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The geothermal field at El Tatio in the Atacama Desert, Chile is the highest place in the world to see geysers. You know, that hissing steam shooting from the earth’s surface and scalding water erupting simultaneously? Welcome to the El Tatio Geysers Chile!
Are you in?
Are you up for a trip to the El Tatio Geysers, Geysers del Tatio, in northern Chile?
Here are some El Tatio Geyser facts to get you excited before the trip.
1. El Tatio Geysers Facts
- Geysers del Tatio make up the 3rd largest geyser field in the world
- El Tatio geysers are the largest in the Southern Hemisphere
- they are highest in the world at 4320 metres/14,173 feet above sea level
- Volcanoes ring el Tatio geysers, it’s a stunning sight to behold
- there are at least 80 geysers at the El Tatio geothermal field
- there are more fumaroles (the hissing steam from the geysers) than geysers
- arrive in time for sunrise to see the fumaroles at their best
- wear layers to the geysers del Tatio, it can be very cold
- watch your step, some visitors have stepped back to take a photo and fallen in a scalding geyser. There are more safety precautions than there used to be, but it’s early in the morning so pay attention
- be on the look out for wildlife such as vicunas, Andean foxes and flamingoes
2. El Tatio Geysers Facts | Be Prepared
Getting To El Tatio Geysers Chile:
The El Tatio Geysers in Chile are a 2-hour drive north of San Pedro de Atacama. If you have a rental car you can head out on your own. There are many El Tatio Geyser tours (4:30 am – 1 pm) organized by the numerous tour agencies in San Pedro. The guide with my El Tatio Geyser tour company, Terra Extreme, was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his country. The tour includes breakfast, a look at the flora and fauna in the area and a stop at the village of Machupa on the return to San Pedro.
Cost To Visit El Tatio Geysers Chile:
On your own: The entrance to Geysers del Tatio is CLP$10000 ($20Cdn)
With a tour: The tour is CLP$20000 ($40Cdn) + the entrance to El Tatio in Chile is CLP$10000 ($20Cdn)
El Tatio Geysers And The High Altitude:
As already mentioned in the El Tatio Geyser facts section, the El Tatio geothermal field is located at 4320 metres / 14,173 feet above sea level. If you are not used to high altitudes, you might want to take a few days to acclimatize in San Pedro de Atacama which sits at 2408 metres / 7900 feet above sea level.
Suggested Clothing For Visiting El Tatio Geysers:
Wear layers. You’re going high up in the Andes. In December, which is summer in Chile, it was not frigid for this Canadian traveller but I was happy to have layered my clothing. Although I didn’t don my hat or gloves, I was prepared in case the wind started blowing.
As the sun rises higher in the sky, you will find yourself peeling off layers.
Pack a bathing suit and towel (optional: flip-flops). You might be tempted to hop in the thermal pool at El Tatio Chile.
Pop your sunscreen in as well (hard to fathom when you are being picked up in the pitch dark).
3. El Tatio Geysers Chile | It’s An Early Start
I hope you are an early bird because as I learned from the geysers in Bolivia, the best time of the day to see geysers and fumaroles is at sunrise.
I am standing at the side of the road in the pitch dark waiting to be picked up, wishing I had a coffee in hand. It’s 4:45 a.m. when the van rumbles down the narrow laneway. The tour guide who I had had the previous day at the Valle de la Luna hops out and greets me. “ALI!” he chortles and gives me a huge hug. It’s already a wonderful start to the day.
The van leaves San Pedro de Atacama and winds its way up through the Andes Mountains, The stars glisten against the black backdrop of the sky. I can’t take my eyes off Venus. In the absolute darkness of the mountains, I have never seen her shine so brilliantly. Throughout the 2-hour drive, the van twists and turns as it climbs the winding road to the geysers. The string of red lights ahead reminds me that El Tatio Geysers is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chile.
4. Geysers del Tatio | Clear The Camera Card
What makes El Tatio in Chile unique, aside from the high altitude, is the more than 500 geothermal manifestations of which 80 are active. That’s cool enough, but the geysers del Tatio are also ringed with volcanoes. What a sight to behold.
From a distance, the swirling steam reaching skyward is impressive enough but as the sun starts to rise, it’s time to see the El Tatio geyser field up close. We make our way amongst the bubbling pools, geysers, boiling mud pots and perpetual spouters. Who knew there were so many variations of this phenomenon?
The soundscape adds to the novelty. Sizzling. Hissing. Gurgling. The earth is indeed living and changing right before my very eyes.
We wait patiently by muddy holes in the ground at the geysers del Tatio and our guide predicts exactly when the steaming water will come shooting up from the earth’s surface. The mud starts bubbling, the ground hisses and suddenly shooting from the ground is an unbelievable spectacle. The water spraying about is around 86°C – that’s H-O-T!
5. El Tatio Geysers | Pack That Bikini For The Thermal Pool
Does the thought of soaking in a thermal hot pool at 4320 metres, above sea level surrounded by the Andes Mountains, appeal to you? I decide to take the plunge. Quite frankly the water isn’t hot enough for me (maybe I am colder than I think) so I find a few spots where the earth’s hot water is entering the pool and stay close by. It is an invigorating and thoroughly relaxing dip!
6. Flora And Fauna Of The Altiplano | Flamingoes…
The altiplano is a wide plain in the Andes mountains. The altiplano around the El Tatio Geysers Chile has unique flora and fauna that can survive at a high altitude. Vicunas, a miniature cousin of the llama, graze lazily on the yellow tufts of grass.
And the Andean fox or culpeo approaches our van. Perhaps he is, unfortunately, used to handouts.
Being a closet bird nerd, I am thrilled as we pull over to one lagoon after another where flocks of flamingoes are feeding. Flamingoes are very social birds and are always found in large groups.
The Andean flamingo, with its distinct black flight feathers and yellow and black beak, is only found in areas that are 2300 – 5000 metres above sea level. I only learned in Bolivia that flamingoes are pink from all the algae they eat. Young flamingoes are grey.
7. Machupa | Llama Kebob Anyone?
The last stop on the El Tatio Geysers tour is the little village of Machupa. It consists of one main street lined with adobe homes, a whitewashed church and grazing llamas. In the plaza, locals welcome tourists with drinks and sizzling llama kebobs for purchase.
Did I try a llama kebob? I might have.
My tour group is all Spanish-speaking visitors from Santiago. A young man and I have been chatting all morning – he’s practising his English, me Spanish. At Machupa, he is quite insistent that I try a piece of his llama kebob. Say no more. I went for it. So now, I can claim that I have savoured llama meat. I will definitely pass on it next time.
8. Geysers del Tatio Post Trip | What To Do?
It’s a little weird getting dropped off in San Pedro de Atacama after what feels like a full-day trip to the El Tatio Geysers. It’s 1 pm and the afternoon has barely begun. Options include a siesta and then make your way to El Valle de la Luna for the sunset. Or if you are starving, find Franchuteria, the French bakery, and have a delicious lunch and coffee in the garden.
Now you know what to expect before heading to the El Tatio geysers!