Visiting El Tatio geysers means getting up early. Tours pick up tourists in their hotel in San Pedro de Atacama usually between 4: 30-5:00 a.m. As we had a car, the plan was to drive the 79 kilometers which take about an hour and a half. The night before we had coordinated with a man and his son to go by caravan. We met in the parking lot of our hotel Lodge Andino Terrantai.
Before going to sleep, my mother calls our room to tell us that she wanted to sleep and that it was just me and my sister going. To my bad luck, in the morning my sister told me that she was not feeling well and that I had to go alone. El Tatio geysers are one of the must-sees in the Atacama desert, so I decided to go with the family.
The Tatio comes from the kunza “Tata-iu” and means “the grandfather who cries”
You can go on your own or take a tour to El Tatio geysers
The road to go to El Tatio geysers is in good condition. Tour operators will tell you that the road is in a very bad state, which was true before, to sell you the tours. But you can drive on your own without any problem, you just have to be careful. On the way there everything was very dark and it seems that a car did not see a curve and ended up in water. On the way back we could see when they took out the car.
The reality is that on the way there you have no idea what is around you apart from the road because everything is very dark. One is following the other cars that go to the same destination. When we went up we saw how the temperature dropped, until it reached minus 12 ° C. In El Tatio geysers it was not as cold as in some places on the road.
The sunrise time varies depending on the season of the year. Before setting your departure time, check what time sunrise is and arrive just before. We left at 5:30 a.m. from the hotel and we arrived just before 7 a.m. We saw Venus in the sky shining brightly before the sun rose.
No matter what season of the year you go, it is always cold in the desert and more considering the altitude. We went at the end of April, which is autumn in Chile and we took warm clothes, but many tourists who go in summer are not prepared. In town you can buy anything you forgot to bring. I bought a knitted hat that seemed funny and gloves. You’re going to need gloves, my hands were freezing and I had trouble taking pictures.
The Tatio has 8% of the geysers in the world and are the highest
When you get to El Tatio geysers you will feel the height when try to walk. They are at 4,230 meters above sea level and are the highest in the world (together with Sol de Mañana in Bolivia). The hotels in San Pedro de Atacama offer coca tea that helps with height, which also has caffeine that helps with driving. You can also ask your hotel to prepare you a meal to take. I brought a sandwich and a banana that was perfect.
El Tatio geysers are the third largest group of geysers in the world, after Yellowstone, in the United States and the Kronotsky nature reserve, in Russia. They are the largest in the southern hemisphere. They get to have eruptions of up to 80 centimeters in their 80 geysers. When I went I thought the eruptions were going to be higher, something like big water jets.
Don’t you think of touching the water of the geysers
The greatest geothermal activity occurs with the cold, that’s why you should go so early. There is some security around geysers but not much, usually it is just a circle of rocks. It is important that you do not get too close to them and that you DO NOT touch the water. In the town they told us some stories of silly tourists who ignored this and were burned alive. If you search online you can see that the stories are true.
The last case was a Belgian tourist who tried to take a picture (please do not take selfies in this place) and fell into a geyser. Even if they could treat the burns, it takes more than 2 hours to get to the nearest hospital in Calama.
When you walk through the geysers you will see steam outlets from the earth that are most noticeable when it is dark. They make unique shapes and are interesting to photograph. The vapor is composed of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The temperature ranges from 48.3–91.6 ° C (118.9–196.9 ° F).
In 2016, the indigenous communities of Toconce and Caspana, which manage the site, increased the cost of admission to CLP 5,000 ($7.65). This they did to improve the facilities which now have bathrooms and trails.
Add a bath in the Puritama Hot Springs to your visit
You can bathe in hot springs in El Tatio geysers. We decided to go to the Puritama Hot Springs because we had heard that they were prettier. We drove back (they are 35 kilometers from San Pedro), being able to appreciate the beautiful landscapes that were dark on our way over. This is a good place for bird watching and we stopped a couple of times on the way to take pictures in the swamps.
We drove to the Puritama Hot Springs but we arrived very early and we had to wait until the site opened at 9 a.m. You can go in two time frames, from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. which costs 15,000 CLP ($22.95) or 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. which costs 9,000 CLP ($13.77). On Saturdays and Sundays it costs CLP 15,000 all day. Admission is a bit expensive, but the site is small, so it would be uncomfortable if there were too many people.
The parking lot is at the top and you should walk down for about 8-12 minutes. It is better to take everything you need to avoid having to return to the car. Las Termas de Puritama has locker, dressing rooms and shower, so you can leave your things without problem. They also have a small kiosk where they sell water and some other drinks.
The Puritama Hot Springs are a set of eight wells with a temperature of 33.5 ° c. which are connected by red wooden walkways in the middle of the desert. They are located 3,475 meters above sea level. The landscape around it is very virgin and is covered with vegetation that provides privacy. There is a VIP area with fountain for guests of Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, a very luxurious hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.