When one thinks of a desert, the following comes to mind: a vastness of sand and dunes with no end in sight. It wasn’t until my trip to the Atacama Desert that all these stereotypes were put aside; Atacama is not your average desert. It is a veritable explosion of nature, boasting a cornucopia of rich minerals, lagoons, flora, fauna, snow peaked mountains and volcanoes. How can one fathom so much nature and life in one of the driest places on Earth? For the first time as a seasoned traveler I felt the earth’s heartbeat pulsating. And with reason. Atacama is an international hotspot, rivaled only in Chile by Patagonia and Easter Island.
Apart from the epic and mesmerizing landscapes, Atacama is home to some of the best lodging experiences in South America, equipping you for the bountiful adventures that await. During my visit, I had the privilege of staying at four of the most incredible lodges anywhere, each with warm hospitality, world-class cuisine, views, and, of course, excursions. All of these lodges will guarantee you peace of mind since they are full-board, including unlimited excursions, all meals and transfers.
The area surrounding these hotels is unique and diverse. You will find salt flats visited by flamingos, natural hot springs, deep canyons and impressive volcanoes (2 of which are still active!). The Atacama’s altitude, remoteness, minimal light pollution and arid atmosphere make it one of the best stargazing experiences on the planet. What more could you want for an easy adventure? Whether you are into sightseeing, hiking or wildlife, you will never be short of places to visit in the Atacama Desert.
Awasi – Luxury Boutique Hotel
Looking for the most absolute boutique luxury lodge experience? Awasi, located in the remote oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, is the only Relais & Chateaux lodge in town that will know how many spoonfuls of sugar your coffee will take; their attention to detail is impeccable. Being at this lodge makes you feel immersed in the desert as the design is inspired by the local culture and environment, using indigenous materials (stone, adobe and wood) and cacti plants along the pathway. The villas are spacious, quaint and cozy, each with its own private patio and outdoor shower.
Awasi is the only lodge in Atacama that offers a private guide and vehicle assigned to each villa and will tailor each traveler’s experiences to their desires. You no longer need to feel like the turtle in the group excursion (I’m guilty of this!) or a frustrated explorer if others drag their feet. Also, this is the only lodge in Atacama that has a 4x4 vehicle, so their excursions can get as daring and adventurous as you’d like as they can take you off the beaten path. Want to beat the crowd at El Tatio Geysers? This is a must-see at Atacama, with the moon-like field of steam-spitting geysers. Awasi will make sure you arrive before or after the tourist’s bus so you can experience this magical place in solitude and take great pictures without any photo bombers.
As a lover of photography, Awasi was the perfect match for my soul. My guide was able to meet all of my odd requests, such as stopping various times along the road and climbing the vehicle to capture great shots, as well as stargazing on a peak at 12:30AM right after my pickup at the airport. If something tweaks your interests, which is bound to happen, your guide will stop and allow you to savor those magical moments; the adventure never sleeps at Awasi.
Explora - For the true adventurer
The name Explora sells for itself; this is the perfect luxury adventure lodge, with modern and bold design, that will provide endless optional excursions to the curious explorer and will take you to places that no other lodge has access to. Just outside of the Chilean village of San Pedro, Explora presents to you the real importance of active exploration as well as a unique philosophy - leave your hotel! Unplug from technology, as wifi is only available in the main lobby, and connect with nature. Rooms are comfortable and sleek, but your stay at Explora is all about getting out of your room rather than staying in, so do not expect to lounge on a balcony looking out to the views.
After checking-in to the lodge, you immediately meet with your guide to start planning the next few days of adventure as the guide gauges your level of physical ability. Each meeting table is adorned with a map of the region with different specifications, such as the altitude, terrain and distance. Explora offers over 30 different excursions to choose from, of which 8 are full day excursions and vary from light physical activity to strenuous hikes, such as summiting the 18,000 feet-high volcano. Excursions are operated on a small group basis with a maximum of 8 travelers. The lodge has a private observatory for nightly star viewings when skies are clear and owns the nearby Puritama hot springs, which guests from Explora have exclusive access to. It is also the only lodge on site that has a horse stable home to 20 beautiful horses, providing horse-back riding on the sand dunes of the Moon Valley (not to be missed!). The lodge also offers indoor and outdoor dining options, featuring delicious 3 course meals inspired by local tradition with an edgy international twist. The food and service are five star and make your stay worth it, but the guides and unmatched adventure are what truly make Explora Atacama unique.
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa - The Perfect Getaway
This luxury boutique hotel is the perfect getaway to experience both the iconic attractions of Atacama as well as sit back and relax to enjoy the impressive views and amenities of the hotel. One can sense that this hotel was carefully placed in the Atacaman desert, as the Andean mountains frame this rustic yet chic lodge. The hotel ensures that the guests can experience delight at every turn, as secluded nooks are found around the premise, as well as a terrace pit to enjoy the exceptional views of the Licancabur volcano or the blanket of stars. Local indigenous culture is visible everywhere in this hotel, from the desert-inspired art to the minimalist, unique local flair.
Tierra Atacama is known for their “adventure spa” philosophy - explore by day and recuperate by night. After participating in one of the many excursions offered, visit their first-class spa, Uma, to de-stress and escape. Uma spa offers locally inspired treatments, as well as both an indoor heated pool to relax those muscles and outdoor pool to enjoy panoramic views of the desert. Looking to add a romantic twist to your Atacama adventure? Tierra Atacama may be the best option for you as guests can retreat to the romantic atmosphere of the “Oriente Rooms”, where sliding doors lead to a private terrace to view the sun turn the mountains deep red, and ensuite bathrooms have both indoor and outdoor showers. All of the main excursions are offered on a small group basis, but your evenings could be spent unwinding with the soul-soothing treatments offered by the spa.
Alto Atacama - Desert Immersion
Located in the Catarpe Valley of the Salt Mountain Range, Alto Atacama is the only lodge that is completely wrapped around by its natural surroundings; it is tucked into a red rock canyon and the stillness of the desert can be heard. The lodge blends in beautifully as the eight-acre ground features native plants, such as cacti, and a field of llamas. The design of the hotel was influenced by local village architecture, blending effortlessly with its terracotta colors. As the lodge is farthest away from the town of San Pedro, there is less light pollution in this area, so the blanket of stars can be better appreciated. An elevated stargazing platform with lounge seats is found next to the lodge, so there is no need to leave the premise for the stargazing excursion.
Traveling with children? The lodge amenities sells for itself as the perfect fit for families, as you can find six outdoor pools of different temperatures, jacuzzis, pool and restaurant bar, a lounge area and spa. The atmosphere at Alto Atacama is friendly and laid back, further making this hotel very family friendly while never falling short of its 5-star service.
Although it is hard to leave the premise due to its surrounding beauty, Alto Atacama does encourage its guests to explore the local culture and the varied landscapes by foot or bike. Over 30 excursions are offered, with set excursions scheduled per day, led by highly trained local guides and with a maximum of 8 guests per group.
Are you considering at stay at the Atacama Desert? Craft Travel provides personalized custom travel for the most unique experiences. Speak with one of our Travel Designers today.