Visiting the Atacama Desert
I love San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile as a destination for outdoor activities and relaxation. The hotels are excellent and varied, and the geography so diverse, you can stay here for 3 , 4 days or more and have a great time. Its geographic location, bordering Bolivia and Argentina, means the Atacama Desert combines well with an overland trip through the Eduardo Avaroa Reserve to the impressive salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia, or to Salta in Argentina.
The town of Atacama
The last time I came to San Pedro was 10 years ago. The town hasn’t changed much, it is practically the same thing. It has a feeling of a town in the wild west: very quiet, roads are unpaved and there is little to see and do. We went into the Museum and it looks exactly the same as it did 10 years ago. The humble church is the same on the outside but the interior has been restored, it is a very simple village church. I hear the municipality has strict regulations on the appearance of the town: they want it to look as authentic as possible, this is why the roads are unpaved and they regulate the construction. I particularly liked the pharmacy which has opened just recently keeping the old style.
Where to stay in the Atacama Desert
What has really changed is that there are so many new hotels now. When I came, there was Explora at the high end and Hosteria San Pedro at the budget level. Now there are countless hotels, and it is this is what I really wanted to experience on this trip. But is not cheap here. Even relatively modest hotels (nice but not upscale) as Casa Atacama cost $400 per room per night on a full board basis. Here i share my roundup of some of the top luxury properties in the Atacama Desert.
We stayed 3 nights as guests of Tierra Atacama, which I loved. It is not perfect, but I was thrilled with most aspects of my stay. I loved the architecture, it is contemporary, minimalist and light. Lots of glass windows and doors from everywhere. All spaces are bright and open, but most importantly all spaces bring in the natural environment into the hotel. Local materials, local shapes and a feeling of connection to the environment. I loved our room, it had wonderful views and just a simple and light feeling to it.
The hotel has 30 rooms, and I actually preferred the odd numbered ones (we had one of these) which have a small terrace. It is important because they all cost the same. I also felt it was a welcoming place: the hotel is designed so you kind of meet other guests, and the staff are so friendly, they really help guests feel at home. The fireplace area was great. The barmen Felipe and Damian were fantastic they always accommodated our requests and looked delighted to do so. We loved the indoor pool!!! The outdoor pool, the hot tub and the jacuzzi all have views and are wonderful. We liked the excursions but I feel they could probably have been better organised.. a more formal contextual briefing on arrival would be welcome and more notice given to matching the guides to their affinity of guests specifically to children. The guides were good and knowledgeable but not exceptional.
We send lots of guests to Awasi already and some of our staff and most of our clients have stayed there. I didn’t need confirmation of how great it is, but I wanted to experience it for myself. We did a site inspection before having dinner. The hotel is so wonderful, is the most expensive option of the high-end hotels and its service is really the most personalised. You have a personal maid/butler as well as a personal car and driver. Also all the excursions are private, not shared like at Tierra Atacama, Explora and Alto Atacama. It is also close to the town centre and has less grounds (it doesn’t have a spa, or an indoor pool or lots of space, it doesn’t have views). But judging from what we experienced and our dinner there, I feel it really is exceptional and worth what it costs. The decor is impeccable and tasteful. It reminds me of La Casona in Cusco. If someone likes La Casona, they will like Awasi. But you need to like to be on your own. Ie everything is private. For honeymooners, very private people etc it is great, but I personally would choose Tierra or other hotels with group activities if I went with a friend, on my own or with my kid (like I did this time).
Alto Atacama is a totally different experience. We stayed there for one night, I really liked it and would recommend it. They have taken great care on the decor and invested a lot in technology and infrastructure (they have 7 pools and a wonderful spa!!). I personally have a problem with dark spaces, and I feel the rooms and spaces in general are to dark. The hotel is very spread out and the corridors are carefully but very fairly illuminated. So if you have a problem with walking long distances to the lobby, request a room that is nearer the action. The GM, Felipe showed us around, he was very attentive and friendly. They pay attention to details here, there was a detailed briefing on arrival, the architecture and decor has been very carefully thought out perhaps too carefully. The landscaping is very carefully conceived all local plants in the gardens etc. The excursion we took was great and our guide, Carolina who works full time at Alto Atacama, was exceptional. We went trekking to a gorge nearby, Los Cardones with her. She was knowledgeable, friendly, intelligent, child friendly, pretty, young, local and passionate bout her culture. What more can you ask for!!!
The food at the 3 hotels I visited was very good, and my only criticism is that perhaps it is a little too elaborate.
Visit Atacama Desert with Aracari
Aracari specializes in luxury private, tailormade trips to Peru, Bolivia and the Galapagos. We arrange bespoke trips to the Atacama Desert in combination with overland travel to Bolivia. you can start at the salt flats of Uyuni and end in Atacama, or vice-versa.
Contact us for more information on visiting San Pedro de Atacama and Bolivia.