Chile is incredibly diverse in its landscape. Traveling west to east (a maximum of 217 miles at its widest point) one travels from the Pacific Ocean to the towering Andes. Traveling south to north one can go from the windblown end of the earth in Patagonia to the driest place on earth: the Atacama Desert. Surprisingly, there are quite a few luxury Atacama hotels, and the pick of the bunch is Tierra Atacama.
On a recent visit to the Atacama I was fortunate enough to be hosted by Tierra Atacama, a small boutique hotel located just outside the small oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. I visited many hotels while in San Pedro and Tierra Atacama has by far the best view. You could sit by their pool and gaze upon an unobstructed view of the 19,423 foot Licancabur Volcano which dominates the landscape in this region. Most visitors to Tierra Atacama choose the all-inclusive option which features guided excursions and all meals on a rotating, gourmet menu. One evening while I was there the dinner menu featured grilled duck with calafate sauce and carrot puree, and olive marinated octopus risotto, followed by some of the more unique ice cream flavors I have seen in Chile: pisco sour, huesillo (dried apricot) and orange-carrot-ginger.
Besides interesting, gourmet meals and luxury accommodations, most visitors to the Atacama come to experience the otherworldly landscapes. Three highlight regions are the Salar de Atacama (large salt flat), the Tatio Geysers, and the Valley of the Moon.
The Salar de Atacama is home to a protected flamingo reserve. I watched an intense pink and lavender sunset reflected in the Chaxa Lagoon as the long, elegant bodies of Andean flamingos, the rarest flamingo in the world, quietly grazed in the salty water for microscopic algae.
The next day I woke up long before sunrise to make the journey 90 minutes north to the Tatio Geyser Field. The Geysers bubble all day but most people visit in the early morning before the sun heats up the ambient temperature, making the steam off the geysers very dramatic in the frigid, 15-degree-Fahrenheit air. The Geysers are located at 13,700 feet, making this a better location to visit after a few days acclimatizing to the altitude.
I also visited valleys around San Pedro which have beautiful, jagged formations thanks to the wind and dryness and rich mineral content of the soil. The Valley of the Moon was full of textures I did not know existed naturally in the world. The Arcoiris (or Rainbow) Valley featured three colors of rock layered on top of one another, exhibiting the different minerals present in the soil.
I was amazed at the color, texture and life that is present in the desert. The Atacama is a highlight of Chile that I encourage you to add to your itinerary. Please see the San Pedro de Atacama Extension (which features the Tierra Atacama Hotel) for more details on how we can incorporate the Atacama into your trip.