Cordilleran landscapes and harmony with local culture await you at Awasi Atacama, in the heart of the driest desert in the world. For her first stop in northern Chile, Laura Burkitt invites us to experience an open-air show in a picturesque and authentic house.
We’re in the most arid place on Earth, but I’m sipping on homemade lemonade mixed with petals from a desert rose and Pica limes, small citrus fruits native to a town north from here. Proof that if life gives you lemons, open a luxury hotel.
Awasi Atacama is a stylish oasis hidden behind the terracotta walls of San Pedro de Atacama, an ancient desert town. You can often spot tourists peeking through the gates to take photos. There are only 10 suites dotted around a central stone courtyard, where you can cool off in the hacienda pool then warm up by the nightly fire on colourful artisan cushions. It feels like an exclusive tiny Inca village with a weekly asado (traditional BBQ) should you want to be sociable.
Your room is totally private though, with sunken marble baths as well as both indoor and outdoor showers to wash away the desert dust.
The hotel worked with a local historian to recreate the ancestral architecture of the area, and the round suites are traditional in style but modern in amenities, featuring thick Adobe clay walls and circular thatched roofs to moderate the temperature alongside a handy humidifier (and L’Occitane lip balm) to combat the dry air. Andean textiles brighten the earthy colour palette with room numbers crafted from local copper and slippers embroidered with the brand’s lizard.
Days are for exploring the spectacular and sometimes surreal surroundings. You decide your itinerary on arrival with your own private guide who’s fluent in a number of languages as well as every nook and cranny of the lunar landscape. Most importantly, they know exactly what time to visit the famous sights to avoid any other tourists.
Whether that’s a solitary swim in the salt lake lagoon followed by a posh picnic, or sundowners with no one but a flamboyance of flamingos. There are hikes and hot springs and even desert safaris, with the highest altitude spots saved until your last day so you can acclimatize.
As one of the most dazzling places on the planet for stargazing, an astronomy tour is a must. What sets Awasi apart from other hotels in the area though, is their private observatory; a 15min drive south of the town free from light pollution where you can see Saturn’s rings over a glass of Carménère or chocolate caliente. Unlike other companies, they also offer tours on a full moon, all be it adapted to the bright conditions.
The open-air restaurant means you’ll dine under the stars every night, and the food is equally as stellar. Chile is unique in the fact that you are never too far from the sea or land, so fresh produce is abundant which inspires Chef Juan Pablo Mardones. He aims to, “take a little bit of the desert and present it our guests’ plates” – and he does so, artfully.
A tasting menu featured beef tongue from Argentina to the east, pil pil shrimp from a port to the west and macarons made from chañar syrup, a fruit tree indigenous to the Atacama area which tastes like butterscotch. This dessert was paired with a Moscatel from the nearby Huasco Valley, followed by Pisco Sours flavoured with the minty local rica-rica herb.
With a rich Inca heritage, the area has deep spiritual significance. Handmade Andean dolls sit on each place setting and you’ll find a bedtime book of local stories waiting in the room. But if ever there was a way to honour Pachamama, ‘Mother Earth’, dining desert to dish with the night sky above you is it.
The delicious journeys of Juan Pablo Mardones