Chile’s dusty Atacama Desert is a magical expanse of copper-coloured landscapes and Tierra Atacama is one of the standout hotels in this scenic region. Humboldt Director Kirsty tells us her favourite things about this luxury property.
An hour and 30 minute’s car-ride from Calama airport in the north of Chile is the town of San Pedro de Atacama, a tiny urban oasis in the middle of the blistering Atacama Desert. For an oasis within an oasis, Tierra Atacama, situated just outside of town, perfectly fits the bill. Surrounded by the harsh but beautiful landscape of the desert, it is a calming and welcoming space for guests looking for luxury in this sought-after destination.
The hotel’s few rooms are built around a garden filled with vibrant hollyhocks, herbs, fig and pomegranate trees. Each faces out towards the desert with views of the beautiful mountains and volcanoes beyond – the standout peak being the cone of Mt. Licancabur on the nearby border with Bolivia. The central part of the hotel features lovely communal spaces, decorated in the warm ochres and beiges of the desert with splashes of colour. The bar is a welcoming spot where guests can enjoy a drink at any time of the day. A refreshing juice or a class of crisp Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is certainly welcome in the heat of the desert. As in any of Tierra’s three stunning properties, guests will eat like royalty here. The adjacent restaurant serves delicious food with a different menu each day inspired by the fresh produce available in this remote location. A varied buffet is offered for breakfast and a three-course meal at lunch and dinner, all included in the price of your room. Guests can enjoy dishes such as a fresh gazpacho which is perfect for the hot weather, or fish served on an aromatic carrot and ginger puree. Dessert is always special, and the chef makes use of unique local produce, in particular the chañar berry which is turned into mousse, crème brulèe and cheesecakes, offering a sweet natural caramel flavour.
The activities at Tierra Atacama are carefully planned to allow guests to enjoy the best of the area at a gentle pace whilst they acclimatise to the altitude (San Pedro is located at 2,407 metres above sea level). On arrival the head guide talks to each guest to ensure that they have the experience they want during their stay – that which is most suited to their level of fitness and the type of holiday they are looking for. Half day activities are often suggested at first, to take it gently in order to get used to the heat and the altitude before moving on to more physically demanding excursion options.
Most people visit Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) on their first day, a 20-minute drive from the hotel and a stunningly beautiful valley that perfectly matches the name. The guides here are all excellent and their knowledge covers history, geology (very important in this area) as well as cultural and scientific information on the region’s geographical and human history. The Puritama hot springs is another half day excursion. The springs are around a 30-minute drive from the hotel. The guide brings robes and towels and guests can enjoy seven different hot springs, some with natural waterfalls flowing into them. The therapeutic properties are obvious – with a base of quartz sand and minerals in the water, you leave with soft skin and a relaxed mind. The guide awaits with a picnic from the hotel complete with wines from the renowned Lapostolle and Matetic vineyards.
One of the most beautiful excursions is to the Atacama salt flats and the Chaxa Lagoon. A 40-minute drive from the hotel brings guests to the high-plateau salt flats, complete with a lagoon of resident flamingos. En-route, you can enjoy a short stop at the quaint town of Toconao complete with a charming bell tower and a visit to a local artisan to see her goats and llamas and watch how she knits using cactus spines. The salt flats and the lagoon are magnificent. Surrounded by mountains, the flamingos stand gracefully in the water, occasionally taking flight to offer a glimpse of their deep pink wings and elegant curved heads. This tour is timed to coincide with sunset and guests enjoy a picnic as the sun sets over the shimmering salt flats.
After a day or two of acclimatisation, guests can try some of the longer or more active tours on the ample excursion menu. The choices range from mountain biking to full day hikes and all to spectacular locations. The Tara Lake is a particular highlight, a long and bumpy journey but worth it for the wildlife spotted en-route including llamas, guanacos and even the Andean fox.
The heat in the desert means that guests do not always want to be out on activities all day. For this reason, the spa and pool area are an important part of this stylish hotel. Uma Spa offers an indoor pool, saunas and a soothing and relaxing environment. It is hard to find an outdoor pool with a more spectacular view than this one. Overlooking the hazy violet slopes of the Licancabur volcano and surrounded by plants, it is the perfect refreshing break from the scorching heat.
Offering the attentive service, fabulous meals and engaging activity programmes that we have come to expect from this exceptional Chilean chain, Tierra Atacama is easily a top choice for a luxury escape in the Atacama, and arguably one of the finest hotels in Chile. Whether you are an active type looking to challenge yourself to hikes in this extreme environment, or a sunseeker looking for a relaxing hideaway for a spa-trip, Tierra Atacama can be anything to anyone.