The enormous Geyser field known as El Tatio can be found in the north of Chile. It is located at a height of 4,320 meters on the western slopes of the Andes Range, near the famous archaeological site of San Pedro de Atacama, situated in the heart of the impressive desert of that same name.
El Tatio is considered to be one of the highest geothermal fields in the world, as well as one of the largest.
As the dawn starts to lighten the desert sky, enormous fountains of hot vapor and water can be seen emerging from within the ground. The explosive force causes the columns of hot steam to rise several meters high, clearly outlined against the crystal cold air of the “pampa”, as the desert is generally called.
Source: Caroline Fuhmann, CC BY 2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons
These columns of steam reach a general average of about 1 meter high, but can also peak at a height of six meters, about the height of a two-story house, which is really incredible.
The area that this geothermal field covers is estimated at 10 Kilometers square, a really large area. There are pools of thermal waters full of minerals that create beautiful colors within these waters.
In the background, the high peaks of the Andes can be seen, usually covered with snow. Taking everything into consideration, this is a sublime landscape that has been described by many as “unworldly”.
The beauty of the fountains of vapor and hot water provides a show that starts at about 5.30 AM and finishes at about 8.30 AM, once the sun has risen completely.
Source: Albert Backer, CC BY SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons
Due to the altitude and the lower atmospheric pressure, water boils at an average of 86º Centigrade. However, the temperature at a depth of 600 meters can rise to over 240º Centigrade.
The discovery of the presence of these high underground temperatures has led to various projects for harnessing the thermal power and converting it into electricity, a badly needed resource in that area of Chile.
However, the last project was abandoned, leaving behind remains of the mechanical structures that had been set up with this purpose.
The recent governments have once again started to focus on this alternative energy source, but there has been a very loud outcry at a national and international level, in order to preserve this natural wonder in its state of pristine and savage beauty for as long as possible..
There are pools on the surface that show an adequate temperature for human use and one of the attractions for the many tourists that visit all year round, is to bathe in one of these pools after having observed the early morning show of the fumaroles and fountains.
However, the area can be dangerous, as the ground around the mouths of the fumaroles is very fragile and if people get too near these pools, the crust can suddenly give way, plunging the unwary into the boiling abys below. Death would be instantaneous, but also probably very painful.
The place is not easy to reach, there are no clear indications on road maps, but local guides usually accompany the groups of tourist who leave at about 4.00 AM from San Pedro de Atacama when it is still dark and also very, very cold. The desert does not start to heat up until after the sun rises.
San Pedro de Atacama is also famous archaeologic center, where there are many traces of the prehistoric peoples who lived in the area long before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. The museum that was first organized by Father LePage, a Catholic priest, is an added attraction for the tourists who visit El Tatio.
Chile is a most interesting country with many natural geographic attractions, of which El Tatio is a great example.