The high Andean starry nights, combined with the cold Atacama winds, can chill the unprepared tourist to the bone. Happily, however, these mountains are volcanic, and pour forth the planet's heat into a series of steaming pools, the Puritama Hot Springs.
The name "puritama" simply means "hot water" in an ancient, pre-Inca tongue, suggesting that these medicinal springs have been used for millennia. With high concentrations of relaxing lithium and minerals accorded all sorts of health benefits, they are guaranteed to mellow you out. Temperatures hover around 33°C (91°F), so they aren't ridiculously hot, making daytime visits a treat.
Though most pools have been left in a relatively natural state, there are changing rooms, eateries, campsites, trails, handicrafts vendors and other improvements all around.
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The Puritama Hot Springs are about 30 km (19 mi) north of of San Pedro de Atacama, which most people use as a base. This popular tourist town tempts travelers with treks to several other amazing destinations, including Moon Valley, Atacama Salt Lake, Licancabur Volcano, El Tatio geysers, and some of Chile's most important archaeological sites.
San Pedro's small airport has regular flights to Santiago and elsewhere in the region, while buses connect the town to Calama, Antofagasta, San Salvador de Jujuy (Argentina), and Uyuni (Bolivia).
You must have private transportation, or book a tour, to visit the hot springs, as there are no public buses. Cars can be hired in San Pedro.