Okay we did more than survive, we basked in every second of our time in Chile’s Atacama Desert. In planning our trip, everyone kept saying we had to visit “the driest desert in the world,” but to be honest, that description triggered unpleasant images of tumbleweeds, cow skulls, and the antithesis of paradise. Now, having seen the extreme nature of Atacama for ourselves, we can say it is worth all the hype or more.
San Pedro de Atacama is the main town and excursion launch pad for the area. The buildings are made of adobe, dripping with red clay from the incredibly rare and brief rainstorm that passes through–no matter if it’s a posh restaurant or the town church. It feels a bit like the wild-west but with extreme athletes, hippies, luxe ladies, sun-worn natives, and backpackers mixing in the street, the town has a spunky character all its own.
Our first night we arrived just before sunset and set out for the highest view point. Running out of town and up this little hill, we turned around to find a mountain range of snow-capped volcanoes. At 17,00 ft the Andes aren’t affected by the heat of the desert below.
San Pedro de Atacama is absolutely amazing in its own right but our experience here was enhanced to the fullest thanks to stay with Awasi hotel, courtesy of Honeymoons.com. Awasi has the coveted Relais & Chateaux seal of approval but we quickly realized it wasn’t just the historic-integrity of the design, award-winning food, and high thread count sheets that brought them to five-stars—it was the unparalleled personal attention. Upon arrival each guest receives a book of dream excursions then a private chauffeur and adventure guide for their entire stay to make those dreams come true.
First up on our adventure list: A bike ride to Cejar Pond. Located in the middle of the Atacama Salt Flat, this pond is so salty that the buoyancy rivals the Dead Sea. What looks like white rocks around this pool are actually salt crystals.
If there is one attraction San Pedro de Atacama is known for it is probably the Moon Valley. Numerous travelers gather at the ridge for sunset but our guide had a secret peak reserved for us. Carrying a cooler of wine, cheese, crackers, fruit and mixed nuts, our amazing Awasi team led the two of us up a very steep ridge for the most breathtaking and exclusive happy hour.
The next morning we set off to the ancient Atacama fort of Pukar de Quitor. The ruins were lovely and this view from the top may have been even more spectacular.
I’m not a horseback rider but when presented with the opportunity to gallop off-trail through the dunes of Death Valley, I suddenly found my equestrian within.
As if our day wasn’t packed enough, we went on a 10pm session of stargazing with Awasi’s resident astronomer Jorge Antonio Corante Fernández. With an the average annual rainfall of 1mm, and 0% humidity nearly every day of the year, the Atacama has some of the clearest and most spectacular conditions.
Geysers are best viewed in the chill of early morning so we set our alarms for 4am and zipped off in our Awasi mobile to Tatio. The hot steam was billowing from every hole in the ground and as it subsided with the heat of the day, we got up close to watch the geysers bubble, burp, and reveal their otherworldly formations.
See the slideshow for all the gorgeous natural patterns that we found around the geysers, but until then we had to show you this one ripple effect. (For any of my fellow design lovers, Ann Sacks Tiles actually makes a very expensive and similar pattern–I would re-do my bathroom floors in this pattern in a heartbeat!)
On our way back to the hotel for checkout, we ambled through tiny villages, along beautiful lakes, and past active volcanoes taking photo pitstops at every turn. Atacama isn’t just beautiful, it takes beauty to a whole new extreme.