[SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, CHILE] — Chile is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, that few people know about. Dramatic, jaw-dropping landscapes and massive natural parks. Chile has been the leader in preserving their amazing natural wonders and packaging them up with adventure tour packages, made easy with outstanding hotels like the Tierra, Explora, or totally luxe Awasi, which is more for millionaires. All three brands have sister hotels in both the Atacama Desert, Patagonia and other regions (like the Lake District or Easter Island). I chose the Tierra hotels for my trip in 2013. This is my review of Tierra Atacama, one of the easiest vacation I’ve ever booked, in the most remote locations on the planet.
No matter which hotel brand or price level you choose, you can book a Fire & Ice Tour that brackets both polar opposite regions — like the Atacama Desert or mountainous Patagonia — where you stay in their hotels in each region and they handle all the arrangements and transfers. Each has all-inclusive packages that include daily guides and end-to-end transportation. They each provide awesome guides for free, not extra, who take you out, pack a gourmet lunch and know everything about everything. I’d rank them on cost as Tierra (best value) Explora (mid-range) and Awasi (incredible 1:1 guide experience, for millionaires).
At Tierra Atacama, each day, they ask “What do you feel like doing today? Long hike? Short hike? Salt flats? Some geysers?” And off you go in small groups with other like-minded peeps from the hotel. I never was a guide guy myself, I prefer to get lost on my own, but the Tierras changed my whole outlook, and took travel to a whole new level for me. Spoiled me is a better word for it.
The two Chilean sister hotels of Tierra Hotels are one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in my life. It is expensive, but still worth every penny. Everything is included: room, breakfast, lunch, dinner, booze, and the best part — adventure guides. When you add it all up, and being in one of the most remote and foreboding places on the planet, it actually is a great value…an experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
You may recognize this hotel from the James Bond film Quantum of Silence, where this cool hotel was used as the secret lair of the main villain and ends up getting blown up at the end. The rooms aren’t just pretty, but functional, framing the view from each room at the distant towering volcanoes. You can lay in your bed and see the bright blue skies and the towering volcanoes. This is a prime stargazing region, so I left my shades open at night, the pinpricks of stars shining bright.
Set just the right amount of distance outside of the little desert oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, the Tierra Atacama nestles nicely into the surrounding desert landscape, towering volcanoes in every direction you look. Everything is done just right.
The Tierra Hotels are known for their ground-breaking architecture. Built of local materials and rammed-earth design, it disappears into the landscape. The cool thing about the design of the hotel is that the windows frame a ring of almost a dozen volcanoes, stunningly, in the distance. And the big blue sky. The giant windows allow you to lay in bed and watch the amazing stars blanket the dark night.
There are all sorts of magical views throughout the whole property. The enormous 20,000ft Lincancabur volcano always looming over everything.
Prepare thyself for lots of shots of this volcano, because it rules the landscape. And every view from the Tierra Atacama. This is the view from window in my room.
When you arrive, they immediately give you a glass of wine and sit you down in front of a large map, laying out the adventures ahead. They ask what your interests are, then offer up an long menu of cool things you can do during your stay. Matching the adventure with what you want to do, or not do.
The guides are the best part. They know the land and know their stuff. All are professional, not just desert ski bums. Many have degrees or studies related to the area, like geologists, archeologists. They don’t just take you and show you stuff, they take you somewhere unbelievable and tell you all about it. The history. The geology. And make it totally interesting.
This map is the center of your experience at Tierra Atacama. At the beginning and end of the day, the adventure concierge brings you over to this map and explains your cool options for the coming days and then takes care of all the logistics. Everything is included, no nickel-and-diming you for every option like an American hotel would.
I typically prefer to figure out everything on my own and then revel in getting lost, but this guide experience changed my whole world view. I saw things I never thought I’d be interested in. Discovered things I never knew. And the best part — I didn’t have to figure out a single thing. You can do independent travel and stay at a small hotel in San Pedro and then ferret out the dozens of local guide shops showing the same pictures out front, but not know which is good or not. But I can’t imagine doing this area without this ideal setup. The wasted time alone would have killed my whole experience. The places they take you don’t have any road signs, and often you’re the only ones there. Between the two Tierras, by far, the best hotel experiences I’ve ever had.
This guide experience changed my whole world view. I saw things I never thought I’d be interested in. Discovered things I never knew. And the best part — I didn’t have to figure out a single thing.
Everything is based on your desires. Each day you can take either a half- or full-day adventure and then head off with a small group in a great 13 person Dodge van. And then when you’re there, they tell you all about it….often putting on a spread, like enjoying a gourmet breakfast, lunch, or dinner in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world.
You can hike, or not hike. Horseback. Or watch the stars. (Definitely signup for the star-gazing!) Here’s a great article on Tierra Atacama in National Geographic, Vogue, awesome and better pictures in The Road Less Traveled, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR Highlights, the SmartFlyer, and even Curbed.
I can’t imagine having to piece together your own itinerary, not knowing if one operator is better than the other. I didn’t have to worry about any of that. The Tierra just sets it all up. The best value received I’ve ever had. Worth every penny.
What is awesome about the Tierra Hotel guides is they know where and when is the right time to go to all the best places. And once you get there, they bring a great setup of victuals and drink, right as the sun sets. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
See my other post on the best hikes to do at Tierra Atacama.
This is the damn view from the pool, where they bring you a Negroni after a long day hike, take a dip and sip in the views.
Each room has a shaded back terrace with outdoor shower and outdoor seating area overlooking the small vineyard.
Nice thread count. The rooms are the very definition of “rustic elegance”. With high-touch materials and full view of the stars. And outdoor showers.
There are a lot of smaller (cheaper) hotels in nearby San Pedro de Atacama, which serves as the main town for the whole desert, if you want to bushwhack on your own. Tons of tour companies, restaurants and shops are there to help.
San Pedro de Atacama, the cool little oasis town that serves as the main base for all the Atacama, is within walking or bike riding distance. I never wanted the leave the hotel, which is opposite of what I typically like to do. It is that good. And the days’ adventures that fulfilling. The town is loaded with tour guides to take you to the same places we went.
Because it has it’s own microclimates, I’ve been told that you the temperatures are pretty constant and you can visit any time of the year. I was there in late November, which is basically Spring there, and it was perfect. I can’t imagine going at the peak of Summer, it would be scorching hot.
Now, about the nice sheets. There are several luxury hotel chains here that specialize in The Adventure — The Tierra Hotels, Awasi Hotels, Explora, etc. — and they all come with guides that take you to all the cool spots, a different adventure every day, in places with no signs, no instructions, no guides, so do this. I stayed at the Tierra Atacama Hotel outside San Pedro and it was perfect (more about that in a separate post), everything is included, food, local wine, guides, everything. Do this. It is is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. I can’t imagine trying to do it by yourself as most of the places are unmarked and you end up turning off a dirt road that looks like a dead end and the pop out staring at an amazing scene.
From National Geographic, if you subscribe to that. This is a great article of all the top Atacama highlights from Bloomberg.
To get to the Atacama, you take a quick flight from Santiago to Calama, then it’s about 98kms to the town of San Pedro de Atacama, which is the base for almost all the hotels and outfitters.
Here’s a great guide on the Atacama and San Pedro from the UK Conde Nast Traveller. And another three great articles from CNT, including traveling solo to Atacama. And here’s a great guide from Departures magazine.And a brief article on self-driving in the Atacama on Suitcase magazine. Here’s a great description by the US Conde Nast Traveler of great the experience at the all-inclusive hotels and how effortless it is to go exploring every day. God, every places I’ve been Vogue has already been there. Great article.
You can book your travel through Knowmad Adventures, the top South American adventure travel company. Here’s a great article on the award winning Tierra Hotels, voted as reader favorite.
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