South America’s Otherworldly Atacama, Chile

In addition to the pristine abundance of America’s wide-ranging national park system, we have had the opportunity to experience 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 is truly spellbinding. Using the luxury lodges of Awasi Atacama, Explora Atacama, or Tierra 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. Our project manager, Pauline will be embarking on a scouting trip to Chile and the Atacama Desert this September 2019!

Atacama Desert

In the backdrop of spectacular volcanoes rising 20,000 feet, the Atacama covers 54,000 sq. miles, stretching 600 miles from Peru’s southern border into northern Chile. The desert rises from a thin coastal shelf to the Andes and is known to be the driest place on earth! There are sterile stretches of the desert, where rain has never been recorded, at least as long as humans have measured it. The bare, super-dry places are just part of a landscape whose open secret is water. A line of snow-laden, Fuji-form volcanoes along the eastern horizon feed a lacework of narrow stream valleys, oases, and salt lagoons, which sustain native Atacameño hamlets with well-kept colonial-era churches. In spite of the inhospitable environment, unique wildlife, including llamas, vicuña, and flocks of pink flamingos live here. Interestingly, temperatures in the Atacama are relatively low, compared with those elsewhere in similar latitudes (the average summer high from December – February is in the low 80’s Fahrenheit).

The Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna), Cordillera de la Sal,
Valley of the Moon

Extraordinary full-day excursions here include the eerie, otherworldly Valley of the Moon, The Salt Flats of Tara (featuring turquoise oasis with three types of flamingos living off the microscopic life), and the geysers of El Tatio. Considered the highest in the world at 14,000 feet, these geysers provide continuous bubbling cauldrons and impressive plumes of steam. Amazingly, this is an ideal spot for a breakfast with eggs soft-boiled in the geysers! If you are seeking a more touristy activity, you may also visit the charming adobe precordillera oasis of nearby San Pedro de Atacama.

Awasi Atacama Common Area

Awasi Atacama

Located in the ancient trading town of San Pedro de Atacama, Awasi Atacama has just 12 rooms, each with its own private patio, solarium, plenty of space, and indoor-outdoor showers. The property was modeled after the traditional architecture of Tylor, a local native site dating from 800 BC. A large, circular, outdoor common area in the center of the property allows for meeting fellow travelers and enjoying the onsite pool. Chef Juan Pablo Mardones serves up delicious meals using local ingredients. Each room is assigned with a private guide and a 4WD vehicle, so guests may explore at their own pace.

An Explora Atacama guest room

Explora Atacama

Similar, but a bit larger that the luxury Tierra Atacama, the 50-room Explora Atacama offers a 5-star adventure property, including four pools, horseback riding, hiking, and cycling. Of particular note are the lodge’s units #29-44, providing amazing views of the Licanabur Volcano. Similar to the Explora property in Patagonia, the service and guides here are top quality and world class. We feel one of the unique features of the lodge is its special stargazing observatory, the largest of its kind in Chile. With nightly views offered, this remote location offers one of the clearest skies for star-gazing anywhere on the planet!

Tierra Atacama's outdoor common area

Tierra Atacama

Located an approximately 70-minute-drive from the Calama Airport, the 32-room, luxury Tierra Atacama offers truly high-touch service, despite its remote, stark location. With its striking volcano views, the lodge’s glass and adobe aesthetics seem to integrate the architectural traditions of local San Pedro Atacama. Being avid Chicago-based Mies Van de Rohe fans, we feel Tierra resolutely follows the precept “form follows function”. 5-star amenities include a full-board international meal service, a variety of Chilean wines, pool, and relaxing AMA spa. Offering 20 different excursions to outlying areas, this is an ideal property for mixing relaxation with soft adventure. The Tierra’s nightly terrace fire is reminiscent of similar Africa bonfires experienced at safari lodges.