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Ghost Towns, White Gold Rush, World Heritage

Humberstone and Santa Laura towns, have 1.5 kms of distance from each other, today they are remaining ghost towns that once had days of glory and wealth, home of many Europeans that immigrated for Wealth and business. Most of these English adventurers, invested in the nitrate industry within the driest desert in the world and extracting the mineral known as "white gold ". Other nitrate plants that were also in the circle of important development in the area were Chacabuco offices, and Pampa Union Puelma Francisco today real ghost towns in the middle of the desert.

Humberstone, was built in 1872 by its owner The Peruvian Nitrate Company using the name La Palma, in commemoration of the battle in the town of the same name in Lima in 1855. After the Pacific War ended the English firm Gibbs & Company was the new owner of Humberstone, by returning the certificates received for its previous sale.

Santa Laura, was built the same date Humberstone was, owned by the firm Barra y Riesco. In 1915 the government bought it from the English owners Foelsch & Martin. It became the second most important nitrate office and decayed started the World War II and also once the synthetic nitrate was introduced to the Chilean market. The synthetic nitrate had prices that were almost impossible to compete with.

In 1932, Humberstone suffered the first strike and stopped functioning under the administration of Gibbs, and in 1958 closed permanently. Santa Laura offices also closed in 1960, both were auctioned in 1961.

The nitrate offices or towns developed a large urban community and its own peculiar language, customs and cultural expressions, as well as a business and technology deployment, therefore these towns were witnesses of it. The nitrate industry also were acknowledged as a major influence for the modernization of agriculture worldwide and one of the first multinational companies. The nitrate companies of northern Chile were the largest producers of natural nitrate in the world.

These small nitrate cities or towns were home of all the workers, employees and managers that almost reached around 3700 people in those days, today abandoned ghost towns, that remember a wealthy past and today are an important cultural and touristic attraction in the area. Within the design and architecture of these cities which had a French Industrial Revolution influences and that today are an example of industrial archeology worth a visit.

Another thing that we can highlight from these nitrate cities were the construction of schools, hospitals, hotels, markets, sports facilities, swimming pools and even a theater, which brought International Shows and performances, examples of wealth and where you see that the people who lived here, had nearly all the commodities and entertainment in these mini cities that were in the middle of nowhere.

These nitrate offices are located in the North of Chile, 57 km from Iquique, and that today are real ghost towns abandoned completely, there are still remaining of what life was like for the people who lived and worked during the "white gold" rush, the Nitrate.

To visit this place, you can fly to the northern city called Iquique then visit the small town of Pica, Matilla and La Tirana also very attractive rural places and near this area as well and then go to these ghost towns that are close and then enjoy this unique experience, at the ghost towns taking a tour to its remaining buildings and houses.

Today these towns are an important touristic attraction of the area, and real natural open museums nominated by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, along with Sewell, Easter Island, Valparaiso, and the churches of Chiloé.

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