Just 10 years ago, the Atacama Desert was almost completely unknown to the North American traveler. Accessible only to backpackers and the savviest of travelers, this unique area—which reminds me of Yellowstone, the American Southwest, and Mars all rolled into one—was a hidden gem.
Today, the gorgeous landscapes combined with the fascinating pre-Columbian indigenous cultures have turned the region into one of Chile’s top attractions alongside Patagonia and Easter Island. Its rising popularity among discerning adventurers is thanks in part to a blossoming of luxury lodges in the area that offer a tantalizing combination of world-class comfort and active adventure.
While you can’t really go wrong at any of the high-end hotels reviewed here (Explora, Alto, Awasi and Tierra), people often ask me which one is best. Matching travelers—from couples and families to solo adventurers and large groups—with the best accommodations in Atacama for them is part of what I do every day. After all, choosing a home away from home that best suits your preferences can elevate your vacation to a trip of a lifetime. Keep reading for a look at how I think about the best luxury lodges in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Best Luxury Lodges in Atacama Desert, Chile
For the adventure-seeker: Explora Atacama
When Explora opened their first lodge in the early ‘90s, they spearheaded a new type of travel: luxury accommodations in remote locations. In Atacama, they’ve brought this vision to life amid the beauty and mystery of the desert. Guests spend their days experiencing the canyons and valleys that make up the Andean altiplano area either on foot, astride a horse, by bike, or with a driver. At night, they return to gourmet cuisine, cozy fireplaces, deluxe rooms, and sweeping views.
Because of their early investment in the area, Explora can offer certain excursions that are completely exclusive to their guests. The company owns the Puritama Hot Springs, for example, giving guests access to their own pool, and can take trekkers into otherwise off-limits areas in the Moon Valley (two of the region’s top attractions). And for high-altitude treks up the side of volcanoes, Explora is the only way to go. No matter what you’re hoping to see in the area, how you’re hoping to see it or what your experience level is, Explora will do everything they can to make it happen.
Explora Atacama has been almost completely remodeled following a fire in 2015. They’ve made the best of the situation by doubling-down on especially gorgeous new common areas and a fresh set of highly trained guides.
In a nutshell Explora Atacama highlights
- Exclusive excursions to Puritama Hot Springs, Moon Valley, and Tatio Geyser
- Best choice for horseback riding (only lodge with their own stables)
- Widest range of excursions (trekking, horseback riding, biking, drives)
- Exceptional service and highly trained guides
Insider tip: As an all-inclusive lodge, you’ll get the most bang for your buck from Explora if you arrive early and leave late. And since Explora will pick you up from the Calama airport at any time of the day (or night) as part of the package, the trip will be a smooth one no matter what. Talk to one of our trip specialists for more details, and be sure to ask about the special promotions for honeymooners and multi-destination travelers if either those sound like you.
For desert culture and stargazing: Alto Atacama
Alto enjoys a unique location on the outskirts of town near the Pukará de Quitor pre-Columbian archeological site. Alto takes their place in history and geography seriously: their buildings blend in perfectly with the desert landscape, and visitors to the hotel enjoy cultural immersion within a luxury setting.
Alto is the perfect place to satisfy an insatiable curiosity. Their excursions are designed to take you through the sweeping history of the Atacama region, beginning with the oldest ruins and rock formations. Even on the hotel grounds, care has been given to incorporate native plants, stones, art, and animals (a small pack of llamas even enjoys their own luxury corral in the middle of the property!). Their spa is a welcome oasis as well, and a new “spa excursion” is popular among guests looking to spend a day on the grounds.
If you’re drawn to the desert for the crystal-clear night skies, Alto is the place to be. Climb the steps to their observatory and you can gaze at the stars atop swiveling loungers while enjoying a hot beverage. Their on-site astronomer will give you a guided tour of the Milky Way, and Alto’s specially designed property ensures almost zero light pollution.
In a nutshell: Alto Atacama highlights
- Best hotel for stargazing – unique observatory experience + personal terraces for private viewing
- Great for history lovers and those looking to learn more about the region
- Unique location near archeological ruins and the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range
- Private outdoor space as part of every room
Insider tip: Alto has three different room categories, but I find myself most often recommending the Catarpe rooms. They’re a great money saver if you don’t need the extra square footage offered by the other options, and you still get a private outdoor space facing the beautiful Cordillera de la Sal mountain range for more intimate stargazing. Alto is also the only property with a small outdoor wedding chapel and meeting rooms if you’re looking for an event space.
For tailor-made travel: Awasi Atacama RelAis & ChÂteaux
Even among this list of best hotels in Atacama, Awasi strives to be the cream of the crop. With just 10 rooms and a private guide and vehicle for each, Awasi is the ultimate in custom luxury, and perfect for visitors seeking a quiet desert oasis.
Having a private guide and vehicle during your stay lends itself well to travelers with a specific priority: for example, you can build your trip excursions around a love of photography, or bring a yoga mat along as your guide helps you find the best spots for sun salutations. No matter which excursions you choose, having a private guide allows you to experience the area at your own pace – you never have to worry about slowing others down or wishing things would speed up in a group setting. Plus, San Pedro de Atacama sits in high altitude with many excursions taking you higher, so a private vehicle can whisk guests back to the hotel at a moment’s notice if the altitude is taking its toll.
As a Relais & Chateux hotel, it should come as no surprise that the cuisine is exquisite. Still, the thoughtfulness put into each dish manages to be breathtaking. Each three-course meal is prepared with the best local ingredients and enjoys fantastic presentation. Meals are served in a beautifully-designed indoor/outdoor space that feels exceedingly private and plush.
In a nutshell: Awasi Atacama highlights
- Private guide and vehicle for each room
- Best chef – Relais & Chateaux-quality cuisine
- Desert oasis feel and tranquil atmosphere
- An exclusive experience with a focus on privacy and solitude
Insider tip: At Awasi, no two rooms are alike, so room selection is extra important. If you’re going for a trip of a lifetime, ask for superior round suite #10. It’s the most stunning on the property and gives guests a taste of traditional adobe structure with all the comforts and pleasures of a five-star experience. The other two room types—the rectangular suites and the round rooms—are the same price, but the rectangular suites are across the street from the common areas. If you want more space and a bathtub, go for the rectangular suites. If those things aren’t a factor for you, it’s a bit easier to stay in a round room nearby the dining space, pool, and bar. Awasi is the priciest of the bunch and fills up far in advance, so it’s never too early to talk to our trip specialists about a trip to this ultra-luxurious setting.
For the spa-lover: Tierra Atacama
If you’re looking to mix a bit more relaxation into your trip, Tierra Atacama makes for a great choice. Renowned for their spa facilities and services, Tierra boasts an indoor heated pool in addition to their outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, and spa treatments that utilize local elements like volcanic mud, desert herbs and lithium-rich salts. After a long day of trekking or horseback riding in the most arid climate on the planet, your skin and muscles are sure to appreciate the attention. Even if traditional spa services like facials and wraps aren’t your thing, the spa feel helps create a blissed-out environment at the lodge.
Another highlight of Tierra is the view: many of the rooms and common areas face a stellar vista of Licancabur, the region’s most stunning volcano. At Tierra, you can admire this natural wonder while sitting around one of their outdoor fire pits, or from the yoga platform during their daily classes. The interior common spaces have a modern aesthetic but are smaller and less spacious than Explora’s, so if you’re visiting during Chile’s winter months (June – August) they can feel a little cramped due to Tierra’s popularity.
Tierra also pays special attention to their food and wine selections, and the chefs are adept at integrating local ingredients (some straight out of Tierra’s gardens) into the cuisine.
In a nutshell: Tierra Atacama highlights
- Best spa and widest range of spa services
- Beautiful views of Licancabur volcano
- Yoga classes on an outdoor (but protected) platform
- Outdoor fire pits and plenty of places to lounge
Insider tip: Like Explora, Tierra will sometimes include up to two nights free in Santiago if you’re making your way to one or more of their lodges, which can help take some of the stress off the timeline and budget. You can get even more value if you visit more than one Tierra location—they’re the only lodge with a location in Chiloe, a lush contrast to the Atacama Desert. If you’re traveling as a family, two apartments on the property are perfect for groups looking to sprawl in their own space. Since the lodge fills up fast, it’s best to check on availability with one of our trip specialists.
It’s true that these are all great hotels working hard to deliver an exceptional experience—and while there are plenty of places to stay in San Pedro de Atacama, these lodges allow you to do it all from an exceedingly comfortable home base. Just don’t let the desert label mislead you: Atacama is a place of diverse and other-worldly landscapes where you can wonder at the complexities of life in extreme and awe-inspiring conditions.
Big Views, Jordan
Jordan is a Co-Founder of Knowmad Adventures, a world-leader in high-quality custom trips and itineraries in Patagonia. He has won Travel & Leisure’s prestigious A-List Top Travel Specialist for Patagonia, Chile, Argentina and Peru five consecutive years. In addition to helping you put together a flawless custom Chile and Argentina trip, Knowmad Adventures guarantees best pricing at any of the Patagonia lodges. Give him a call at 877-616-TRIP or email [email protected].
“Travel brings me incredible experiences and challenges, highlighting the world’s natural beauty while connecting me with inspiring people. I am convinced that travel makes us better people, and better people make a better planet.” Read Jordan’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.