Humberstone – A ghost town in Chilean desert

Iquique, Chile

Humberstone - a Chilean ghost town
Looking back into the town from the mine area

“Why do you want to go to that ghost town so bad?” – Jack looks at me in a way that he does whenever I suggest things he finds absurd. Like going out of our way to see abandoned buildings and machineries. Like going out of our way just to end up in a town and got our stuff stolen (but that’s for another story).

I guess he sees ghost towns the way I don’t get birdwatching. Or eyebrow waxing.

Humberstone clock tower
Humberstone clock tower in the main plaza

But ghost towns, along with cemeteries and weird museums, do fascinate me. My ideal ghost town would be the one depicted in Michael Chricton’s book: Andromeda Strain – where the town was left just as if the citizens all of sudden decided to walk out one day (well – in the book they die) leaving half eaten food on the table and children’s toys on the floor.

Abandoned house

But Humberstone was not anything like that. The reason it was abandoned was something less sinister than a deadly extra terrestrial virus.

For awhile it was a prosperous town of 3500 that thrived on nitrate mining for fertilizer. These people had a town complete with a hospital, a public swimming pool, and even a theatre.

Posters advertising Chilean produced fertilizer

Then someday, someone came up with a way to make fertilizer through synthetic means: it’s cheaper to produce. Natural nitrate could not compete and the town slowly fell into decay. In 1960 Humberstone with its sister nitrate mining town, Santa Laura, were completely abandoned.

Inside a hospital room in Humberstone
Inside a hospital room in Humberstone
The abandoned hospital in Humberstone
The peeling wall of the hospital in Humberstone
The abandoned nitrate mine in Humberstone
The abandoned nitrate mine in Humberstone
Abandoned machinery - Humberstone
Abandoned machinery
Abandoned mine and its smokestack - Humberstone, Chile
Abandoned mine and its smokestack - Humberstone, Chile
Children's toy guns made out of wire in Humberstone
Left behind children's toy guns made out of wire

Stories about how ghost towns come to exist always make me a little sad. I can’t imagine having to have to leave my home town against my will, either due to economic force or others. The idea of being pushed out and not drawn to anywhere else. Where did these people end up?

Similar post around the web:
This ghost town in Ukraine is super fascinating.

Tell us

Have you been to a ghost town?

Info box:
How to visit Humberstone: Get yourself to Iquique (watchout for bag snatchers there). There are two companies that offer transports to Humberstone, they’re both located on Calle Barros Arrana in front of the market. The earliest leaves at 7 am. (1500 – 1900 pesos)
How to get back to Iquique: In theory, you can catch any bus going in the other direction. BUT if you leave in the morning, there’s only one bus an hour that goes back to Iquique. I ended up hitchhiking back.
Cost: 2000 soles
Tip: Get there preferably before 10 am since that’s when the souvenir sellers come. There was nothing like being the only being walking around a ghost town.

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

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15 Replies to “Humberstone – A ghost town in Chilean desert”

  1. I love ghost towns, but it is rare to fine one that became a "ghost" as recently as the 1960s. A very interesting concept. So far I've visited Silver City Idaho, Placerville Idaho, Virginia City Nevada. Thank you for the beautiful photos!

  2. So cool huh?! This was one of my favorite off the beaten path places I visited while living in Iquique. Glad you guys made a stop there!

  3. Goose bumps all over my body…You enjoyed the trip to Humberstone? I think i would feel like in a horror movie:-) But the pictures are pretty cool, very real. Thank you!

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