During its heyday, the saltpeter region had around 200 offices operating simultaneously. The period, which coincided with the early years of the 20th century, was known as the industry's "Golden Age." Today, these compounds are the most complete and representative material evidence of the industry and offer visitors a chance to learn how men and women were able to overcome all of the obstacles presented by the driest desert in the world. Though the buildings' walls and corners now stand empty, they reflect an era that was a time of glory for some and one of sacrifice for others.
Humberstone and Santa Laura halted their activities approximately 50 years ago. Santa Laura had 871 inhabitants and its industrial facilities –which include a leaching plant unlike any other in the world-, administrative headquarters, clinic and other small buildings remain standing. Humberstone –which was originally called La Palma- had a population of nearly 3,500. Its encampment has been preserved, including the industrial area and public buildings such as the church, market, hotel and theater.
Humberstone's main plaza was the center of the town's social activities during its period of splendor. The buildings that were constructed around it include the theater, hotel, church, pool, train station and general store, most of which were built out of Oregon pine imported from North America.
The mythical Humberstone Theater was built in 1882 and allowed its inhabitants to live the splendor of the bell époque. Important European theater and dance companies performed there. Today, visitors can tour the workers' quarters and industrial area, with its workshops, armories and other constructions.
The Saltpeter Museum Corporation offers three tours designed to teach visitors about the most important historical processes of the saltpeter industry. The tours are free for those who purchase a ticket to the saltpeter mines.
Tour 1 "La Palma – Humberstone and Its Encampment"
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes
Description: This tour allows visitors to explore official buildings as well as the residences that were built at the site. During this excursion, you will learn what life was like at Humberstone and enter buildings that contain the histories of many of the families who lived in the pampa during the Golden Age of Saltpeter.
Tour 2 "Humberstone's Industrial Area – Technological Evolution"
Duration: 1 hour
Description: This tour offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the machinery and technology that were used to make saltpeter. All of the buildings related to the services that allowed the industrial plant to operate have been preserved, including the locomotive workshop and armory that allowed the company to make use of the era's most important means of transportation.
Tour 3 "Santa Laura and the Shank System"
Duration: 1 hour
Description: Learn how saltpeter was made, including the extraction, grinding, leaching, crystallization, bagging and shipping processes from the removal of the minerals until they are taken away by train to be exported to different parts of the world. This saltpeter office is home to the only Shank System industrial leaching plant in the world.
|Iquique - Pozo Almonte - La Tirana
||Huara - Isluga Volcano National Park - Colchane
|Iquique - Mamiña
||Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter offices