Think honeymoon, and images of French Polynesia, Bali and Africa likely come to mind, but how about Chile’s Atacama Desert For too long, travelers have deemed Earth’s driest tract an inhospitable, monochromatic amalgamation of sand and rock. Not anymore.
In recent years, the central area of the 40,000-square-mile Atacama has garnered much-deserved attention for its diverse and colorful landscapes, extreme nature and riveting adventure opportunities. It’s also become a hotspot for five-star hotels capitalizing on the desert decadence, giving rise to the boho chic, boutique-lined town of San Pedro de Atacama.
In the heart of San Pedro, Explora Atacama transports adventurers into the profundity of desert rapture and romance.
Jet-setters revel in the luxuries of Explora’s intimate, stark-white lodge, which flaunts an observatory for unparalleled star gazing, four swimming pools to combat desert heat, an old-fashioned horse stable and modernist, design-driven interiors—all in the shadow of 15,000-foot snow-capped volcanoes. Guests can anticipate bespoke three- to eight-day itineraries of desert rhapsody, crafted from a menu of some 50 half-day and full-day excursions. Ranging from easy to difficult and accomplished on foot, horseback or bicycle, these programs traverse painted deserts exploding with alternating hues of rusts, greens, whites and blues.
Highlights include hiking through the craters of Valle de la Luna and the cactus valley near Guatin, watching the sun set over the Salar de Atacama, ascending the ancient fortress of Pukará de Quitor and soaking up the scene—literally—in the cascading hot springs of Puritama. On the Kari hike through Valle de la Luna, a moonlike landscape gives way to canyons encased by billions of salt crystals and mounds of ground salt, recalling endless vistas of snow-drenched mountains in the height of winter. At Laguna Chaxa on the Atacama Salt Flat, flocks of Andean and Chilean flamingos usher in the sunset, revealing panoramas and skies so intense they could be deemed some of Mother Nature’s finest art. The Guatin-Punta del Inca trail follows a lush ravine lined with soaring, centuries-old cacti, and the eight tiered lagoons constituting the Puritama hot springs provide ideal fodder for honeymoon dreams. Owned and managed by Explora, the Puritama natural hot springs lie in the thick of Atacama’s diverse desert beauty, connected by sleek pathways and sun-tanning platforms, offering a serene setting for low-key days in the desert.
Much like its sister lodges, Explora Atacama provides excellent food and drink offerings essential to the experience. Here in the desert, you’ll feast on homemade pumpkin ravioli, shitake mushroom ceviche, Chilean lamb chops and porcini gnocchi. At least one night during your stay, you’ll attend an all-out Andean barbecue, featuring a night of traditional Andean dancing, music and costumes as house chefs prepare a range of local meats on the barbie.
Overcoming doubts of one-dimensional skeptics, Explora Atacama has fostered a welcoming marriage of extreme desert and luxury. The lodge’s unconventional approach to the driest place on Earth has opened a brave new world to the vanguard globetrotter and hopeless romantic.