Desert awakenings needn’t involve a saltgrass-cushioned sleeping bag; Chile’s luxurious Awasi Atacama lodge assigns each of its adobe cabanas a multilingual (spirit) guide of its own. Learned in history, flora, fauna, astronomy, and with an internal trail map and a four-wheel drive at their disposal, your guru will enlighten, educate and ensure your boots are cleaned on your return. Soul food also takes the form of fire-pit-lit pisco sours and surprisingly varied desert cuisine: steak and seafood with sweet chañar fruit and algarrobo (carob), paired with Chocalan syrah and other rich reds. Less ‘walkabout’ than ‘be driven about’, here you rest and realign, with no tumbleweed moments.
Get this when you book through us:
A free room upgrade (subject to availability) and an culinary adventure with the hotel’s chef
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £1575.88 ($2,100).
Rates include all meals and drinks (including the hotel’s range of Chilean wines), a private guide and use of a four-wheel drive, daily excursions, and return transfers from Calama. A three-night minimum stay is required.
The hotel’s open-air restaurant and courtyard offer ample opportunity for stargazing – try to book when the moon is waning (full moons make for lighter nights), and keep your fingers crossed for a spate of magical star rain (when they streak across the night sky en masse).
The hotel closes during the third week of September each year (from 15 to 22 in 2017).
At the hotel
Communal courtyard lounge, free WiFi in the main building only. In rooms: personal guide and four-wheel drive to use during your stay, private furnished patio, solarium with outdoor shower, alpaca blankets, water bottles, a torch, walking sticks, underfloor heating, chachacoma tea (to help acclimatise guests to the altitude) and Awasi’s signature bath products, including lip balm.
Our favourite rooms
The Round Rooms and Suites have an authentic air: built using adobe (mud bricks), river stones, wood and thatch they evoke dwellings in neighbouring historic villages. However, they have been reinterpreted for modern audiences, with the addition of comfy king-size beds, marble-lined bathrooms and elegant wooden furnishings. The Rectangular Suites, set across a road from the hotel’s main plot, have more floor space, so are better suited for families.
The pool is better suited to cooling dips than Olympic laps; sunk into the hotel’s stone courtyard, it’s within ordering distance of the hotel’s bar. However, staff will happily ferry chilled cocktails or glasses of red to your sunlounger. Couples can get cosy on two-person day-beds or seek a little privacy in a cabana.
There’s no spa on site, but therapists skilled in all manner of massages, reiki and reflexology can be summoned to your room on request.
No matter how many Bear Grylls shows you’ve watched, you’ll need gear suited to great adventures. Pack smartly: light quick-drying layers (including a sweater and waterproof), gloves, sun-protection and boots made for walking, hiking and possibly llama-riding.
The hotel’s satellite WiFi can be slow and cell reception is sketch-y, so expect to go a little off-the-grid.
Over-10s are welcome. One extra bed (charged at 50 per cent of the adult rate for children aged 10-18) can be added to the Rectangular Suites, subject to availability. Private tours offer flexibility, and there’s a kids menu, too.
Awasi Hotel group is officially carbon neutral – the forest areas protected and maintained by Awasi more than offset the emissions generated by the three lodges. Awasi Atacama uses exclusively Fairtrade ingredients and those acquired from ayllus: Andean farming communes; and they recycle conscientiously.
As with the restaurant menu, there are no bad choices when it comes dinner tables. For drinks, settle into a sofa by the fire pit.
Killer queen of the desert.
Awasi’s chef Juan Pablo Mardones would be handier than a backpack of flares in a desert-expedition entourage: as you hack away at a cacti for a dribble of water, he’d be grinding humita to make fresh tortellini, spearing sea bass and assembling a parfait with freshly plucked lúcuma fruit. He’s spent years honing his skills and his keen eye for ingredients that thrive in the world's driest desert. A menu of beautifully plated, sophisticated fare – steak with a sweet chañar fruit sauce and a wine reduction, rica rica-laced pasta, and octopus causa (a Peruvian-style terrine) – is testament to his creativity. Breakfasts (a spread of fresh juices, pastries, breads and fruit with a selection of hot dishes) is equally tempting. Guests dine in the open-air courtyard.
A hefty percentage of the wines on Awasi’s impressive list have been bottled in neighbouring valleys. Drinks are included in your room rate, so you’ll likely be an expert on Chile’s smoothest export by the time you check out. Staff mix a mean pisco sour too, and are happy to take requests. Nurse a glass on your private terrace, in a shady bit of the courtyard, while dancing around your room in glee: wherever you wish…
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 10am, lunch from 1pm to 3pm and dinner from 7.30pm to 10pm.
Dishes from the restaurant menu can be brought to your cabana during serving hours; at other times, salads, sandwiches and burgers are available on request.
The hotel is in the dusty and dramatic Atacama Desert on the fringes of historic town San Pedro de Atacama, a travellers’ rest-stop for centuries. Hidden behind an adobe wall, the hotel is one of those ‘you have to know it’s there’ hideaways.
El Loa Airport in Calama is the closest to the hotel. International flights connect via Santiago; from there El Loa is roughly a two-hour journey and there are frequent short-hop flights. Contact the Smith24 team if you’d like us to arrange travel; private return transfers are included in your room rate.
Sit back and relax: all guests are assigned a personal guide and use of a off-road vehicle during their stay, so there’s no need to take the wheel, unless you really want to. The drive from Calama could best be described as pleasantly post-apocalyptic, with miles of mountain-backed scrubland, but further into the desert you go the more its true colours are revealed.
Worth getting out of bed for
You call the shots here, and you’re assigned your own guide and off-road vehicle to allow for ultimate flexibility. Guests can choose from a full-day excursion (with a picnic lunch) or two half-day trips. Trek through lunar valleys and canyons on foot; see geysers blow their tops; gaze over otherworldly salt flats; decode ancient petroglyphs; spy flamboyances of flamingoes, dainty vicuñas and desert foxes; bounce over dunes in a buggy; rise above it all in a hot-air balloon; ride horses or llamas; conquer peaks; hike through rivers; and watch the stars dance across the sky. Back on site, slow down the pace as you swap stories with fellow thrill-seekers in the hotel courtyard, as you sample Chile’s most-sippable vineyard picks.
As the old saying goes: why dine out when you have steak (sloshed in fine Chilean wine) at home. Something along those lines… With all meals included in your room rate, you’ll not find yourself wanting. And, while San Pedro de Atacama has some serviceable empanada joints, few of the desert’s many nighttime stars were awarded by Michelin.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this wild western boutique hotel in the Atacama Desert and shaken the sand from their hiking boots, a full account of their scenic South American break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Awasi Atacama in Chile…
Beyond the lofty altitude (a steep 2,400 metres) of Chile’s Atacama Desert, the wonderfully wild setting and luxurious lodgings of Awasi Atacama resort will leave you a little breathless. From the world’s most parched patch of land has blossomed a tiny village of a stay that’s heavily inspired by the area’s pre-Incan past. Local architects worked with historians to create authentic adobe dwellings, with indigenous woven hangings, thatched roofs and earthy hues; however, the jury’s still out on whether the ancient Andeans had solariums with alfresco rain showers, iPod docks and pots of signature lemon-mint lip balm – there’s just so much we don’t know…
Here you’re looked after much like an emperor of old too: a personal multilingual guide schooled in most things Chilean and a four-wheel drive are yours to use at will. The former is ready with the most colourful hiking routes, the most soulful spot for stargazing and where you’re most likely to get a selfie with a vicuña (a llama with more lustrous lashes) – staff will even dust off your walking boots when you return from your walkabout, and there are sachets of a special herbal tea in your room to help you acclimatise to the new highs you’re experiencing. In native Andean Quechua, Awasi means ‘home’ and after even the briefest of rests here, that’s how you’ll come to think of it.