Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
The Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works represent the technical heritage and the social transformation brought about by the saltpeter industry.
Exploiting the largest deposit of saltpeter in the world, these two industrial sites were in use from 1872 until the mid-20th century to produce nitrate fertilisers for the rest of the Americas and Europe. Thousands of workers lived in company towns in this remote environment and developed a distinctive Pampinos culture.
Community Perspective: Humberstone has the best-preserved town remains, while Santa Laura is the more impressive for its industrial area but is in a bad and potentially dangerous condition. The sites lie only 2 km apart and can easily be visited by local bus from Iquique.
Map of Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksLoad map
Buses leave from opposite Mercado Centenario in Iquique, cost 3.000 Pesos and take 1 hour to Humberstone. Beautiful to see they leave on certain times independant of the amount of passengers after having lost some hours of my life for waiting for trufis to be full in La Paz for going to Tiwuanaku. You get thrown out on the wrong side of the highway but there is a pedestrian bridge over the big street and after 10 minutes more there is the entrance to Humberstone where the tickets for both sites- Humberstone and Santa Laura- are obtained. Currently they cost 6.000 pesos p.P.. There are tours offered in Iquique for 35.000 pesos half day Humberstone & Santa Laura and full day Humberstone & Santa Laura and some desert oasises like Pica further away. I would definetely NOT recommand these, as they're much more expensive for transport, guide and some food and they tear the focus from this WHS away. 3 hours is NOT sufficient to see and digest the Humberstone and Santa Laura sites. We have spent 5,5 hours in Humberstone and 1 hour in Santa Laura and have rushed a little bit. You can easily spend the full day here from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. if you want to read through all the information which you will find mainly in Humberstone. Between the two sites it's a 25 minute walk on a signed pathway. You will have to walk back for cathing the bus to Iquique from the opposite side of the highway. Luckily some Chilean visitors on the parking took us back for free after asking them.
I find the site quite comparable to the Sewell Mining Town from the experience. It's also an abandoned, industrial site with a ghost town where workers had lived which is situated in Chile. This site is about the nitrate production from the caliche which is found here and once was the basis for 90% of the saltpetre used in the world mainly for fertilizers. After the discovery of a synthetic way to produce fertilizers the production out of the caliche became inefficient probably because of transportation matters as one of the reasons and caused the closure of the sites Humberstone and Santa Laura in 1960. Afterwards the sites became a national monument and later WHS. The museum in Humberstone is one of the better museums in Latin America. Some rooms have too many information and some only display artifacts without further information but there are good English translations available and a lot of visible displays to discover. I liked the exhibition in the Pulperia (grocery store) the most. The Urban sector of Humberstone appears like a Western Town during Siesta underlined by a very small amount of other visitors. There is a lot to discover and I would recommand to take a picture from the numbered map at the entrance to not get lost or miss anything. The industrial part I found a bit spooky. You're alone between rusty and huge remains of the factory which make sounds in the wind and appear like thed could collapse anytime soon. Some explaination signs tell you how the process went from Caliche to crystalized salpetre however I found it hard to connect it to the remains I have seen. The mirador gives a nice overview of the organised pattern of the urban part.
Santa Laura appears similar to the industrial part of Humberstone
The urban part is mainly ruins. The part in which the caliche gets mixed and heated with the liquids to extract the salpetre is huge and can be seen from many kilometres distance. Again I find it a bit spooky running around here alone as with the partially heavy wind in the desert the buildings seem to talk to you. The only real danger though would be falling parts of the construction or falling or tripping on the floor full of industrial remains though.
I can really recommand visiting the sites as they have been histotically very relevant roughly a hundred years ago and give a good impression of what was going on here. Today they contain a good museum and are still an impressive appearance in the desert.
Read more from Timonator here.
2019 Removed from Danger list
So basically this place is crumbling to pieces and I see no maintenance done at all. In fact each building I stepped close to I was almost afraid it was going to collapse, but then I'm adventurous so I actually walked across beams and into the back of buildings to find ghosts - oh wait I mean, cool dusty machinery that used to be part of this great site, and I mean "great" as in a large. It's huuuuge. It takes hours to see everything. The best creepy pictures were when the sun started to set. I kind of felt like this was the Nostromo after the Alien took out all the crew members and it drifted in space for a while. It was also that deserted but the season probably causes little guests to come out here in windy weather.
Alright so this place used to be a massive saltpeter work, with workshops, housing, trains, clinic. It was probably awesome to see in its heyday. Strolling down the dusty road at the entrance that reminds you of a wild west town at the other side of the continent. I am imaging it all glorious but the presentation now is more for photoshooting: creepy haunted houses have nothing compared to this place. The guys from these stupid ghost hunting shows should check it out or maybe the Conjuring couple.
I suggest you check this out before it gets closed for being too dangerous. Once the factories in the back have collapse you are missing the best part of the show.
Visited dec 2018. Humberstone is a little out of the way in the north of Chile but I love these kind of sites so we suffered the extra 6 hours on a bus from San Pedro de Atacama to get to Iquique. Fortunately domestic flights are cheap in Chile (for now) so could fly back to Santiago easily after.
The site is easily visited by local bus from Iquique, dropping you off on the main highway out front. Humberstone and Santa Laura are easily visible from there. As the representative of over 200 similar sites in the region I can only imagine the poor state the others must be in. Parts of Humberstone (the plaza, theatre, market a few homes, etc) have been restored and the museums are full of quality detailed information, but what I liked the most was wandering through the rusted fences and into the broken homes and factories still barely standing. Without more support most structures might not last much longer as is the worry with Santa Laura. Unfortunately we spent so long in Humberstone that we didn't have time to walk the 2km over to Santa Laura and see it as well. I'd suggest an early start to be on the safe side.
Hard to believe that not so long ago this region at its peak was producing nearly 90% of the world's nitrates and now it is nearly forgotten, wearing away in the desert. Overall a very worthy inclusion of a globally significant site.
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.
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
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):
2019 Removed from Danger list
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"
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World Heritage Process
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