• Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Atacama Desert Travel

San Pedro de Atacama - Desert Nights
May 11, 2011
By , Founder and Editor-in-chief
Los Salares Altaplana

Not at all your plain vanilla desert, San Pedro de Atacama is much sweeter. With terrain that ranges from snow-capped mountains, lagoons with water as turquoise as the Caribbean and active volcanoes, this is not at all a Griswald family vacation. This is reknowned to be one of the driest, if not the driest desert on earth, and is nothing short of stunning. Located in Chile at 8200 feet, with excursions that take you over 14,000, the altitude is not the only thing that will make you feel high. There will be running down sand dunes in the Vallee de la Muerta, as you get introduced to the desert on the Cornisas hike.  Your reward  at the end of the hike will be beautifully prepared fresh juice, waiting for you with your driver to whisk you back to the lodge.

You may think the Atacama is about roughing it, but with home base as EXPLORA, an eco-resort, you’ll experience nothing but exceptional service, five-star food and not to mention open bar. Not a do-it-yourself vacation if you want to do it right, Explora takes you to the most remote and unspoiled of the Atacama, where only the brave dare to drive. The lodge, located a 10 minute walk from town, is all about making the eco-adventure authentic yet comfortable. When you arrive at the lodge for lunch, it will be gorgeous three course meals on the terrace and all the wine you can be brave enough to drink before your afternoon adventures. 

And that afternoon excursion could include cowboying, or girling up to ride horses through the desert, as Explora has its own stable of some of the most gentle and beautiful horses you’ll ever meet. Afterwards, catch the flamingos at sunset at the Salar de Atacama. It can also be the famed Geysers and the Hot Springs Purtima. One of the most beautiful, and a locals favorite is the Salares del Altiplano, hands down the most beautiful place in the Atacama, with its lagoons the color of Caribbean water. There are dozens of excursions you can take with Explora, the difficulty of which is completely up to you.  Here easy is really easy though, and difficult means that you better be brave and in great shape. You should take a few hours though to wander around town thorugh the shops, Paseo Peatonal where the shops sell the handmade goods from Chile, Peru and Bolivia.  Perfect souvenirs are the handmade hats for children, jewelry for friends and alpaca blankets. The quality is much higher than you would expect. Surprisingly, there is also a North Face in town, though you wouldn’t know it  from the outside as it’s in a discreet adobe storefront. Gear here is a necessity – hiking shoes are a must to survive all the elements of this desert. 

At some point, you should hike the Moon Valley, where you will wander through old canyons where the water has since long gone dry, and watch a stunning sunset, where the purple mountain is majesty and darkness falls quickly.

The darkness comes just in time, for the LIVELY nighttime scene of restaurants, watering holes and even the ILLICIT after-hours parties. The food at Explora is unrivaled and it makes a mean pisco sour, but you’ll want to experience the signature pastel de choclo, a corn dish that is a speciality of the region, in town. At Isteka, which has arguably the best food in town, you’ll sit on stone seats and socialize with the locals, who are there for their special occasion dinner. La Casona is another romantic locale, with a bonfire in the back terrace. Here food is secondary to the atmosphere, as you dine among candlelit tables in the desert night. 

For the locale go-to place, head to Adobe, where the food borders on great, with quesadillas and ceviche that are the real deal. The “fiestas clandestines”, which are the illegal afterhours parties, go in and out of fashion, depending upon the season and the DJ. When in fashion, they are the place to be late night, spinning great music and a lively scene. When out of fashion, they’re dicey, plagued by the Bolivian drug scene. Check in with the locals to get a pulse on the parties. With adobe huts, unpaved dusty streets and rustic town, the experience doesn’t get more authentic. This is one trip where the photos are extraordinary – and the memories even more so. For after all, the Atacama Desert is the DESSERT of your extraordinary experiences.