El Tatio geysers, San Pedro de Atacama
After visiting the geysers there is nothing better to do than a re-invogorating soak in the thermal pools which are delightfully warm. So don't forget your bathing suit and a towel. Also be prepared for the fact that it will be cold and the frigid wind will be lashing at you so the stripping down part and getting out of the water part are not happy moments! But the moments spent in the water are utmost bliss and relaxation, albeit the smell of the water is not so good, and whatever is in the water warrants that you should spend a maximum of only 20 minutes enjoying the swim. Swimming at 4200m in the middle of the Andes surrounded by the typical alien landscape of the area is definitely an experience not to be missed.
This is one of the tours you have to wake up early for, as the geysers are at their most active at dawn when the air is still cold enough not to evaporate the steam. Usually tours leave San Pedro at around 4am to hopefully make it in time to the destination which lies about 90 minutes away. The road is really bad on the way, and our driver decided to take a shortcut which was a bad mistake as the van got stuck in the sand and it took us almost 2 hours to get it unstuck with no other vehicles in sight. So we arrived there at around 8am, but the temperature was still well below freezing so the show was still on - and we had it all to ourselves since everyone had left already.
The scenery here reminds you of how it must have been when the earth was first created. The ground hisses, bubbles and belches out steam and distasteful oudours. It is as if you have been transported to the beginning of time itself. With all the steam around, coupled with the barren, stark landscape in an arena of volcanos the atmosphere is quite moody. At 4200m of altitude, some say this is the highest geyser field in the world - but I have been to one even higher in Bolivia, so that statement is false. What is true though is that with it's 80 geysers it is one of the largest.
If you plan to go here, do yourself a favour and acclimatize for at least a couple of days in San Pedro. Otherwise you are almost certain to get altitude sickness. Also be careful when walking around, as many tourists have been hurt or even killed by falling into the boiling geysers. The nearest hospital is several hours away.
Being a bit of a fan of anything volcanic, visiting the El Tatio Geysers was a "must-do" on my trip to San Pedro de Atacama and they certainly didn´t disappoint.
On my second day in San Pedro de Atacama we woke up at 3:30 am to join our tour bus heading to El Tatio. I slept on the way there which was good. We arrived at 7am and paid our 3500 pesos to get into the National Park (all proceeds of which go to the indigenous communities of El Tatio). El Tatio is located 90 Km from San Pedro de Atacama at an altitude of 4,320 m.
The geysers were amazing at that time of the morning as the sun was rising as you could really appreciate the colours and the steam due to the difference in temperature. There are no barriers or anything across the geyser field which surprised me so you can walk over the area (about 10 km2 and nearly 70 geysers or fumeroles).
We had breakfast at 8am provided by our tour company which was a ham and cheese sandwich and eggs that had been hard boiled in the hot water of the springs.
Afterwards we went bathing in a natural hot spring but I found it a little chilly but did hit 30 - 35 degrees celcius in some places. Just behind this spring is the famous geyser known as "The Killer" (El Asesino) where 3 people have died or been seriously burnt by not obeying the guidelines of where to stand.
San Pedro de Atacama is a tiny town which is a very popular tourist spot because of the nearby amazing natural wonders. As such, I felt the town is a tad pretentious, with many theme restaurants, many hippies and tour agencies everywhere.
El Tatio is a site at around 4500m, of geysers. To visit this fantastic place, tour agencies will pick you up at 4:00am to arrive at around 6:30am. This is the best time to view the geysers as the sun is rising and the geysers are waking up. The performance of the sprays and orchestra of hissing and bubbling has to be experienced.
However, being at such a high altitude at such an early hour means that it is TERRIBLY cold. Wear covered boots (even then, my toes were freezing), bring scarves and hats. Some parts of the ground may be unstable due to the volcanic activities below and thin crusts. The geysers are hot, an egg can be cooked in a few seconds, I was told. Yet, because of the cold, we kept veering near to the sprays to soak in the warmth.
Geysers del Tatio is a geotermal field of volcanic origin, where the water and the steam appear violently from the depths of the land.
They are located to more than 4 thousand meters on the level of the sea, for what the temperatures during the morning are very low ( -10ºC )
The geysers have the hour of major height between 05:30 and 07:00 of the morning, when 10 meters reach the height of the jets easily.
There exist thermal natural wells near the geysers where it is possible to enjoy a bath, but is cold so you have to be brave to take off your clothes and get into the baths.
To come here you must book a tour in an agency (there are a lot in the principal streets) they will pick you up at 3:00 am... yes very early! and you will travel with some other people in a big car to the geysers. The trip will take like 3 -4 hours this way you will arrived there when the show is starting, it is really amazing but you have to be sure to take warm clothes and not to go close to the geysers because it could be dangerous. There is also the possibility to watch some wild animals around (viscachas and Alpacas).
The tour will provides you breakfast.
The return trip will take other 4 hours and you will arrive at 12:30 am aprox. to San pedro.
The tour costs 20 dollars.
There are organised tours they cost around $30pesos to one of the strangest landscapes you have ever seen.
You leave at 4am and drive for 2 hours through the dessert. Just as the sun begins rising you arrive to these huge spurts of steam blowing from the ground.
Our guide cooked our eggs and boiled our coffee water in the steam from a small geiser.
We ate breakfast with steam spurting up all around us. They don't smell too bad, but watch where you walk, it can be dangerous. A French tourist fell into one and died not so long ago. The reason you leave so early is so you arrive at the most hydrathermaly active time 6-8am.
There's a thermal swimming pool on the southern side of the field, which essentially is a natural source lined with cement and stones to form a "pool", and sheltered from the wind with low stone walls. Almost all tour groups go there after they leave the geyser field in the mornings, and after some 40-60 minutes, they leave back for San Pedro.
Water is very hot in some areas of the pool, while in others it get colder, so one should keep moving to avoid get a burned pair o'buttocks (the warmer part is quite shallow).
Take an oversized beach blanket, as it feels very cold when you just get out of the water, and the only thing you want is to be protected of the chilly breeze while drying up.
There are no changing rooms. Bring an old bathing suit -if you're going to use one- because hot sulphurous, mineral water damages the synthetic fabric and elastic bands.
Personally, I prefer to bathe in the afternoon, so I can do it naked relaxedly, which is good as I have not to deal with a fast-freezing swimming short after getting out of the water. Note that, usually, people does not bathe in the nude in the mornings, unless groups are small and agree on that, since most older South Americans don't feel comfortable with nudity, although younger Chileans don?t mind.
Taken with Noblex135S panoramic, 29 mm. rotating-drum lens camera, 1/60 sec., f.16
(See Travelogues for more photographs)
Yes, I know it looks like the world looked before life appeared on it, but in fact El Tatio has a lot of wildlife around: from small birds to big camelids, there are several animal species walking or flying around; you just need to look around quietly, and you’ll not only find them, but they may come to you by themselves, as they are completely fearless of humans.
Apart from the 2 or 3 species of small birds, there are foxes (Dusycion griseus), chinchillas (Chinchilla lanigera), vizcachas (Lagidium viscacia), a small family of pink flamingos (Phoenicopterus andinus) on the N side of the field, and mostly, vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna), an Andean camelid that make their nests on the lava scree fields on the E side of the flat, near the fresh water streams and a short distance from the pool.
Once they’re used to you, they may let you approach their nests, or thay may come to your camping place and even “talk” to you with their characteristical “chirping”; others would play and chase each other around you, just as if you were one of them.
Just don’t feed or scare them, and don’t destroy their shelters or nests. Look where the vicuñas drink water, to find out which streams are fresh and mineral-free.
Vicuñas usually are better spotted in the afternoons, when there are no tourists nor cars around, while flamingos can be seen right after dawn. Packs of vicuñas also roam in the hillsides south of El Tatio, and tour groups make photo stops when they come into
Nikon F4s, Nikkor 600 mm., f.5,6, 1/250 sec. handheld, POL filter
One more thing about the excursion is that there are some hot springs that you can bathe in. I didn´t because I was too cold, but many other people took a dip. The water was very hot, but the people were extremely cold once they got out.
I used Colque tours, but I think that all of the tour companies are almost the same, in price and service.
The geiysers are another excursion that you can take while in San Pedro. The excursion costs around 10000-13000 pesos. The tours leave extremely early (4 am) so that you get to the geiysers at sunrise, when it is the best time to see them.
On piece of advice is take warm cloths because it is freezing up there (4300 meters).
Also the gieysers are at a high altitude, so you might get sick...I didnt have any problems, but there was a girl in our group who hardly left the car and felt sick the whole time.
The geysers at the vulcano?s are a wonderfull sight and very interesting!
ONE CATCH THOUGH!!!!! you'll have to get up at 03.00 hrs A.M. because the tours leave at 04.00 hrs. A.M.
this is because the activity of the geysers is the highest at about 06.00 hrs till 07.00hrs! A.M.
but it's worth it!
The El Tatio Geyser is a volcanic region, 4320m over the sea level and located at two hours trip from San Pedro de Atacama. The Geyser is visible just before sunrise, so you must wake-up early. In the surrounding area, are many Vicunha and Viscacha.