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Living the High Life in Chile's Atacama Desert

Written by  Suzie

Living the High Life in Chile's Atacama Desert

Suzi Livingstone, Llama's Operations Manager, spent a few nights in the lap of luxury in the Tierra Atacama hotel, our superior hotel option in the Atacama.

On my recent trip to Chile I was lucky enough to be able to stay at the Tierra Atacama (Llama Travel's superior hotel option in Chile’s Atacama Desert, ), situated in the tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama. Having worked with this hotel for some time, I had pretty high expectations when I arrived. I’m glad to report that Tierra Atacama exceeded my expectations, by a long shot.

As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed to the hotel and offered a choice of refreshing tropical juices. As our room wasn’t quite ready (we arrived mid-morning) we were given a tour of the hotel so we knew where everything was. The highlight of this for me was the outdoor pool and hot tub with stunning views of the Licancabur Volcano.  After the introduction, we sat down with the excursions manager beside a beautiful Atacama map in the lobby, and together we put together a jam-packed itinerary for the duration of our stay. It kicked off that afternoon.

 

interior sala mapa 

 

When you stay in the Tierra Atacama, all of your meals and drinks are included. It is all delicious, and when I say all, know that I am talking about a lot of food! The days start with a buffet breakfast, with everything you can imagine, cereals, fruits, eggs, bacon, cheeses, ham & a lovely selection of pastries. Lunch and dinner consist of 3 courses each, and even with only 3 options per meal it was difficult to decide each time! There are often snacks and drinks whipped out on the excursions too.

 

 

Our first excursion took us to the Atacama Salt Flats, with a quick stop in the small traditional town of Toconao. Our guide explained how the flats were formed, and about the birdlife found there. Then we set off to explore on foot, spotting the famous flamingos which inhabit the salt flats. The trip is also timed so that you are able to admire the sunset and see how the mountains change colours as the sun slowly lowers behind them. This is also the time when the guide and the driver set up a picnic table and proceeded to cover it with olives, ham, cheeses, wine, beer and other delicious treats. Less than a day in and I was starting to feel like I could become accustomed to this lifestyle.

The Atacama Desert is known for having some of the clearest skies in the world, and lucky for us, it was a full moon on our first night there. The hotel offered a special walking excursion in the Valle del Muerte (Death Valley). It was amazing how much light the moon gave off and you could see perfectly without the need for a torch. The guide also pointed out the different star constellations and planets that were visible, which was a surprising amount considering how bright the evening was.

The next morning it was off to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), so named for its dramatic lunar landscape. The guide told us a bit about the history of salt mining in the area, and explained some of the geology to us. We then walked up a sand dune to witness things for ourselves – one side of the valley was covered in white salt, while the other was all red sand.

 

 

In the afternoon we felt we deserved a rest after all of the eating and late night moon walking we had done, so we opted for the trip to the thermal springs. This was a lovely place to spend an afternoon, relaxing in the warm water (36 degrees) in a pretty canyon setting. And, of course no excursion would be complete without a glass of wine and some cheese to end it off.

 

 

As we were only in the Atacama for a few days, we wanted to make the most of our time, so we had signed up for every tour possible. This meant that after dinner we had another night time excursion, this time for stargazing. We went to visit an observatory that has one of the most powerful tourist telescopes around. Our amazing guide was able to point out many different stars: mars, the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the craters of the moon which were so clear he was able to take a photo on my phone!

 

 

Our final excursion meant an early start. The Tatio Geysers, are most active in the early morning but are a couple of hours drive away from the main town of San Pedro. They are located at 4300m above sea level and temperatures were around -10C when we arrived! We had been advised to put plenty of layers on and so I put nearly all of my clothes on which seemed to work, but my toes were still a bit nippy despite some lovely llama wool socks. The geysers were very impressive as there were so many of them all bubbling and steaming away, so we spent some time here wandering among them and seeing the sunrise, before stopping for breakfast and a nice hot cup of tea.

On the drive back to town, we did some wildlife spotting, seeing plenty of vicunas, llamas and viscachas, a small rabbit-like rodent. This was an amazing way to finish our trip to Atacama and our time staying in the Tierra Atacama has made me seriously reconsider budget accommodation choices, sometimes it really is worth splashing out for a bit of luxury!

 

Tieera Atacama hotel collage

 

Feeling inspired? Llama Travel offers a number of holidays to Chile which visit the Atacama Desert. There are standard hotel options included in the price or alternatively you can splurge and experience the Tierra Atacama (and other upgrade hotel options) like Suzy did...