The Atacama desert has a lot to offer, from unique landscapes to hidden lagoons; the options are as vast as the desert itself. The Geysers of the Tatio and the Puritama hot springs are not alike even though they both involve hot water! However, I decided to combine them in this story since they are close to each other and easy to visit in a day. In the first, you will wander around a geological landscape you cannot see in any other desert, while in the second, you will relax your body and soul with the mystical vibe of Atacama.
El Tatio is the biggest geothermal field in South America and the third worldwide! When it comes to the geysers, they are located at 4200 meters of altitude and approximately 78 KM away from San Pedro de Atacama. To see this geological wonder, you will have to wake up very early because the peak activity of the geysers is between 6 and 7 AM. You will also need to handle the desert's cold morning, but trust me, it is worth it! As you get there, you will feel as if you were in a different era; close your eyes for a second and feel the earth roar under your feet.
Before you go, it is convenient to know what a geyser is, so I will explain it to you! It is a particular type of thermal source that periodically emits a column of hot water and air vapor. In the case of El Tatio geysers, the columns might be as tall as 10 meters, and the temperature reaches approximately 85-celsius degrees! So, even if you are very curious, do not stand close to the fissure where the air vapor comes from! But, how do the eruptions of hot water and air vapor happen? They are produced by the contact between surface water and rocks heated by the magma located underground. Now that you know in basic terms what a geyser is and how it works, I would love to tell you more about El Tatio and its geysers.
The name of El Tatio geothermal field comes from the kunza "tata-iu,"; it means 'crying grandfather.' It is named like that because of the resemblance the surrounding mountains have to the profile of an old man lying down. When the snow melts, it looks like he is crying. The natives used to think this place was a sacred one and that the tears of the grandfather were omens from the gods. Nowadays, you can visit the site and see by yourself the fantastic geothermal field and understand why natives thought it was sacred. The view only gets better as the sun rises, and you can see the surroundings, mountains, and animals emerging in front of you. A very traditional activity here is to boil eggs with the heat of the geysers; for safety reasons, I advise you not to do it by yourself but ask your guide first!
Visiting the geysers is an early morning activity. To get there on time you would have to leave San Pedro de Atacama by 5.30 AM approximately, so it is better to book a tour rather than rent a car. Doing it yourself is possible but risky, especially if you are not familiar with the road, it is neither paved nor lighted. Also, take into consideration that desert mornings are freezing (especially in winter), so be prepared and pack the appropriate clothing and shoes for cold weather. Last but not least, be careful and follow your guide's instructions to avoid accidents. Regarding the geysers, my final recommendation is to keep your eyes open and appreciate the color of the sky changing between the geysers' fumes as the morning gets sunnier!
After you have seen and felt the earth's raw energy, waking up super early, and having lived some other adventures in the desert, it is time for your body and soul. Allow the naturally warm waters of Puritama to take all your worries and pains away!
The hot springs are located 28 km away from our starting point for adventure, San Pedro de Atacama. It is a perfect place for relaxation in the middle of the desert; the hot springs are at the bottom of a cannon where a warm river flows at a 33,5-Celsius degrees temperature. Also, it is said by the locals that the water of the place has curative properties.
In kunza, Puritama means "hot waters." The hot spring is composed of eight wells of warm water connected by wood bridges. Their temperatures oscillate between 28 to 31-celsius degrees. It is important to mention that the wells are enriched by minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sodium, among others. Those minerals come from the Puritama River.
The place is not only a hot spring but also a natural reserve. It is home to the Leopardus Jacobitus or Andino Cat, an endangered species of feline. They are medium size and have a beautiful gray fur with yellowish spots. If you pay attention, maybe you will be lucky enough to see one of those rare felines!
Also, it is worth mentioning that the place is equipped with a picnic area, bathrooms, and dressing rooms. Regarding the tickets, you can buy them yourself on the official web site of Puritama. In case you want to go but had not booked a tour in advance, another option is to get your tickets once you get to the hot springs. It is cheaper, but not assured; it always depends on the number of people visiting. It is therefore advised to get your ticket beforehand.
El Tatio and Puritama Hot Springs are must-sees in the Atacama Desert; they both involve water but in such different ways. The geysers in the morning will make you feel like you had traveled in time to the past when Earth was mighty and alive, and Puritama will clear your troubles away as you bathe in the middle of the dryest nonpolar desert in the world!
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