Epic Adventures

Choosing Your Luxury Oasis in the Atacama Desert

In the remote northern reaches of Chile – far from the granite peaks and glaciers of Patagonia – exists a landscape that can only be described as otherworldly. Here in the Atacama, often hailed as the driest desert on Earth, you’ll encounter towering volcanoes, sprawling salt flats, iridescent lagoons, and one of starriest skies in the world, making it an astronomical paradise for poets and scientists alike. 

Epic landscapes of the Atacama

The Atacama is a land of extremes, where the dramas of the natural world have been playing out against the softly lit expanse of its arid backdrop for the past 150 million years. Nestled amidst this panorama of geological wonder is a trio of luxury hotels that redefine the meaning of a desert oasis: Explora, Tierra, and Awasi Atacama. I might have thought them a mirage had I not had the opportunity to experience all three first-hand on my most recent trip to Chile; but I can attest, they are very much a reality, and only a short flight away from Santiago, making for the perfect pairing with your Patagonia adventure. 

A luxury experience

As is the case when planning any big trip, the question of luxury Atacama hotels is not ‘Which one is better?’ but rather, ‘Which one is the best one for you?’ Explora, Tierra, and Awasi each have their own nuances that make them especially well-suited to certain travellers, but they share the same all-inclusive model, which promises comfort while also ensuring a fully immersive experience in the destination itself.

Looking for luxury in the Atacama: mirages need not apply

The convenience of an all-inclusive stay extends well beyond the luxurious accommodations, tailored adventures, and gourmet dining: it offers access to expert guides who can advise on acclimatisation, recommend the optimal order for excursions, and check in daily on your well-being, allowing you to adapt comfortably to the high-altitude wonders of the Atacama without any of the logistical worry. 

Beyond that, for those who wish to delve deeper into the local culture and flavours, the town of San Pedro de Atacama is easily accessible from all three hotels. Make sure to leave yourself some time to experience the vibrant tapestry of this charming town, where historic adobe architecture meets bustling markets, offering a taste of the Atacama’s rich cultural heritage.

Explora Atacama

Explora has built its brand as a pioneer of its characteristic pairing of luxury service and adventure travel. It is both the first of the luxury hotels in the Atacama, and also the largest, with 50 rooms on site. A world in and of itself, the Explora compound has its own stables, making it the top choice for equestrian enthusiasts, as well as its very own observatory on the property, offering nightly stargazing experiences with its in-house astronomy expert – none other than Swoop’s own Danny!

Explora Atacama’s oasis-like pool

Boasting the most excursions of all the hotels, Explora is ideal for particularly active and adventurous travellers: those seeking a multi-activity experience that can range from hiking to biking to riding to – my forever favourite – swimming! Indeed, perhaps the best perk of being an Explora guest is your exclusive access to a private pool at the beloved Puritama hot springs. Whether you hike in or take the scenic drive, you won’t believe your eyes as you approach this desert sanctuary, where your guide is waiting with your robe beside a table full of treats. 

Cool retreats inside Explora Atacama

Tierra Atacama

While Explora’s excursion offerings will have you testing how much you can pack into your stay, at Tierra Atacama you may find yourself not even wanting to leave the hotel! A haven for nature enthusiasts and wellness seekers alike, Tierra’s 30-room property distinguishes itself for its tranquil atmosphere and unparalleled vistas: the hotel has easily the best view in the Atacama, overlooking the majestic Licancabur Volcano. As you move between your room, the restaurant, the fire pits, and the pool, the volcano stays with you, its light ever-changing; if timing allowed, I’d have spent an entire day watching it, like Monet with his haystacks. 

A pool with a view at Tierra Atacama

Of course, you’ll be able to venture out each day on excursions, but Tierra reminds you that the desert is a place for contemplation and relaxation as well. With full spa facilities available to all guests, Tierra’s amenities encourage you to rejuvenate both body and soul during your stay, but never with the sense that you need to whisper. The cosy lounge areas and lively bar make for a warm, social atmosphere that lets you feel right at home the moment you arrive. 

Space to chill at Tierra Atacama

Awasi Atacama

While all three of these hotels are excellent luxury options for exploring the region, Awasi Atacama is by design in a league of its own. While both Explora and Tierra operate on a shared basis, giving you the chance to meet and mingle with fellow guests, Awasi stands out for its commitment to a wholly personalised service and bespoke experience. With nearly 5 staff members to every guest, this care and attentiveness extends to every aspect of your stay. 

Adobe vibes at Awasi Atacama

Comprising only a dozen suites, this intimate retreat epitomises exclusivity without a hint of sterility: upon arrival, you’ll be introduced to your private driver guide (and newest friend), who will work with you to craft a program customised specifically to your individual priorities and preferences, giving you maximum flexibility and independence. The flexibility, for instance, to summit your very first volcano at 18,000 feet! 

Bedroom at Awasi Atacama

Awasi is the closest to town – just a 5 minute walk from the main drag – and yet as you walk through its unassuming front gate, you are transported to an entirely different world, as if discovering a lost paradise. I was immediately enchanted with the indoor/outdoor set-up of the entire property, which takes perfect advantage of the desert dryness to have all open-air seating areas, each one more inviting than the one before. As I gradually made my way from one couch to the next, a friendly face and fresh drink always followed, until eventually I was treated to a thermos of sleepy-time tea and sent off to dream of my volcanic ascent. 

Which to choose?

The first and most important decision you can make when it comes to the Atacama desert is a simple one: choosing to go. It took me six trips to Chile to finally find my way here, thinking (ignorantly, it turns out!) that once you’ve seen one desert, you’ve seen them all. 

Sydney enjoying the views of Cerro Toco volcano in the Atacama

Time and time again – to my delight – the Atacama proved me wrong, revealing new and varied surprises each day hidden within its arid folds. This land of rainbow valleys, bright pink flamingos, and the highest altitude geyser field in the world defies any stereotype of desert monotony. Somehow at once the locus of our deepest history and window to our infinite celestial future, the breadth and depth of the Atacama means it truly has something for everyone. It is as much a place for an adrenaline seeker as it is for a photographer, or a naturalist, or a very weary traveller looking to rest after a long adventure in Patagonia and Antarctica. Critically, with these all-inclusive options, you have the freedom each day to see which of these people you feel like, and to set out on the next adventure accordingly. 

Whether you’re looking for solace on the edge of the desert at Tierra Atacama, want to immerse in the spirit of exploration at Explora, or long for the personalised luxury of Awasi, your oasis awaits. And if you’re still not sure which is right for you, then I’ll be here too, waiting to help you decide!


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Sydney Miller

Swoop Patagonia Specialist

Sydney was still in Patagonia when she began plotting her return. Since her first visit to Torres del Paine in 2013, she’s trekked all over the globe but always finds her way back to this otherworldly place that started it all. Few things make her happier than swimming in a Patagonian glacial lake after a long hike – and encouraging others to do the same!