Without doubt, Chile has some pretty stunning landscapes, from the jagged peaks of Patagonia in the south to the altiplano deserts in the north- it’s easily one of the most geographically varied countries in the world. The north of Chile is also home to the Tatio Geysers, the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere- something you simply have to see for yourself. Keep reading for all the information you need for a self-drive tour of Geyser del Tatio.
In its northern regions, landscapes generally tend to be desert characterised by less sand and more rock, salt flats and altiplano grasslands and volcanoes which stretch from the Andes right into the Pacific Ocean.
The Atacama desert and salt flats lie about 100km from the city of Calama and it’s from the town of San Pedro de Atacama that you can explore these tremendous, otherworldly, varied landscapes.
One of the highlights of the area, and trust me, there are many is Geyser del Tatio or Geiser del Tatio, a high altitude valley full of spectacular, bubbling and fuming geysers, all powered by the geothermal pools beneath the earth.
In the early morning, as the sun comes up over the mountains casting soft, orangey-pink hues over the valley it’s a sight you simply don’t want to miss when in the area.
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WHAT ARE THE TATIO GEYSERS?
Geiser del Tatio is a high altitude field full of more than 80 geysers.
It’s the third-largest geyser field in the world and the largest in the southern hemisphere. But what is a geyser you ask?
A geyser is formed when cold underground rivers and streams come into contact with hot volcanic rock beneath the surface of the earth, causing the water and steam to rise to the surface. At the Tatio Geyser field, you can see many pockets of bubbling water, and steaming gases as far as the eye can see.
HOW TO GET THERE?
To visit the Geysers del Tatio you have two options. Self-drive or take an organised tour. There are pros and cons to both and your decision will probably also depend on how you are exploring the rest of the area.
All tours can be arranged even up to the day before in San Pedro de Atacama.
Here you’ll find many companies that offer a very similar service and price. Tours normally include your transportation, breakfast and sometimes the entrance ticket (if not bare in mind the ticket is $10,000CLP pp).
Tours depart San Pedro at about 4 am and make their way in the darkness to the Geysers del Tatio.
You’ll arrive for sunrise and see all the beautiful colours being reflected in the valley and the giant plumes of steam gushing out of the fumaroles below.
While taking a tour is very easy, the main disadvantage is that every tour of Geyser del Tatio arrives here for sunrise. You’ll be sharing the area with many other people and during high season it can get very busy.
During the summer high season especially in January and February, it’s a good idea to book a tour in advance. My favourite tour is ‘Geysers del Tatio ingles, portuguez, español’ from Viator.
Rent a car and explore the whole area as well as the geysers. The drive north from San Pedro is an easy one and you don’t need a 4×4, just sometimes it gets a bit bumpy.
With a self-driving tour to Geyser del Tatio, you can choose the time you visit and this is perfect if you don’t fancy getting up at 4 am.
Just bear in mind that as the day goes on the plumes of steam get weaker and weaker as the air temperature warms up. Enjoying the area after the morning tourist rush had left gave us the chance to experience the silence, serenity, magnitude of the valley and all the grazing animals that come down when the tourists leave.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING TATIO GEYSERS
↠ It will be cold so bring warm clothes especially at 5 am. At this altitude, even in summer, the temperature drops down to freezing or below at night. When visiting for sunrise it was -15°C and we were most grateful for every single layer we bought.
↠ The geysers and located at an altitude of 4,320m,(14,173ft) one of the highest points in the area. To avoid altitude sickness visit the geysers on the last morning of your itinerary. This will give you the maximum amount of time to acclimatize in lower areas first.
↠ Try not to visit after 11 am, by this time the geysers are pretty weak and it’s probably not worth it.
↠ Bring your swimwear and a towel! In the valley, there are some hot springs in which you can bathe so if you fancy a dip in the warm geothermal pools, don’t forget your swimwear.
↠ Look out for vicuñas and Andean foxes, especially if you come a little later. Once most people have left the animals come down into the valley to scavenge for leftover breakfast. They aren’t afraid to come too close so keep your eyes peeled.
↠ If you can, rent a 4×4 or a car with a higher clearance. You don’t need one for this part of the trip but it’s helpful when exploring other parts of the Atacama desert. The road isn’t paved for the most part and it will be more comfortable.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE
The Geysers del Tatio
The main attraction here is the fuming geisers del Tatio expelling all that energy into the sky. Follow the paths around the biggest craters which are filled with bubbling volcanic water and enjoy the effects of the light in the smoke-filled sky.
There are quite a few geysers of all different sizes which you can walk around and marvel at.