This excursion begins with a brief orientation tour of Antofagasta, then on to the village of Baquedano, which stands as a testament to the golden years of ‘white gold’, as nitrate was known. One of the key buildings in this village is the train station, which today stands with all machinery and even steam engines displayed as they were in the town´s heyday.
We return to the vehicles for the drive across the Pampa to Chacabuco, often referred to as a ghost town, a place that conjures up memories of important eras in Chilean history.
Chacabuco is another of the many abandoned nitrate towns in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. In 1868 there was a boom in nitrate mining in the Atacama Desert, dominated by British and Chilean enterprises. Such was the importance of the nitrate industry that when the Bolivian government announced a tax increase of 10 centavos per hundredweight on nitrates in 1879, it sparked the War of the Pacific between Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company Ltd., Chacabuco fell into ruin at the end of the 1930’s when German synthetic nitrate took off, thus crippling northern Chile's nitrate industry. What had accounted for virtually 50% of Chile's Gross National Product fell to almost zero within a few decades. As a town, Chacabuco survived a mere 14 years. After visiting Chacabuco, we return to Antofagasta.