Kipling & Clark has often featured some of the world’s extraordinary global natural landscapes including: the green, picturesque valleys of Bhutan; the still, eerie sand dunes of the Sahara; the Great Rift Valley of Kenya; the lush, wildlife-rich Okavango Delta in Botswana; the splendid beauty of Patagonia’s blue glaciers and lakes; and the verdant, terraced rice-fields of Bali’s countryside. However, we feel the splendid, stark wilderness of Chile’s Atacama Desert rightly deserves a place among the world’s most notable natural wonders. Atacama’s unmatched beauty and colorful moonscape-like remoteness are truly spellbinding. Using the luxury lodges of Awasi Atacama or Explora Atacama as your high-end excursion gateway base, you will be able to comfortably explore this amazing area. Biking, trekking, and horseback riding are among the fun activities in this alternate universe. Before getting into the details of this fantastic place, let me introduce myself! My name is Pauline and I am a Project Manager at Kipling & Clark. This late September 2019 trip was my first to South America and I left with memories to last a lifetime. Below are overviews of my stays at both Awasi and Explora. Click here to read more about the excursions offered by both of these properties.
Located in the ancient trading town of San Pedro de Atacama, Awasi Atacama has just 12 rooms, each with its own private patio, plenty of space, and indoor-outdoor showers. The property was modeled after the traditional architecture of Tulor, a local native site dating from 800 BC. Spacious outdoor common areas, including an onsite pool, located at the center of the property, allow for meeting fellow travelers. Chef Juan Pablo Mardones serves up delicious meals using local ingredients. The flavors here are unmatched! Each room is assigned with a private guide and a 4WD vehicle, so guests may explore the Atacama at their own pace. Located just a three-minute walk from San Pedro de Atacama, guests can easily stroll into the lively town for a shopping trip.
Whether you are relaxing after an excursion, taking in a quiet morning, or enjoying a pisco sour in the evening, Awasi’s ample common areas suit every need. From the moment I arrived and was greeted with a rika rika (a fragrant local herb) welcome lemonade, I felt as though I was at home. This was fitting as the word Awasi means ‘home’ in native Andean Quechua. The cozy, familiar atmosphere is the perfect oasis in the vast desert.
The spacious dining area is where I joyfully spent a great deal of time. Perhaps the highlight of Awasi was the cuisine — some of the best I’ve ever tasted! This may be a lofty statement, but after trying Chef Juan Pablo Mardones’ flavorful dishes made with local ingredients, you will agree. Another highlight here was an onsite sommelier, who will pair your meal with the perfect local wines.
Awasi’s Superior Round Suites are a cozy home away from home. Beautifully decorated, the suites are incredibly spacious and feature walk-in closet areas, large bathrooms with separate showers and bathtubs, and patios with lounge chairs, as well as an outdoor shower.
Inspired by pre-Inca ruins, the rooms are made of adobe, stone, and wood. The natural materials, along with the round shape of the suites, regulate the temperature to protect from the heat of the day and the chill of the night. On your first night here, step outside and look up to see one of the clearest skies you will ever experience. Awasi offers nightly stargazing excursions that are not to be missed!
The 50-room Explora Atacama is a 5-star adventure property, offering four pools, horseback riding, hiking, and cycling. Similar to the Explora property in Patagonia, the service and guides here are top quality and world-class. Located on 42-acres in the Ayllu de Larache (the former land of the ancient Aymara people), the grounds are comprised of 20 indigenous parcels that are preserved by Explora.
Upon arrival, you will sit down with one of Explora’s guides and plan out your excursions for the next day, repeating this process each day of your stay. Excursions are meant to be shared experiences among Explora’s guests, however, with no minimum participant number you may sometimes enjoy a private excursion experience.
One of the unique features of the lodge is its special stargazing observatory, located just a short walk from the main building. With nightly viewings, this remote location offers one of the clearest skies for star-gazing anywhere on the planet!
Explora’s common areas serve as the meeting point for guests planning excursions, sitting down to meals, catching up on the day’s activities at the bar, or meeting with your guide to plan out the next day’s adventures.
Also on the property are four pools, one of which is heated. Alongside the pools, there are saunas, steam baths, outdoor hot tubs, and a bar. This oasis is the perfect area to relax after a long hike or towards the end of your stay. Nearby, a small spa is available for massages, just remember to request an hour in advance!
The restaurant has a daily-changing menu that focuses on local cuisine. The meals are light to keep altitude sickness at bay and to prepare guests for busy excursion packed days. Lunch is served on the outside terrace with spectacular views of the Licancabur Volcano.
During my stay, Explora hosted a traditional Chilean barbeque at their Quincho, a BBQ area centered around an updated adobe home. Aside from an impressive spread of meats and local dishes, there was traditional entertainment and an opportunity to chat with fellow guests.
Explora’s 50 guest rooms are designed around the idea of disconnection from the every day. There are no TVs or Wi-Fi in the rooms (only in the common areas). Simplicity is the theme and aims to keep the focus on the landscape and experiences around you.
I stayed in one of the 19 Tulur Rooms, which look out onto the hotel grounds. The 27 Yali Rooms have the same layout, but with views of the desert landscape. Explora also has two Catur Suites that are larger and include a sitting area and balcony. Of particular note are the lodge’s units #29 – 44, which provide amazing views of the Licanabur Volcano. Though spartan, Explora’s guest rooms provide a restful night’s sleep in preparation for the day ahead.