Facts and Data

Official Unesco Page
View photos from OUR PLACE the World Heritage collection

Basis Data:
Unesco World heritage since: 2005
Size of heritage: 573 ha
- Buffer zone: 12,055 ha

Longitude: -68,206°
Latitude: -19,794°


Humberstone and Santa Laura works contain 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 Pampas, 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. Because of the vulnerability of the structures and the impact of a recent earthquake, the site was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger to help mobilize resources for its conservation.

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The Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works, located in the Province of Iquique, Chile, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers a glimpse into the region's rich industrial history. These former saltpeter works played a crucial role in Chile's economy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, they stand as a testament to the labor and ingenuity of the workers who toiled in these harsh conditions.


The saltpeter industry boomed in Chile during the late 19th century due to the increasing demand for nitrate, a key ingredient in fertilizers and explosives. Humberstone and Santa Laura were two of the many saltpeter works that emerged in the Atacama Desert, which held vast reserves of this valuable mineral. Humberstone was founded in 1872 and quickly grew into a bustling town, housing thousands of workers and their families. It became a self-sufficient community with schools, hospitals, theaters, and even a swimming pool. Santa Laura, established in 1900, was smaller but equally important in the production of saltpeter. The workers, mostly indigenous people and immigrants from various countries, endured grueling conditions in the saltpeter works. They extracted nitrate from the desert soil, processed it, and shipped it to international markets. The industry thrived until the early 20th century when synthetic alternatives to nitrate were developed, leading to a decline in demand.

Current State

Today, Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works stand as ghost towns, frozen in time. The UNESCO World Heritage designation has helped preserve these sites, allowing visitors to explore the remnants of this once-thriving industry. Humberstone, the larger of the two sites, offers a comprehensive view of the saltpeter works. Visitors can wander through the abandoned streets, entering the old houses, schools, and theaters. The industrial facilities, such as the processing plants and machinery, are still intact, providing a fascinating insight into the production process. Santa Laura, although smaller, is equally captivating. It features well-preserved industrial buildings, including the processing plant and the "nitrate office," where workers were paid. The site also offers a museum that showcases artifacts and photographs, providing a deeper understanding of the workers' lives. Both sites are surrounded by the vast Atacama Desert, creating a stark and haunting atmosphere. The dry climate has helped preserve the structures, but ongoing conservation efforts are necessary to ensure their long-term survival. Visiting Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works is a unique experience that allows visitors to step back in time and appreciate the industrial heritage of the region. The sites offer guided tours, providing historical context and highlighting the significance of these saltpeter works in Chile's history. In conclusion, the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works in the Province of Iquique, Chile, are UNESCO World Heritage sites that offer a fascinating glimpse into the region's industrial past. These former saltpeter works, once bustling with activity, now stand as ghost towns, preserving the memory of the workers who contributed to Chile's economy. Visiting these sites provides a unique opportunity to explore the well-preserved industrial facilities and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the workers in this harsh environment.