Published on April 24th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
5 Hot Hotels in the Atacama Desert, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The craggy bluffs, dusty trails and sandy terrain of the desert aren’t usually associated with luxury hotels. But in Chile’s Atacama Desert — by some accounts the driest desert on earth — a remarkable thing has sprouted in the past few years: An oasis of upscale desert lodges that combine amenities and style with a closeness to nature.
Within the past two years, there has been even more growth in this phenomenon — most notably in and around the town of San Pedro de Atacama. You’ll find a host of amenities at these properties, including gourmet cuisine, spa services and WiFi (but you usually won’t find a television in the guest rooms — after all, you didn’t travel all the way to the Chilean desert to watch reruns of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” on Sony Entertainment Television, did you?). Nearly all of these hotels offer an array of activities, some more adventurous than others, including hiking, mountain bike riding and horseback riding, as well as guided excursions. Except where indicated, most offer both a “bed and breakfast” price plan that includes accommodations and breakfast, as well as an “all-inclusive” program that includes three meals and open bar (and, in some cases, all activities and excursions).
I just got back from visiting several of these lodges, and found that each one has a unique ambiance and personality. Here’s what I liked (in no particular order):
1. Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa
Opened in 2007, Alto Atacama has the most dramatic landscape of the area’s luxury lodges. It’s tucked between soaring mountains just outside of town, with pristine landscaping and lovely outdoor patios and swimming pools. Unobtrusive earth tones are employed throughout, including in the spa and the 32 handsomely decorated guest rooms, each of which has a terrace. There is complimentary wireless in the lobby and although they told me that it didn’t exist in the guestrooms, I found a strong connection in my room as well.
The comfy lobby has a fireplace, a dining room and outdoor lounging area. Also outdoors is a resident family of curious llamas, perfect for photos — some of these creatures posed during a photo shoot for the 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (the models stayed here).
All-inclusive plan starts at $937 per person, double occupancy, for two nights. Half Board program (accommodations, breakfast and either lunch or dinner) starts at $239 per person, double occupancy, per night. Bed & breakfast starts at $199 per person, per night, double occupancy.
BEST FOR: Anyone looking for an upscale, quiet getaway outside of town with dramatic, picturesque surroundings.
2. Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa
A rather stark entryway — a dusty square bounded by adobe walls — belies the stylish getaway that awaits inside at Tierra Atacama. This 32-room property is memorable for its strikingly contemporary architecture and décor that combines local elements like handmade textiles and gardens with contemporary furniture strewn with throw pillows and sheepskin. The cutting-edge architecture incorporates sharp angles and purposely corroded metal siding on some of the guest room units, which are light and airy inside, and feature both indoor and outdoor showers, orb-shaped coffee tables and free Wi-Fi (guests can indicate whether they prefer a room with a volcano-facing deck, or a room with bathtub, which has a deck facing the opposite direction). The sizeable spa is divided by billowing white sheets and there is a swimming pool.
All-inclusive (three meals a day, open bar) starts at $400/night per person, double occupancy. Bed & breakfast (accommodations and breakfast) starts at $390 per room, for up to two people.
BEST FOR: Style-conscious nature lovers who appreciate contemporary design that is ecologically and culturally conscious.
Even at only about 12 years of age (it opened in 1998), Explora Atacama is something like the granddaddy of luxury hotels in San Pedro de Atacama and enjoys wide name recognition (also due in part to the company’s other Chilean properties). In 2008, the property completed a renovation that has resulted in even more amenities. The property’s best selling points are the public areas, which include a pool area with four large swimming pools (Jacuzzis and two steam baths were added during the renovations), plus a lobby and bar that are spacious and light, with high ceilings and wide-open white spaces like an art gallery. Also noteworthy is the ingenious excursion room, where guests meet with guides to plan their adventures, surveying the giant photographs and maps that line the walls (and even write on the maps that are installed inside the glass-top tables).
The property offers only an all-inclusive program, which includes three meals, open bar, and all activities including wine tasting, horseback riding and a visit to an observatory.
There is a three-night minimum stay here. Rates start at $1,920 per person for three nights, based on double occupancy.
BEST FOR: Active upscale travelers looking for plenty of public space and those who appreciate the convenience of a program that includes all meals, drinks and activities and excursions.
Opened in 2009, the 25-room Casa Atacama is centered around cleanly furnished, white lobby with plenty of books and natural light, as well as a small courtyard with swimming pool. The restaurant, which serves complimentary breakfast, also sells local products including jelly and ají.
Large, colorful photographs of local life are focal points in the public areas as well as the guest rooms, which have hardwood floors and small terraces, some of which have a view of the swimming pool. There is also a sauna, and free WiFi throughout the property adds to the value.
Rates start at $290 per room (for two people) for bed & breakfast program; rates for the all-inclusive program (which requires a two-night minimum stay) start at $690 per person, based on double occupancy, including one full-day or two half-day group excursions.
BEST FOR: Slightly more price-sensitive travelers looking to stay in the center of town.
This eight-room property, which is three years old, has garnered attention from plenty of the top travel magazines for its personalized approach to luxury. Located in the center of town, Awasi is a quiet pace built attractively but conservatively with local materials. There is a beautiful open living/lounge area with wood furnishings, thatched roof, bar and dining area, as well as a swimming pool.
Each guest is assigned their own car and driver, so all trips are personalized. With a maximum of 16 guests and nearly 50 employees, it’s easy to see that the ratio works well for guests.
Guest rooms are simple but in good taste; some are circular, and all have a few antique furnishings as well as both outdoor and indoor showers; most rooms share a semi-private patio.
Publicly listed rates for the all-inclusive program, which has a two-night minimum, start at $1,280 per person for two nights (this includes excursions); the bed & breakfast rate starts at $350 per person, per night.
BEST FOR: Travelers with very flexible wallets who are looking for extremely personalized service.