After 2,5 years of Amazon Coen and I are happy to have returned to the colder and drier climate of South America, the Andes Mountains.
We are cold-weather people.
That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the heat. We can. Preferably in water. One of the great pleasures of traveling in the colder climates of South America is soaking in hot springs.
In South America, most of the natural hot baths are in the Andes Mountains of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. In most cases we wild camped at the remotest places where we were all by ourselves and felt incredibly rich for being there and strongly connected with our surroundings.
Here are South America’s hot springs we enjoyed most (and how you can visit them, too!).
Hot Spring #1 – Laguna Verde in Southwest Bolivia
Bolivia’s highlands are empty, barren, windy and cold. We find ourselves at an altitude of 4,500 meters. This is the Altiplano (high plains) of southwestern Bolivia, a region called Sud Lipez. Wildlife consists of vicuñas, three types of flamingos and a number of small animals. This part of the world is largely void of human civilization.
Thanks to a large number of volcanoes, this part of Bolivia has various hot springs, or thermal baths if you like. One lies next to Laguna Verde. We stretch out on a flat rock right underneath the water surface. Hot water flows over our bodies, the sun warms our heads which are exposed to a fierce wind, and we doze. Fabulous. Because of the fierce, cold
We are severely punished for this reckless behavior: that night Coen’s front is bright red and I can hardly sit anymore on my severely burned butt and back of my legs. You could fry an egg on those body parts, so hot as they are!
Contrary to what we had intended we leave the other hot springs in the vicinity to other travelers (there are several between Laguna Verde and Salar de Uyuni). We take pleasure in driving and camping in this vast emptiness. Nevertheless, this laguna will remain one of our favorite hot springs in South America.
Practical Information on Laguna Verde and Salar de Uyuni
- In San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) and
Uyuniyou can organize multiple-day tours to Salar de Uyuni and the Lagunas Coloradas (as the region of Sud Lipez is called). Expect to rough it in terms of basic accommodation as well as spending many hours crammed in the car on potholed roads. In return, you will see a fantastic part of the world: Volcanoes, hot geysers, colored lakes, hot springs, sightings of vicuñas and flamingos.
- Exploring this part of the world independently demands preparation as there are no facilities whatsoever. Make sure to bring enough water, food, and fuel.
- The region is at 3,800- 5,000 meters, which can cause altitude sickness (drink lots of water).
- Make sure to slather yourself in sunscreen and bring warm clothes (e.g. merino wool base layers) for the cold or freezing nights.
- Car rental is possible in Uyuni (Bolivia). Note that – as far as I know – you can’t cross borders with a car rented in Chile.
- Here you can find GPS waypoints to, among other places, Salar de Uyuni and the Colored Lakes.
- Read more on Salar de Uyuni here and here.
Hot spring #2 – Tarapaya near Potosí in Bolivia
It’s late when we arrive in Potosí and are in need of a place to sleep. The town itself doesn’t appeal to spend the night and we search in its surroundings. A local points out a camping spot on top of a hill, some 20 kilometers north of town. We check it out.
It’s cloudy, gray and damp. At the top of the hill (3500 meters) we are exposed to a fierce wind and the place wouldn’t have been a success without this hot pool, which dates back to Inca times.
Quickly we undress, run to the pool and descend into the steaming water, which is claimed to have curative powers. Our muscles and skin need a bit of time to adjust to the major difference in temperature but little by little we start to feel warm and cozy again.
Practical Information on the Hot Spring of Tarapaya
- Around the pool you can pitch your tent for a few bolivianos or stay at the hostel of Balneario Paraíso or Balneario de Tarapaya.
- There are camiones (local bus) plying between Potosí (Plaza Chuquimia) and Tarapaya. Ask the driver to stop at the turn to the balnearios from where it’s a short walk up.
Hot spring #3 – Puchuldiza Geysers in North Chile
The geysers of Puchuldiza, east of Iquique, lie at 4200 meters and are part of Isluga Volcano National Park. The daily afternoon wind of the Altiplano comes howling across the plain. The thermal bath mainly feels warm because my head sticking out above the edge of the bath almost freezes with cold. Not much is needed to get an ear infection here.
Or a lung infection, I figure while getting out of the bath and trying to get dressed, which is almost impossible because my fingers appear to be frozen. But I’m not complaining: after a day of eating dust on the off-roads meandering through the Andes Mountains, a bath – let alone a warm one – is much appreciated and the scene is extraordinary.
It’s so remote and empty that the term ‘wild camping’ gets a new dimension.
Early morning the wind has subsided. We walk around across the lonely plateau. Bare mountains. A couple of grazing llamas. Spouting geysers. During winter the steam freezes, we have seen extraordinary pictures of it.
Now it is summer, but still, the Land Cruiser has ice on the inside of the windows. Even at such altitude, and even without a functioning heater, we slept well in our isolated home on wheels.
Practical Information on the Puchuldiza Geysers
- Don’t expect to get here by public transport. The best way to visit the geysers is to rent a car in Iquique or to find a tour.
- Stock up on fuel, water, and food.
Hot spring #4 on the border Argentina – Chile
A local gave us the tip to drive from San Martín (in the Argentinean Lake District) to Chile. The border crossing includes a ferry crossing and, like most border crossings between these two countries, the landscapes and views were fantastic.
Just before hitting the border we took a left turn and followed a narrow path through a forest until we hit an open space where a couple of Argentinians were camping and fishing.
Early morning we hiked for an hour or so in all quietude. Forest, a couple of birds, some insects, first rays of sun penetrating through the foliage, crisp air. Peace and quiet; a lovely walk. Between a couple of large boulders cascaded a minuscule stream over rocks. We undressed and sat right underneath one of the rocks and let the warm water stream over our shoulders.
Practical Information about the Hot Spring on the Border
- You’ll need your own transportation to get here. Rent a car in Bariloche and bring (rent or buy) camping gear.
- Stock up as there are no provisions for sale in the nearby area.
- Note that big trucks may be too large to drive the narrow forest road with overhanging trees.
Hot spring #5 – Susques/Sey in Argentina
West of Salta stretches the vast Altiplano all the way into Chile. Driving and camping here is one of our highlights in South America. We love the region for its intricate colors – soft tinges of red, orange, purple and yellow. There are salt lakes, deserts, volcanoes and hot springs. We encountered a thermal bath between Susques and Sey.
Local people have built a concrete construction around, which takes away the sense of awe because you don’t see your surroundings but it also pleasantly protects you against the strong, cold wind. After a freezing night it was a perfect bath to warm our bodies and get going again.
Practical Information on Susques – Sey
- Rent a car in Salta to get there, or book a tour (see below)
- If you drive yourself: from Quebrada de Humahuaca, north of Salta, drive west to the Salinas (salt flats) and to Susques. Here you turn left to Sey. The road crosses the Tropic of Capricorn twice and passes through two traditional villages with adobe houses and thatched roofs where locals sell handicrafts. The thermal bath is just south of Sey.
- Stock up on food and water, and bring camping gear if you want to spend the night, although visiting the hot spring is doable as a (long) day trip from Salta.
Other Mesmerizing Places in South America
- 5 places in South America to listen to silence
- 5 places in South America to hike forest trails
- 5 places in South America to connect with wildlife
- 5 Awe-inspiring Landscapes in South America – Our Roles to Save the Planet
Originally published in 2013 / Updated in 2020