Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
Photo by Watkinstravel.

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.

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Community Reviews

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Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 16-Nov-19 -

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works by Zoë Sheng

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.


Canada - 20-Apr-19 -

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. 


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):

Site Info

Full Name
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
Unesco ID
2 3 4
Structure - Factories and industry

Site History

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"

2005 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works


The site has

Human Activity
Individual People
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process