TIERRA ATACAMA

HOTEL & SPA

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Unique Destination’s Review of Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa

Traveling to the Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa in San Pedro de Atacama is a journey from the familiar world to an exotic oasis in the midst of the driest desert in the world.  The contrasts between San Pedro and Santiago become a metaphor for the enormous contrasts in the land of the Atacama, where the unique magic of its oasis contrasts with the surrounding mountains and desert.  While San Pedro is in the middle of a vast, seemingly barren land, one discovers that it is a land filled with hidden treasures for the avid traveler to unveil.

A mixture of clouds and sun greets us upon our arrival in Calama and follows us to San Pedro.  Later that afternoon, when rain falls in San Pedro (due to the Bolivian winter), our guides (all long term residents in San Pedro) rejoice at the welcome blessing of this wonderful event.  In the next days, when we see the fresh snow in the distant heights of Volcan Licancabur, we share their amazement and joy at the special beauty.

From the moment we arrive at the airport and are personally greeted by our personal, friendly driver, we feel pampered.  The air-conditioned mini van has chilled bottles of water or soft drinks awaiting us; mind reading, anyone?  Without being too forward, our driver Luis offers information, advice and the odd tip about San Pedro that help make our stay an unforgettable one.  He takes us safely on the road to the Hotel and Spa.  He answers all our questions; he explains that on the way to San Pedro we will cross the “Cordillera de Domeyko” which is an amazingly geological formation squeezed between the “Cordillera de la Costa”, behind us, and the Andes, ahead of us.  Then, Luis explains that the Cordillera de la Sal, a smaller mountain range just before San Pedro, houses the “Valle de la Muerte” (Death Valley) and “Valle de la Luna” (Moon Valley).

 
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In past centuries, San Pedro people lived in small communities made up mainly of extended families called ayllus. The allyus used canals to share water; they also pooled labor and reflect the early stages of community life. Tierra Atacama’s land is part of the Ayllu de Yaye, and is built where a cattle corral existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Herders bringing cattle from Argentina to the port of Antofagasta would stop here for water and alfalfa during their journey. The adobe walls surrounding the property were part of the original Corral and are today preserved as a monument to its history.


A full archaeological dig was carried out on the land under the hotel before it was built. The dig site is preserved to provide guests a window into the practice of archaeological research. The dig site is an exclusive feature of the Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa.



Lunch is always a choice of two or three starters, main courses and desserts.  Everything looks delicious making it very difficult to choose, but finally I make up my mind hoping not to regret it... I don’t, it is just the right thing!  Dessert is easy; just choose the most exotic one of the three!

After the welcoming meal, we go to our room where we have time to rest a little before embarking on the first of our adventures that afternoon: Visiting the village of Toconao and then Chaxas Lake, home to three of the world’s four varieties of flamingos.

Although we have internet in our room (as well as anywhere else in the Hotel), there are no TV’s in the rooms. You are thus invited to relax and enjoy your visit, keeping the possibility of staying connected to the outside world if one so wishes.

Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa, hidden behind walls of rocks, rises among vines, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, lovely flowers, lizards, and bees.  In the lobby we were greeted by Chris, the Manager of the Hotel; and, after we were taken to our rooms and had a chance to freshen up, we met Paula, our tour coordinator, before lunch.  Sitting in front of a magnificent map, Paula explained that we may take the tours we wish, clarifying that there are half day tours and full day tours.  The bar offered us a drink and we chose a delicious fruit juice.  With more options for tours than three days and four nights could possibly allow, Paula carefully tailored the planned tours to our interests and abilities.

The tailor made excursions offer you time for adventure and Paula, the coordinator, guided us with the best time for each of the visits.  Hence, she suggested visiting Chaxa Lake during sunset, one of the best times for photographs.  The guides, in turn, are all very cheerful, and all are multilingual (speaking some combination of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and/or even some Italian or German!).  Our guides spare no opportunity to show us around, and all clearly feel a great deal of pride and love for San Pedro and its surroundings.

On the road to the town of Toconao, we pass through an area planted with Tamarugo trees, and we scent their soft, sweet fragrance.  They were planted here in the 1960’s to prevent further desertification of the land.  Sadly, the trees are slowly yielding to the harsh conditions of the land and climate; only the stronger ones survive nowadays.     

After Toconao one feels to be traveling into the middle of nowhere, buy finally we arrive at Chaxa, a large salt lake that is home to the flamingos.  Visiting Chaxa just before sunset is wonderful timing, when you can witness growing activity among the flamingos and see them feeding or flying overhead.  The soft, colorful lighting from the fading sun highlights the flat land, making you realize that you are on the former bottom of an ancient lake, once measuring 320,000 hectares in size.  Today, 5,000 hectares are legally protected in the National Flamingo Reserve.  The “Salar de Atacama” is 2,300 mt above sea level with rugged salt crusts created by the constant accumulation of crystals produced by the evaporation underground water.

Returning by dinner time, you have already made a few acquaintances with other guests and can share a pleasant time joining tables and talking about the flamingos and the plans you have for the next day. 

Next day is time for us and for our newly made friends to visit Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte.  Only a half-hour drive from our hotel takes you far, far away.  Strolling down an ancient dry watercourse or playing like kids among the sand dunes, we admire the beauty and splendor of this world.  The intensity of the colors, the brilliance of the light and the bizarre, almost unearthly formations leave one stunned at the beauty of the land.  Tired and satisfied, we return to the hotel, just in time for a refreshing drink in the bar followed by a relaxing and enjoyable lunch.  We chose to spend the afternoon visiting the warm waters of Puritama, sharing a pool with dozens of little fish swimming around us.  The green of the small oasis at the Puritama Hot Springs contrasts amazingly with the steep lifeless walls of its narrow valley.  Upon our return, dinner is awaiting us at the hotel, with another hard-to-make-up-my-mind sort of menu.

After a relaxing evening and an early night, we wake up at 5:00 am to get ready for one of the highlights of the trip: a visit to the Tatio Geysers.  At 5:30 we walk into the lobby and we meet with our guide, and the rest of the group who, I am glad to say, show the same sleepiness and drowsiness as we do.  Coffee, tea and coca tea await us at the dinning room; there’s cake as well!  Each of us grab a bite and some liquid (I took some coca tea and a piece of cake) to wake up a little more, then we set off on our adventure ride of 90 kilometers to the Geysers.  The Tatio Geysers are 4,400 mt above sea level, so at times the road heads steeply upwards as it climbs out of the Salar.  Some of us start feeling a bit breathless at 3,400... But we’re still 1,000 mt short of reaching the altitude and some 55 km away from the first Geysers!  Our guides, however, are extremely safety conscious, and keep an eye on all of us to be sure no one has any difficulties, both with the altitude and later at the Geysers themselves. The Tatio Geysers offer scenery that seems taken from a science fiction movie – they comprise a large area with many geysers, boiling pools, and steaming vents, all eerily coming into view in the early morning light.  At the Geysers, a simple buffet breakfast is laid out for us, with hot drinks to ward off the chill.  The return trip was wonderful, with the Altiplano and Andes mountains all around, and short stop at a unique high altitude river, with many birds and vicuña to be seen.

One can take many different excursions in coordination with Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa, so varied that one has the feeling that the schedule wears you out before you wear out the schedule, and you will certainly want to come back for more!

A lake where you can wade and not sink; they have yet to have the first immersion victim in Lago Sejas, just 17 km away from the hotel.  Turquoise color waters and surrounded by salt crystals.  Not to be missed!  

Miscanti and Miñiques are two Altiplanic lakes situated at more than 4,000 mt of elevation, certainly worth a visit.   In that area we also find the Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) at 4,325 mt. of elevation of a deep emerald green.

A horseback ride to discover the desert scenery can take between 2 and 5 hours.

Bicycling to Sejas Lagoon, or through the Devils Canyon, or to the Ayllus (different Atacameñan communities) are attractive options.  San Pedro itself also beckons, with tiny, unique shops, a square with some of the oldest buildings in Chile, and a famous church.  In the distance, protecting the town from above, one can see (and visit) Pukará de Quitor (Fort Quitor), an ancient fortification built by the Atacameños 900 years ago.

When the many excursions offered by Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa, only a few of which I have mentioned here, make you feel the need for a little pampering, you can also experience the Spa at the Hotel, its swimming pools, or massages, at your leisure!  Floating under the wide desert sky, or soaking in a hot tub beckon at any time.


One of the most pleasant and enjoyable aspects of visiting Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa was certainly the guides provided by the Hotel.  They were uniformly knowledgeable and articulate (in multiple languages!), well able to provide insight to San Pedro for visitors.  Their love of San Pedro, and their pride and care for its unique and fragile environment leaves one with a lasting appreciation of everything seen and experienced on this unforgettable trip.