Geysers, birds, and cactuses.

It was time for our last tour in San Pedro, and this one unfortunately started at 4am…. YES, that’s in the middle of the night, and also when it is very cold and dark. The reason for the early start is that the tour goes to a geyser field, and the idea is to be there when the sun rises. The reason for this, is not for the ‘joy’ of seeing the sun rise – but rather because at this time the geothermal activity is at it’s highest, so the geysers are more active and more dramatic. This apparently has to do with the contrast in temperature, as when the sun rises, the temperature goes up very rapidly.

This is especially a good thing for us poor, frozen tourists – as when we arrived at the geysers it was 8 degrees below zero…. Yes, that’s very cold… we were dressed in every layer that we had, including thermal underwear, and were still VERY COLD! Some of the other tourists has a lot less protection, and looked ABSOLUTELY FREEZING!

The geyser field is called El Tatio geyser field,Β and the reason it’s so cold is because it is at 4,320m above sea level – part of the highest geothermal field in the world! (The whole geothermal field is very extensive, and extends into Bolivia)

It takes around 90 minutes by minibus to get there from San Pedro, and so there is an ascent of around 2000m in 90 minutes – this is apparently the tour that the greatest number of people get altitude sickness on…..but we arrived at the geysers just before sunrise, and everybody on our tour survived the ascent!

Our guide tells us about the geysers – see, even he looks cold.
The sun is rising, and the geysers are steaming….
PB is glad the sun is coming out.
More sun and steam at the geysers.

The geysers were not super-powerful or high like in some places in the world – but they were in a really beautiful setting, and the light from the early morning sun gave the place a kind of surreal, eerie atmosphere.

PB and CC at the geysers – a bit warmer than when we arrived.
El Tatio geyser field.
CC at the geyser field.

After around an hour at the geysers, a tasty breakfast is provided, and then there is the opportunity to take a dip in the hot springs…. Yes, OF COURSE we were too wimpy to go in the hot springs! πŸ™‚

About 50% of our tour group did go in the springs though….Β  Our ‘official‘ justification for not going in the hot springs was that ‘it was very crowded, and we had been in other hot springs quite a few times before’. The ‘unofficial‘ reason was that it was ‘FREEZING COLD – TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF IN THIS WEATHER – ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!’

Cheese on toast and hot chocolate makes a fine breakfast.
Of course we managed to find a new interesting bird…. πŸ™‚ This is a Red-backed sierra finch.
The hot springs… see, look how crowded it is – who would want to go in there? Apparently only one end is actually ‘hot’… yes, the end with all the people in it!
Instead of going in the hot springs, we wandered around another section of the geyser field.

The tour included a few stops on the way back from the geysers, and the first couple of stops were at wetland areas to see birds – YES! πŸ™‚ The setting was beautiful and there were lots of birds around – including some that we hadn’t seen before.

Wetland area at around 4000m above sea level.
This is a Puna Teal.
This is a Giant Coot.
This is an Andean Goose.
AND… we saw some more Andean Flamingoes.
Another wetland area.

After the wetlands, we continued our descent – with a brief pause to look at a church in the village of Machuca. Machuca apparently used to be a traditional village with a population of around 20 people, but since it became a stop on the way back from the geysers, with pretty much every single tour bus stopping there, it now consists of some craft stalls, llama kebabs for sale, and apparently an old lady with a baby llama that charges tourists for pictures….

So….. our particular tour company had taken up a policy of not stopping in the village, but we stopped briefly on the road above the village to look down on the historical church – which is very striking…

Machuca church.

Our final stop on the tour was to ‘cactus canyon’ – YES, as you well know we are suckers for cactuses! πŸ™‚ You can never see too many cactuses in your life, so they say (or maybe only WE say that….). Anyway, this is an extra stop that only our tour company does – this is one of the reasons that our geyser tour cost more then a ‘normal’ geyser tour – but if you want birds and cactuses then there is a price to pay! (worth it, in our view πŸ™‚ )

View on the way to the cactus canyon.
YEP! The first thing that happens when you get to a cactus area, is that you take pictures of yourselves next to the big cactuses…. πŸ™‚
A view down cactus canyon.
Cactus canyon has a small river running through it.
Looking back at the mountains from cactus canyon.

Cactus canyon was really lovely – we had around an hour to walk into the canyon and back out again, and it was very scenic. Quite a contrast to the other scenery in the area, and a great stop.

After the canyon, it was the end of the tour – so back to San Pedro it was. It had been a really great three days – all of the tours had been absolutely excellent πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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