How to Visit El Tatio Geysers, Atacama: An Insider’s Guide
Thinking about visiting El Tatio Geysers in Atacama, South America’s largest geothermal field? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about visiting the Geysers del Tatio.
Without a 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.
In its northern regions, landscapes in Chile 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. Geyser El Tatio are located a 2-hour drive from San Pedro de Atacama.
The north of Chile is home to the Tatio Geysers Atacama, the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the highest geothermal field in the world- something you simply have to see for yourself. It’s a high-altitude valley full of spectacular, bubbling and fuming geysers, all powered by the geothermal pools beneath the earth.
Keep reading for all the information you need on how to visit the Geyser del Tatio and discover the unique landscape as the sun comes up over the mountains casting soft, orangey-pink hues over the valley.
Disclaimer: This ‘Geyser del Tatio guide’ contains affiliate links meaning I might make a small profit if you choose to book using them at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep providing you with free, quality content.
What are El Tatio Geysers?
Geiser del Tatio is a high altitude, geothermal 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 to El Tatio Geyser?
To visit the Geysers del Tatio you have two options. Rent a car and drive yourself 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.
I’ve visited the Geiser del Tatio twice, once through a local tour operator and once by driving myself. They are two very different experiences which I’ll talk about below, so you can choose the best option for you.
Visiting Geyser del Tatio by Tour
All El Tatio Geysers tours can be arranged even up to the day before in San Pedro de Atacama.
In San Pedro, 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 bear in mind the ticket is $15,000CLP pp).
Tours to geyser del Tatio 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 at 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 this Multi-lingual Geysers del Tatio Tour
Visiting el Tatio Geysers by Self-driving
If you’ve rented a car to explore the whole area (which I highly recommend) then you’ll probably just want to drive to the Tatio Geysers, Atacama too. 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 as it’s a gravel road.
When you drive yourself to El Tatio, you can choose the time you visit and this is perfect if you don’t fancy getting up at 4 am. Bear in mind that the best time to visit El Tatio Geysers is for sunrise but you can also time your visit a little later to escape the crowds.
This is what we did and we arrived at 9 am (in winter) to have the place to ourselves.
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, and magnitude of the valley and all the grazing animals that come down when the tours leave.
Top Tips for Visiting El 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 one year 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 San Pedro de Atacama 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 quick drying 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. In fact, we had a heard of arguing vicuña run right past us.
↠ 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 See and Do at El Tatio Geysers
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.
Bathe in the Hot Springs
One part of the valley has been dedicated to a man-made pool, heated by the bubbling geothermal activity below.
Here you have cubicles to change and leave your clothes to go for a dip. The mineral content of these waters has great effects on tired muscles and improves circulation. Why not give it a try?
Note that if you’re coming in for sunrise at El Tatio Geyser, these pools will be very busy.
Check out the Surrounding Valley
While you probably can’t drive around the valley itself, there seem to be no roads, you can give it a good look.
Once it gets lighter you’ll be able to notice all the shapes and curves of the mountain peaks and the plains around the geysers.
You may even spot some vicuñas- an antelope-type animal pretty common in the high altitude, desert areas of Chile.
Visit the Surrounding Villages
Ok, not something to do at the Geysers del Tatio themselves but if you are self-driving why not stop off at some villages afterwards?
Nearby is the village of Caspana, where you can experience local Atacamanian life and customs and visit the cute little church and village square.
Following the road back to San Pedro, you can also stop at the village of Machuca (tours do this too). This village has an abandoned one-horse town vibe to it and was quite eery when we visited with nobody around- I think sellers only really come out at the time the tours come through.
Walk around and don’t forget to check out the little church on the hill.
Stop for the Wildlife at the Lakes and Rivers
You’ll pass many different rivers and watering holes on your way to and from the Atacama Geysers. Make sure to look out for all the animals that call these places home.
You can expect to see flamingoes, vicuñas, ducks and many species of birds, foxes and vizcachas (Andean rabbit).
Visit Termas de Puritana
If you haven’t yet had enough of bathing in hot springs then make sure to stop at the Termas de Puritana on the way back to San Pedro de Atacama.
On your way back you’ll no doubt see signs for these hot springs. While the entrance fee is $15,000CLP, inside you’ll be able to relax in various pools of different temperatures with some of the most stunning desert mountains and lush green reeds all around you.
The Puritama River goes right past these hot springs and relaxing in them is one of the best things to do in Atacama Chile.
Stop at Quebrada Escalera
The last note-worthy site on the way back to San Pedro is this amazing canyon, which you’ll no doubt see from the side of the road.
Deep below, you’ll notice the dried-up riverbed and this canyon is one of the deepest in the area. Admire the insane red-colored rock formations and the dramatic curves and lines. Tours won’t stop here but you definitely can if you’re driving.
If you’ve decided that you prefer to see Geysers del Tatio as part of a tour, click below for my favourite tours via Get Your Guide.
Do you have any questions about your self-driving tour to Geyser del Tatio? Please leave your questions and comments below.
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