Chile: Nitrate Ghost Towns

September 19th, 2006

Perhaps the highlight of our trip to Chile, other than just being in Chiloé, was visiting the abandoned ghost towns of the nitrate mining era. Just 30 minutes from Iquique are Humberstone and Santa Laura.

Santa Laura
The first photos are of Santa Laura. This small town was built around a towering processing plant – now a heap of rusting metal barely standing, yet still impressive. With sunlight penetrating through the rusted holes in the ceiling illuminating the abandoned machinery, still clanging away in the desert wind, the sense of abandonment is easy to sense.
Towards the back of the plant, where the town once stood, you now find heaps of rock and scrap items. Most of the timber was taken, to be used elsewhere in this tree-less barren environment. The old town is now nowhere to be seen.

This town was founded 1862, not to host processing plants, but as management town. It was originally named La Palma but was renamed to Humberstone in 1925 to honour its British manager James Humberstone, who’s innovations in ore-refining made him famous in the industry. It was only completely abandoned in 1960, making it one of the most recent.
What is interesting about this town is that it is still standing, everything from the bandstand in the plaza to the church, the theatre, the town’s hotel and market, houses, schools and a championship swimming pool.

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