The history of this beautiful city is far from simple. It changed from a plain fishermen cove -where guano was also extracted- into the major operations center during the saltpeter epic. According to urban legends and a few historical records from those days, a so-called Juan López was the first person to settle down on these desertic shores along with his family.
Years later, the Bolivian government granted José Santos Ossa a personal permission to exploit saltpeter below Cobija, located about 100 kilometers north of present Antofagasta. This explorer discovered saltpeter in the surroundings of Antofagasta Bay, which by then was but a small fishermen cove welcoming men and women who came to take part in the booming saltpeter industry which was just starting.
The small cove was called “Peñablanca”, according to the Bolivian records of those days. It was not until 1871 that it was given the name of "Antofagasta" after Antofagasta de la Sierra (today in Argentina), which was a small Bolivian city attracting pilgrimages from all Bolivia around its virgin.
In 1872, the municipality was founded and the city began to experience a remarkable growth multiplying its population which, quite paradoxically, was either Chilean or foreign.
In 1879, the War of the Pacific began and the city was occupied by the Chilean army. Once the war was over, it became officially recognized as Chilean territory. Today, over 100 years after this historical milestone, Antofagasta has become the economic and cultural capital of Northern Chile, sharing the title of Regional Capital with the City of Iquique.