Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry

Dotted with stonewalls and adobe buildings, Explora’s Atacama Desert Hotel is a totem of luxury in the world’s driest wilderness. Situated on 42 acres in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis on the Ayllu de Larache plain once inhabited by an ancient Atacameño community, it’s an area of natural and cultural wealth.

To get there, you take a domestic flight from Santiago to Calama, where an Explora pick up transfer drives you through the desert to San Pedro de Atacama, about an hour away.

The eco lodge has the Scandinavian feel of a hip house party with blonde woods, high ceilings, open-plan interiors and trapezoid-shaped fireplaces. A double roof enables air to circulate, keeping interior spaces cool with no need for air conditioning. The living room, restaurant and other public areas of the hotel are raised four metres above ground level to afford ample views of the volcanic mountain chain of Atacama while slatted boardwalks lead guests around the property.

Our generous bathroom at the Hotel Atacama Desert
Our generous bathroom at the Hotel Atacama Desert

Tastefully designed with wooden ceilings and stone tiled floors, 46 comfortable rooms and four suites open onto a central courtyard. Each has a small living area, a hydro-massage bath, king-sized beds with crisp linens, down duvets and ultra comfortable pillows to ensure a deep, pleasurable sleep after a day of exploration.

A wall-to-wall, rectangular window affords panoramic views of the orchard, the Cordillera de Sal (salt plains) or views of the distant smouldering Volcano Licancabúr.  Little pots of mint and lemon lip balm were a welcome touch.

The writer making friends with one of the beautiful horses on the property
Making friends with one of the horses on the property

The main restaurant offered meals as show stopping as a closet full of Bolivian folk dancers. Think deliciously unctuous, svelte, sophisticated food with silver service and top Chilean wines. Floor to ceiling windows maximise the view of the volcanoes.

Maps, photographs depicting the Atacama wildlife, and satellite images of the area decorate the walls of the wrap-around bar area, where you can enjoy a traditional pisco sour or a tasty snack between meals.  We also enjoyed a barbeque in the “quincho” where Atacamenian performers in traditional masks and costumes entertained us with music and dancing.

Explora offers trips including daily desert explorations with multi-lingual guides and the largest private astronomical observatory in Chile.

Atacama Desert Hotel
The pool at Explorer Atacam

Explora Atacama own the Termas de Puritama situated on 17,297 acres where you can relax in natural hot spring pools, with aperitifs included. There are also four elegant outdoor pools – two of which are solar heated – plus a sauna, steam bath, open-air Jacuzzi, massage salon and shaded sitting areas with deck chairs. Hotel Atacama Dsert is the only lodge in Atacama that offers its own stables with sweet-tempered horses trained for excursions.  Guides provide basic training for beginners.

View leading up to the Atacama Desert Hotel. PIcture: Peter Berg-Munch

Guests are encouraged to go on at least two explorations a day, on foot, mountain bike or horseback. There are at least 40 outings to choose from including salt flats where three species of flamingo live in shallow lakes, early morning geysers, desert walks, sunset hiking to the Moon Valley, photographic safaris, volcano climbing and much more. You plan your daily journeys with your guide in the “Explorer’s Room” with an extensive library and large-scale maps. A gift shop and art gallery feature Atacama Indian crafts.

Death dance in the quincho.
Death dance in the quincho. Picture: Peter Berg-Munch

All the hotel’s water is treated, recycled, and re-used to irrigate the grounds. Wormeries recycle food waste and horse manure from the stables is used to fertilise ourthe  gardens.

Drinking water is served in glass decanters and guests are given brushed aluminum water bottles to take on excursions.

An oasis of civilization off the beaten track in the high Andean desert. If you like your wilderness served with hot showers, cold plunge pools, chilled beers, gourmet food and efficient, smiling service, then the Hotel Atacama Desert offers all of the above.