At 10,000+ feet above sea level, less than a millimeter of rain per year, and miles of jagged salt flats, the Atacama Desert would seem to repel all things luxury…but then there’s Awasi. This lodge in San Pedro de Atacama has the coveted Relais & Chateaux seal of approval, and we quickly realized it wasn’t just its stunning design, unbelievable activities, award-winning food, and high thread count sheets that earned them five-stars—it is the unparalleled personal attention. There are over three dozen staff members for just eight rooms and every room comes with a private guide and chauffeur, dedicated to making your Atacama wishes come true. Awasi was an absolute oasis in the driest desert in the world.
Originally a second family home, the property was inspired by the simple homes of the nearby archaeological site or an early Atacama village, Aldea de Tulor. The earthy buildings are round in shape and made with the traditional mix of adobe, mud, grass, and stone with a concrete core for modern-day stability.
The villas with brea-stick roofs may appear rustic from the outside, though inside they anything but. Our circular suite was so spacious and beautifully decorated with a mix of tailored and organic accents–from French settees to locally woven textiles.
We had our first meeting with our guide in this chic outdoor lounge and quickly settled into its sea of colorful pillows. “First things first,” she said. “Can I get you a glass of Chilean wine?” Absolutely. She returned with two crisp glasses of Viognier (Awasi is all-inclusive, by the way) and discussed the slew of cultural and adventurous excursions to create our ideal itinerary.
Our heads were racing with all the exciting possibilities in the area so we decided to get our bearings with a stroll through the town center, which was just outside Awasi’s front door. San Pedro de Atacama, a town that was actually apart of Bolivia until the 1800s, feels particularly unique to Chile. Its buildings are made of adobe, dripping with red clay from the incredibly rare and brief rain cloud that pass through–no matter if it’s a posh restaurant or the town church. It feels a bit like the the wild-west, filled with extreme athletes, hippies, luxe ladies, sun-worn locals, and flash-packers mingling in a town that has a character all its own.
Looking down most streets you can catch glimpses of the snow-capped mountains and volcanoes in the distance. To get a better vantage point and to see how dazzling a sunset could be, we walked ten minutes out of town and up a tiny hill for this jaw-dropping vista. You’d think any vision of snow would be a mirage, but at 17,00 ft the Andes can beat the desert heat.
We made our way back to Awasi for dinner and knew we were in for a treat. The incredible menu changes daily, each meal with multiple courses of Chilean-fusion cuisine presented to perfection. Case in point: the raspberry sorbet, served in a candied baby papaya topped with a caramelized crisp…How beautiful is that?!
We woke up early the next day for our first big excursion: A bike ride to Cejar Pond. Located in the middle of the Atacama Salt Flat, this pond is so salty that the buoyancy rivals the Dead Sea. What looks like white rocks around this pool are actually salt crystals.
If there is one iconic spot in San Pedro de Atacama’s varied landscape, it would have to be the Moon Valley. Numerous travelers gather at its ridge for sunset but our guide had a secret peak in mind. Carrying a cooler of wine, cheese, crackers, fruit and mixed nuts, our amazing Awasi team led Mike and I up a steep hill for the most breathtaking and exclusive sun-downers.
The next morning we slept in to enjoy a late breakfast, the hotel pool, and to gear up for some late-day horseback ride and stargazing. I’m not a rider, but when presented with the opportunity to gallop through the magnificent dunes of Death Valley, I suddenly found my equestrian within.
When 10pm stuck were swept away by Awasi’s resident astronomer Jorge Antonio Corante Fernández and into the desert abyss for our stargazing session. With a rainfall of four inches every 1,000 years, and 0% humidity nearly every day of the year, the Atacama has some of the clearest and most spectacular night skies. Jorge had all the knowledge and high tech telescopes to teach us about all the stars we never get to see in the Northern Hemisphere and more.
The thing we loved most about Awasi is that the luxury isn’t confined within the walls of their lodge; it follows guests wherever they go. This sit-down sunrise breakfast, aside the steaming Tatio Geysers, is one of many examples. With Awasi, wherever we wanted to go, whatever we wanted to do, it was always possible and achieved with unforgettable style.
Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog HoneyTrek.com and Trip Coaches or those looking to extensively travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @HoneyTrek.
Mike and Anne Howard left on their honeymoon in 2012 and have been traveling the world ever since. HoneyTrek.com chronicles their adventures across 7 continents, 44 countries, and counting! Their writing, photography, and the story of the “World’s Longest Honeymoon” can also be found on Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, The Knot, Los Angeles Times, CBS, and dozens of other international publications. Connect with @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.