The High Desert of Chile

The Atacama region of Chile is a place of stark beauty.

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The resorts in this area of South America are undiscovered gems for travelers from the United States. The climate of this part of the world limits the number of resorts as well as the population as a whole. Despite this, the resorts we have found in this region are some of the best Lori has visited in all of her travels.

The Atacama region of Chile is recognized as the most arid place on earth. The region averages .6 inches of rain a year although some locations, notably Arica and Iquique, average one to three inches per year. Many weather stations go three to four years between rain fall and some stations have never received rain. The desert is on a plateau with high mountains to the east and west preventing most moisture from reaching the area. The average elevation is 9000 feet, give or take. This is lower than Cuzco, Peru (the gateway city to Machu Pichu) and of La Paz (the capital of Bolivia), but higher than Denver (5300 feet). You may feel the effects of the altitude when you first arrive in the area. It is always a good idea to limit your alcohol consumption when you first arrive in a high altitude environment.

What to do? This is after all a desert and very remote. Lori took a mountain biking trip from her hotel through a landscape that she described as breathtaking, almost like being on the moon.

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The trek went through a valley with sheer rock walls on either side and then up a mountain for amazing views. The salt flats in the region are home to flamingos and merit a visit. Lori also visited some prehistoric rock carvings (petroglyphs).

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For those with an interest in native cultures or our history, this is a must see. This part of the world, with its high altitude, no humidity, and almost no light pollution, has the well-deserved reputation for being one of the best places on earth to view the night sky. Lori said there are so many stars they looked like a cloud. Even if you’re not a star gazer with an interest in astronomy, you will enjoy seeing the sky in a way that is impossible in the United Sates or in any city environment in the world. The view will take your breath away.

Flights from Santiago, Chile are regular and flown in modern jet passenger aircraft. The flight is about two hours. You will be met by an English speaking guide and driven to your resort. The drives to most of the resorts take about an hour and a half. The resorts Lori visited were outside of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. This is a small town of 4000 people, mostly dedicated to tourism, and very friendly with lots of English spoken.

The Tierra Atacama is a beautiful boutique desert resort. There are three room categories, the Oriente, the Poniente and the Family suite. The Poniente is larger then the Oriente, however both offer outdoor as well as indoor showers and private terraces. The Oriente room does not have a bath tub. Both have one king bed or two twins. The family room is a two story suite with a master bedroom upstairs and two bedrooms down. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. These suites also have private terraces overlooking the hotel gardens.

The Alta Atacama Desert lodge and Spa is another resort in the area we recommend.

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This boutique hotel also has three room categories. Ten Quitor rooms are closest to the common areas of the resort. These 550 square foot rooms have private terraces overlooking the resort’s gardens. There are 27 Standard Catarpe rooms, which have more private terraces and are also 550 square feet. These terraces have uninterrupted views of the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range and the Catarpe valley. Finally, ten Suite Tilo rooms offer even more privacy on their terraces. These 770 square foot rooms have views of the resort’s lagoon and the Catarpe valley.

Both resorts have great pools, and with this climate you will definitely want to spend time in them. The spa services offered were exceptional. Despite the fact that they are in the driest of all deserts, water from glacial snow is what makes San Pedro de Atacama an Oasis, and it makes the Spa a strongly revitalizing experience. Water, expert hands and aromatic scents are the tools for invigorating your body and spirit after a day of exploring the desert. Spa options include Finnish Sauna, Turkish bath, Scottish showers, and indoor and outdoor hot tubs, among others.

The night sky of the Atacama desert region is enough to add this part of the world to the must-see list of the discriminating traveler, plus, there is a lot for the adventure seeker to do as well. See you in the desert!

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