Ghost towns of the Atacama

The factory complex at Santa Laura – its production period was from 1916 to 1960

A short bus ride from Iquique are two UNESCO world heritage ghost towns – the Nitrate factories of Humberstone and Santa Laura. We had the eerily preserved schools, theatres, workshops, swimming pools, power rooms etc etc pretty well all to ourselves.

In the first half of the 20th century ‘Chilean Nitrate’ was the in-demand fertiliser for crops all around the world. But then air sourced Nitrates came along and these plants in the desert couldn’t compete any more; both closed in 1960.

At Humberstone – named after it’s English founder – the workers lived in segregated housing separate from the managers
The Humberstone factory complex viewed from the waste hill

As examples of our ability to create working communities in the most extreme environments, its great to see these sites listed, but UNESCO views their status as still endangered.


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