The best-preserved ghost town in Chile, HUMBERSTONE is a nitrate oficina that was abandoned in 1960 and today appeals especially to lovers of industrial architecture. It sits some 45km inland from Iquique, by Ruta 16 just before it meets the Panamericana. The town began life in 1862 as Oficina La Palma, but was renamed in 1925 in honour of its British manager, James “Santiago” Humberstone, an important nitrate entrepreneur famous for introducing the “Shanks” ore-refining system to the industry. In its time it was one of the busiest oficinas on the pampas; today it is an eerie, empty ghost town, slowly crumbling beneath the desert sun.
What sets Humberstone apart from the other ghost towns is that just about all of it is still standing – from the white, terraced workers’ houses (now in total disrepair) and the plaza with its bandstand, to the theatre, church and company store. The theatre, in particular, is highly evocative, with its rows of dusty seats staring at the stage. You should also seek out the hotel, and walk through to the back where you’ll find a huge, empty swimming pool with a diving board – curiously the pool is made from the sections of a ship’s iron hull. Located a short distance from the town are the sheds and workshops, with old tools and bits of machinery lying around, and invoices and order forms littering the floors.