These are two nitrate centres which were built in the middle of the driest desert in the world in the north of Chile. Their hey day was the golden age of nitrate at the beginning of the 20th century. They are abandoned but the remains still show the glorious era which was marked by the sacrifices of miners who lived during a period of Chilean history exempt of all labour laws.
Unesco declared these two centres World Heritage Sites in 2005.
Humberstone Nitrate Centre
Its full name is Oficina Santiago Humberstone, although its first name was La Palma however it took on its new name, the present day one, when it changed hands in 1934. It is located 52 kilometres from the city of Iquique and it was built in 1862.
The nitrate centre operated until the year 1960, when the mineral company experienced its decline. The buildings that were constructed here are still relatively well preserved which means that you can go into them and appreciate their grandeur. One fine example of this is the theatre that was built around the main square, where you can still see the seats in the stalls, as well as a recently restored church.
As you walk around the passageways you will come across an iron swimming pool with a wicker rooftop, tennis courts, the original miners’ houses, a local store and the administration building.
Apart from being a World Heritage Site it is a National Monument.
The premises are open to the public all year round and have security services.
Santa Laura Nitrate Centre
It is located 47 kilometres from the city of Iquique, a few metres from the Humberstone Centre and it was built in 1872, by Guillermo Wendell, at the start of 1870 in Pampa Nebraska (Cantón Pozo Almonte). The centre closed during the Great Depression and then only operated until 1960, when it was bought over by the Compañía Salitrera de Tarapacá y Antofagasta, sharing the same destiny as Humberstone.
As well as a few others, it is one of the only centres which have not been totally dismantled, the administration building being the only place that is still partially conserved. The primary existing wealth in Santa Laura is the leaching plant with the crushing section and the iodination plant, the latter being the only of its kind in the world.
Amongst the ruins you can see the machinery that silently reminds us of the splendid and self-sacrificing past. You will be able to walk through its streets, houses and buildings used for different activities like the market, the church and the school etc.
It is also a World Heritage Site and National Monument but unfortunately it is not as well preserved.