 8.697 inhabitants and it is located 2.300 meters above sea level. El Salvador is the operative centre of the copper mine that belongs to Codelco. It has a very clean layout inspired in Brazilian urban concept from Oscar Niemeyer – Brazilian architect.

A few kilometers far from El Salvador you will find Portal del Inca, with 1.026 inhabitants, a satellite town with a great urban and building contrast, in which most of Codelco’s contractors, live.

The city was founded in November 28th, 1969 and blessed by the first Copiapo’s bishop and then Cardinal: Juan Francisco Fresno. The city was built by Andes Cooper Mining Co., as a place for living and service centre from El Salvador mine (Mina El Salvador). The modern layout is surprising, with wide avenues that converge – as a Roman design – through the business and management centre; as well as the homogeneity of the complete urban and tourist equipment which includes an airport with regular flight services.

To visit El Salvador walk through the commercial and management center located around the square. Visit El Salvador Museum, a small exhibition which can be found in the second floor of Inca Cinema (Cine Inca) which illustrates the story of this division from Codelco with photographs, machines, scale models and mineral samples. To visit it, you can do it from Monday to Friday from 8 and 13 and 14 to 18.

Then walk through Porterillos Street North and South. Then visit the wooded neighbourhood with isolated houses walking from El Tofo Avenue to Pampa Club. Then turn left to take Portales Avenue and make a complete circuit around the city. Then, take O’higgins Avenue to go to Los Acacios Avenue in the urban perimeter. Go by car to The Groute in the hill, from where you will have a panoramic view from the city, the bocamina, the concentrating plant and Portal del Inca.

Go down to El Tofo Avenue to get out from El Salvador. In the first crossroad take the left and travel 3.7 miles up to the entrance of The Mine. The deposit is underground and the access is restricted. Its bocamina conforms a great tunnel named 2.400 for its high above the sea level. From its entrance it is surprising to see the top of the hills with a great depression produced by the internal extraction of Indio Muerto Mountain (montaña Indio Muerto). This mine was known since the Incas and it was described in 1854 by R.A.Phillipi and Diego de Almeyda when they passed through here.

In 1954 the heart of Indio Muerto deposit was discovered. It had a great potential that justified the new installation. It was named El Salvador and began its production in 1959. In 1970 it began being runned by Chilean Government and now it belongs to Codelco.

Now the story is the same. Since profitable resources are finishing, Salvador division will close two mines: the one of oxides the year 2008 and the underground mine – of sulphurates – the year 2011. The only facilities that will work will be the foundry and Potrerillos’ refinery.

To return to El Salvador, do it by the same road until the crossroad, turn left and keep going 3.1 miles until you reach the Concentrating Plant.

To visit Porterillos, the Communication Department from Salvador Division organizes visits to this industrial facility – composed by the concentrating fundition and an electrolytic copper refinery, which began working in 1927 – through Andes Copper Mining Co., in a mixed plant for sulphurs and oxides (foundry and lixiviation) and a mine which runned over in 1959.

Now, it processes the concentrating elements from El Salvador and some other mines. In 1997, Potrerillos was declared an area saturated from pollution, one year after the camp was closed. The main buildings have been preserved, such as the church, the market, the police department and some others that conform a museum in the site. Visits can just be performed after an authorization given by the Communication Department from Codelco, Chile’s Salvador Division.

Among all the excursions that can be performed at the high side of the mountain change, El Salvador is an excellent place to begin with.

From El Salvador to Rio Negro Hot Springs (Termas de Rio Negro). By Maricunga salt flat road, 1.2 miles south from La Ola dam, you will find a detour next to Juncalito river which interns into Claude Gay’s mountain chain. The first 9.3 miles run through the mining road and then other 9.3 miles by traced roads that can only be passed with 4×4 vehicles until the hot spring that emerges from a natural pond of 7 by 15 m. In the surroundings there are thermal muds and small ponds built by previous visitors. Hot springs are surrounded by impressive snowed tops higher than 5.500 m.

By the edge of Pedernales Salt flat. From the artificial drainage from the salt flat, it is possible to continue with a 4*4 vehicle visiting all the edge of the salt flat; ask information at the Desert Explorers Club (Club Exploradores del Desierto).

From El Salvador to The Five Salt flats (Los Cinco Salares). It is a 242.3 miles trip to be performed at least in two days. From El Salvador you will go to Pedernales salt flat and – on its west border – you take north to cross to Infieles salt flats and continue to Aguilar salt flat. In there, road leads to the south to cross to Grande salt flat and approach to Piedra Parada salt flat. Then turn west and by the south edge of Pedernales to return to El Salvador.

To Las Lagunas Bravas. It is a 260 miles excursion that begins in El Salvador. You go to Pedernales salt flat continuing by Panteon de Aliste‘s canyon, to pass by the Panteon de Aliste’s Portezuelo, from where you will have an amazing view from Piedra Parada salt flat. Then you keep going down by the south side of the salt flat, through the east to reach Del Jilguero and Del Bayo Lagoons, finally heading to the northeast to see the bottom of Bravas lagoons.