In the altiplano

Chile’s El Tatio geyser field: out of this world

Perched high among Chile’s northern Andes is one of the country’s most spectacular natural phenomenons - the geothermal activity of El Tatio.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012 Category: Tourism
Steam rises in a lunar landscape from El Tatio geyser field. (Photo by srish/Flickr) Steam rises in a lunar landscape from El Tatio geyser field. (Photo by srish/Flickr)

It may border the famous Atacama desert, but there’s nothing warm about the El Tatio geyser field - in fact you’ll need some heavy duty equipment to brave year-round temperatures that plunge well below freezing.


But preparing for the extreme cold is all part of an adventure that will see you dragging yourself out of bed at around 5:00 a.m and driving for two hours up dirt roads to altitudes that are bound to turn your stomach... and leave you wondering if you’ve left planet earth.


And with lunar-like craters and over 80 geysers of bubbling liquid and churning steam, you may as well have.


At a height of 14,107 feet (43,00m) above sea-level, El Tatio is renowned as one of Chile’s most photogenic natural wonders, no small reputation in a country that boasts some of the most varied and extreme landscapes in the world.


El Tatio is at its most spectacular at sunrise, when the first rays of light dance eerily among the plumes of steam and turn the bare earth and stone infinite shades of red, purple and pink.


Temperatures can rise markedly during the day, but to really defrost you can brave the elements and bath in one of El Tatio’s natural baths, or head to nearby Puritama hot springs, which at a temperature of 86ºF (30ºC) and a clarity that has to be seen to be believed, is just what the doctor ordered after your high altitude adventure.


Puritama is situated in a desert oasis at the bottom of a deep canyon, its lush green vegetation contrasting markedly with the reds and oranges of the altiplano. It’s also a great place to see the areas distinctive wildlife, like the llama-like vicunas, and ostrich-esque rheas.  


Tours and accommodation can be arranged in the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama.

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