In the midst of one of the world’s most isolated, desolate regions, full of sand, salt and volcanic rock, sits Tierra Atacama.
If you hurry, you can be the first kid on your block to tell a firsthand story of the Atacama desert. And the Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa at San Pedro de Atacama is an ideal home base for exploring the wonders of this forbidding yet fascinating landscape.
Getting there: Tierra Atacama is a two hour flight from Santiago into Calama, with pickup in Calama and a one hour transfer to San Pedro de Atacama. The more adventurous may want to try one of the various motor coach lines departing from all points in Chile, as well as Uyuni, Bolivia and Salta and Jujuy, Argentina.
San Pedro de Atacama is at an elevation of 7,900 feet so a little altitude acclimatization may be necessary for some people. Tierra Atacama opened in January of 2008, around the same time that several other high end properties were built in the area. It has a personalized, familiar feeling, like you’d expect from a family run operation. The 32 rooms all have great views, most of them facing the region’s most famous, classically shaped volcano, Licancabur. At the resort, guided tours are big part of the overall experience, and they are all uniquely stunning.
Herewith, a few spectacular outdoor adventures for the taking:
Salar de Atacama features a dusk arrival, to see the mountain range change to various pink hues as the sun sets. The salt flat here is different than Uyuni (just across the border in Bolivia), which is very flat and at times of the year covered with water. Here, the salt has a crystallized crust on the top, a fantastic latticework effect. Flamingos, pink from the algae they eat, are busy flying in and out. This excursion, about three hours total, includes a stop at the village of Toconao where the irrigation system produces a wide variety of produce. Add a little bit of water to long cloudless days and it’s amazing what can be grown in an otherwise desolate region.
Valle de La Luna and Death Valley together form surreal landscapes created by wind and water. Short hikes through various canyons and over sand dunes reveal some of the mysteries of the place. Crackling walls of canyon, from crystal mountain movement, make you think you can hear the mountain actually talk. You will also get an intimate appreciation for where the salt flats come from; an entire canyon wall shows the crystalline makeup of the landscape.
El Tatio is a geothermal field with ties to the volcanic activity in the area. You will be on the road at 5:45 a.m. for a dramatic sunrise. It is very cold on arrival, a few degrees below freezing, since the geyser field is located at an elevation of 14,100 feet. It is basically a large field of dozens of steam columns reaching up to 40 feet. Breakfast is served after sunrise. In fact, some people boil eggs in the thermal pools. Some also swim in the large pool (Note: it’s nice to be in, but very difficult to get out of because of the freezing temps). This is a full day excursion, but the early start means you will be back in time to enjoy the resort’s pool and spa.
The Puritama Thermal Springs excursion starts with a hike from an elevation of 9,200 feet and is a easy but steady uphill route. The first portion is along the top of the river canyon but soon descends to the river. The trek follows the river until reaching the thermal springs. There, eight pools formed by rock walls create private areas where you can bathe and enjoy the relaxing warmth of the river water. Lunch and wine are served at the pools.
These are only a few of the many options for exploring. And even a quiet evening of stargazing is captivating in this earthly dreamscape.