San Pedro de Atacama: A Jewel in Northern Chile’s Crown

Situated in the northernmost region of Chile, San Pedro de Atacama, once an essential stopover for ancient caravans traversing the Inca Empire, is now a gateway to one of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes.

San Pedro de Atacama, situated at the heart of the Atacama Desert, is renowned as the driest non-polar desert on Earth. Yet, despite its aridity, it’s an environment of startling contrasts. From sprawling salt flats and turquoise lagoons to the ragged peaks of the Andes, nature here isn’t just alive—it’s thriving.

What magnetically draws travellers from across the globe to this Chilean enclave? It’s the surreal landscapes that appear almost otherworldly. The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), with its jagged terrains, mirrors lunar landscapes, while the El Tatio Geysers spew steam in the chilly dawn air, narrating the Earth’s geothermal tales. At night, the desert skies come alive, transforming San Pedro de Atacama into an astronomer’s paradise, boasting some of the clearest starlit canvases on our planet.

Where is San Pedro?

San Pedro de Atacama is one of the driest deserts in the world! Beyond the sands, the Atacama Desert boasts dramatic salt flats, turquoise lagoons, and jagged mountain peaks. San Pedro serves up landscapes so surreal; they feel plucked from a dream.

Now, what’s the buzz about this remote wonder? Beyond its jaw-dropping views, San Pedro is a gateway to the cosmos. As night falls, the sky transforms into a heavenly canvas, making it a stargazer’s paradise. The fusion of ancient cultures, otherworldly terrains, and that celestial dance overhead? That’s the San Pedro magic everyone’s chasing.

Getting from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama involves both a flight and a drive; major airlines like LATAM and Sky Airline operate daily flights, which take around 2 hours. Once you arrive in Calama, you must go to San Pedro de Atacama. The distance between the two is approximately 100 kilometres (about 62 miles) and takes roughly 1 to 1.5 hours by road.

Awasi Atacama: A Desert Retreat Like No Other

Credit: Awasi Atacama

The enchanting landscape of San Pedro de Atacama, Awasi Atacama stands as an oasis of luxury and exclusivity. More than just a place to rest, this boutique hotel offers an immersive experience, blending seamlessly with the surrounding desert.

Each suite at Awasi boasts a private patio, ensuring guests can savour the stunning views in solitude with the accommodations intricately designed with local materials, reflecting the rich heritage of the Atacama region.

What truly sets Awasi Atacama apart is its dedication to bespoke experiences. Every suite has a dedicated guide and a 4×4 vehicle, allowing guests to tailor their adventures in this mesmerising landscape.

Relais & Châteaux quality dining further elevates the experience. Awasi’s culinary prowess showcases local ingredients, allowing guests to embark on a gastronomic journey that complements their desert exploration—I can personally vouch for the food; it was truly exquisite.

In a realm where nature’s wonders meet unparalleled service, Awasi Atacama promises a getaway that’s not just about luxury but a genuine connection with the desert’s soul.

Cejar & Cha’a Lagoons: Nature’s Canvas of Serenity

Cejar Lagoon offers a salty secret and boosts salinity, rivalling the Dead Sea! Dive in and feel the magic as you float without care, gazing up at the brilliant Chilean sky. The contrasting deep blues of the water and stark whites of the surrounding salt crystals create a surreal backdrop—nature’s very own spa, seasoned with a dash of the extraordinary—something you’ll want to add to your bucket list. I highly recommend coming in the Summer to see the abundant wildlife.

Cha’a Lagoon is a harmonious blend of azure waters, white salt flats, and distant mountain vistas that paints a picture-perfect setting. It’s not just a visual retreat; it’s an invitation to pause and absorb the unfiltered beauty of Atacama.

Puritama Hot Springs: Nature’s Serene Spa in the Desert

Credit: Puritama Hop Springs

Amidst the vast, arid landscapes of the Atacama Desert lies a hidden oasis: the Puritama Hot Springs. Imagine stumbling upon cascading pools of warm, therapeutic waters, perfectly contrasting the desert’s cool breeze. Here, nature surprises you, turning the rugged desert into an inviting spa.

Puritama’s allure isn’t just in its warmth but in the journey of discovery. Located within a canyon, these natural springs are surrounded by native vegetation and terracotta cliffs, making every dip feel like you’ve unlocked a well-kept secret. Rich in minerals, the waters are rich in therapeutic properties, believed to heal both body and soul.

For travellers seeking rejuvenation, Puritama offers more than just a warm embrace in the chilly desert. It promises a connection to the Earth, a moment of tranquillity, and a reminder of nature’s endless wonders. It’s no wonder globetrotters, from thrill-seekers to relaxation enthusiasts, mark Puritama Hot Springs as a must-visit. After all, who could resist the call of a natural, soul-soothing bath in the heart of the world’s driest desert?

El Tatio Geysers: Earth’s Steaming Spectacle

Perched high in the Andes at 4,320 metres, El Tatio Geysers paint a picture unlike any other. As the sun breaks the horizon, the geothermal field presents a magical display of steam and spurting waters. Housing over 80 active geysers, El Tatio, is the largest geothermal field in the southern hemisphere and the third-largest globally.

But it’s not just the scale that captivates travellers. It’s the ethereal dance of steam against the crisp morning air, set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. A visit promises more than just a visual feast; it’s a rendezvous with the raw energy of our planet.

For the best experience, arrive at dawn. The cold morning air amplifies the geysers’ theatrics, and the rising sun casts a golden hue, creating a mesmerising play of light and shadow. 

Moon Valley: A Lunar Landscape on Earth

Trekking through the Moon Valley, or “Valle de la Luna," you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve left Earth altogether. Located just a short drive from San Pedro de Atacama, this striking expanse mirrors a lunar landscape in the heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Characterised by its jagged rock formations, vast dunes, and rugged caverns, Moon Valley is a geologist’s dream and an adventurer’s playground. The interplay of light and shadow across its saline and clay-rich surface creates an ever-changing tableau of colours, particularly during sunset when the valley is bathed in a warm, ethereal glow.

Millennia of erosion have sculpted this landscape, revealing layers of geological history and offering awe-inspiring insights into our planet’s dynamic past—a testament to nature’s artistry.

San Pedro de Atacama: An Astronomer’s Paradise

San Pedro de Atacama isn’t just a desert; it’s a window to the cosmos. With over 300 clear nights a year, this stretch of the Atacama Desert offers an unrivalled canvas of twinkling stars, distant galaxies, and shimmering celestial bodies.

Its high altitude, combined with one of the world’s driest climates, means minimal water vapour obscures the view, and light pollution is virtually non-existent, ensuring the Milky Way, shooting stars, and even distant planets are visible to the naked eye.

Observatories dot the landscape, equipped with state-of-the-art telescopes, drawing amateur stargazers and professional astronomers. For many, San Pedro de Atacama isn’t just a destination; it’s a journey through the universe, making it a beacon for all who seek the wonders of the cosmos.

The Wetlands and Valleys of Atacama

Amidst the arid vastness of the Atacama Desert, the wetlands and valleys emerge like an oasis of life, a testament to nature’s resilience and artistry. These pockets of green are a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna, from grazing vicuñas to the graceful silhouettes of flamingos against shimmering lagoons. The tapestry of reeds, lichens, and tufts of grass stands in poetic contrast to the surrounding sandy dunes and rocky formations.

Beyond the visual allure, there’s an ambience, a tranquil cadence that invites one to slow down. To rush through would be to miss the subtle play of shadows, the whispering breezes, and the serene reflections in still waters. In the deliberate pause, the unhurried gaze, one truly absorbs the soul-soothing magic of Atacama’s wetlands and valleys.

Tierra Atacama & Nayara Alto: Desert Luxuries with Distinctive Flair

Tierra Atacama is where rustic meets refined. The retreat offers a seamless blend of nature and luxury. With expansive windows and earthy interiors, it brings the outside in. The highlight? Its outstanding pool and spa facility offer rejuvenation with unrivalled desert views. At the time of writing the Tierra is showing signs of wear and tear.  Just purchased by Baillie Lodges, (known for outstanding quality), I’d expect an amazing makeover is on the horizon. The Awasi is better than the Tierra in just about every way and offers a plush sanctuary amidst nature’s vastness,  however, due to the sheer size of the Tierra Atacama, it has the potential to be better than Awasi in the future.

An oasis under the stars in the Atacama desert, Nayara Alto Atacama features multiple semi-private pools adjacent to an outdoor dining oasis, guests can plunge into serenity after savouring gourmet delights. The lavish spa, with indoor and outdoor massage tables, but the interiors do not match the Awasi’s elegance.

San Pedro de Atacama: More Than Just a Destination

It’s not every day you stumble upon a place like San Pedro de Atacama. In the heart of the world’s driest desert, life and luxury intermingle in the most unexpected ways. The landscape is a relentless showstopper, from ethereal moon-like valleys to rejuvenating hot springs. And nestled within this natural wonder, lodgings like Tierra Atacama and Nayara Alto Atacama rise, offering comforts that contrast and complement the raw beauty outside. It’s where every sunrise holds a promise and every sunset a story. 

San Pedro doesn’t just offer sights but soul-stirring experiences. Dive into the magic, feel the desert wind, gaze at the starlit skies, and let San Pedro etch its indelible mark on your heart—San Pedro de Atacama awaits your story.