Over the years my job has taken me all over the world. I have been fortunate enough to visit well over sixty countries, without ever staying in a desert. I must admit it was not one of my top priorities. My wife, though, was keen to go to the Atacama and persuaded me to accompany her. I am glad I went. The Atacama Desert is often described as the driest place in the world and you can see why. For most of the year it is a special event if you even see a cloud! Rain is very infrequent and normally confined to just one or two months of the year. My first surprise was the altitude. I was not expecting to land in the Atacama at 2,500 metres above sea level. That is already higher than many Alpine villages and the height of many of Europe’s higher ski slopes. So when you land from Santiago, which is at sea level more or less, you may notice the change in altitude and need to go a little slower.
Your transfer to the hotel Tierra Atacama in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama takes over an hour on a road that for the most part runs in a monotonously straight line across the desert. For miles the scenery is the same – open plains with little vegetation and no towns or people. You really get a sense of the vastness of this place, away from the crowds and close to the magnificent Andes, which rise majestically in the background into the sky. Then you arrive at San Pedro, an oasis in the desert, and Tierra Atacama.
Your car pulls up to the entrance, which is a large gate in an adobe wall. There is little to announce what lies behind. The hotel blends into the landscape. From the outside you would hardly know it was there. You walk through the gate and up the path and enter the hotel. The reception area leads to the enormous open plan area of the bar and restaurant with floor to ceiling windows looking out into the desert.
Rooms are in separate buildings with modern furnishings and once again designed to maximise the views of the landscape. You will never forget your unique surroundings of vast, dramatic desert and the Licancabur Volcano when staying in this luxury hotel. Very peacefully designed offering us an excellent place to relax after walking and exploring. And at night is our personal observatory with two deck chairs facing the starry sky.
Food is of a high standard with buffet breakfasts and lunches and waitress service evening meals. Staying at the Tierra Atacama, though, is about experiencing the desert. That is why included in the holiday price is an amazing range of included guided excursions and activities. So much to see and do that they deserve the experience deserves it’s own blog post.