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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works

Humberstone and Santa Laura works represent over 200 former saltpeter works where workers from Chile, Peru and Bolivia lived in company towns and forged a distinctive communal pampinos culture.

That culture is manifest in their rich language, creativity, and solidarity, and, above all, in their pioneering struggle for social justice, which had a profound impact on social history.

Situated in the remote desert Pampa, one of the driest deserts on earth, thousands of pampinos lived and worked in this hostile environment, for over 60 years, from 1880, to process the largest deposit of saltpeter in the world, producing the fertilizer sodium nitrate that was to transform agricultural lands in North and South America, and in Europe, and produce great wealth for Chile.

Because of the vulnerability of the structures and because of the impact of a recent earthquake, the site was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, to help mobilize resources for its conservation.

Map of Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Chris Netherlands - 11-Mar-15

I visited the site end of 2014. Humberstone is in pretty good shape but Santa Laura I can imagine it's on the danger list. The sites really show the history of the mining. When I visited there were not that many visitors in Humberstone and in santa Laura I was the third that day only. It's a ghost town, and when you just stand still you only here the howling wind through the buildings.

Read more from Chris here.

Jarek Pokrzywnicki Poland - 07-Oct-08

Visited the site in November 2006. Sunny and hot day so you could imagine how it is to wander throughout a desert whe the whole salitera is located. Site consist of 2 units: Humberstone ghost town with market square, church, theatre, swimming pool school and numer of houses (all restored) and Santa Laura factory (much more ruined, that's why it is listed on List in Danger) located some 2 km from the town) and numerous other object (railways, dumps, paths, ruins). Recommended for those who like factory architecture or want to see the life of workers in Chile some 50-100 years ago. But hurry up - the desert and winds deteriorate the condition of the site constantly.

Maria Pastora Sandoval Campos Chile - 08-Apr-06

It was a wonderful experiencie go to the saltpeters works. I'm a journalist and I wrote about it. It was very incredible to see things I only hearded and see in photos.

Really amazing! I want to be tehe again! To keep learning about our history.

Here are my links about Saltpeters Works:

Saltpeter process in Santa Laura

Santa Laura Museum

Humberstone way of life

Photos (captions in Spanish)

Post in my blog (in Spanish):

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Community Rating

Community Rating 4.25. Based on 2 votes.

Site Info

Full name: Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works

Unesco ID: 1178

Inscribed: 2005 In Danger

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 2   3   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2005 - In Danger "Extremely fragile nature of the buildings; Lack of maintenance for 40 years; Vandalism due to looting of re-usable materials; Damage caused by the wind"
  • 2005 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works


The site has 13 connections.



  • Theatres: Art Deco theatre in Humberstone
  • Railways: Remains of railway line that joined Santa Laura to Humberstone



Human Activity


  • Built in the 19th Century: 200 works to mine and process the saltpeter, with towns to house the workers, and railways to transport the powder to coast, were established in an intensive period of around 50 years from 1880. (AB ev)


  • Named after individual people: Named after the English chemical engineer James Thomas Humberstone. From 1875 he spent his entire career in the Peruvian/Chilean nitrate industry and is credited with introducing the improved "Shanks extraction process" around 1878 which enabled the mines to compete. He retired in 1925. In 1934 the plant was renamed in honour after him by a later owning company.
  • Built or owned by British: The Humberstone works, originally called "La Palma", was run by the English company Gibbs + Co who acquired it after the War of the Pacific in which Chile obtained the nitrate area from Peru. Peru had just nationalised all the mines issuing certificates. During the war businessmen such as John Thomas North ("El Rey del Saltire") acquired these at a massive discount betting that the Chilean government (with whom they had contacts) would honour them - which they did. North then sold off the certificates on the London market to other entrepreneurs such as Gibbs.

WHS on Other Lists

World Heritage Process