Media Disclosure: Along with my family, I was welcomed at Awasi Atacama with a media rate. All opinions are entirely my own.
In late August, we decided on a very spontaneous trip to Chile before our kids returned to school. As we had never been to Chile before, our adventure quickly grew in scope along with our excitement (this often happens with us).
Our final itinerary ended up including several days in the vibrant city of Santiago, a day touring wineries outside of the coastal town of Valparaiso, and a weekend at Corralco Ski Resort south of Santiago. The grande finale, however, was a visit to Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert and a very special stay at Awasi Atacama – an award-winning Relais & Châteaux property.
It was such a whirlwind adventure that I found myself actually needing some time to process the experience before I wrote about it. Had it really been as jaw-droppingly beautiful as I recalled?
Judging by the fact that I spent the following months telling everyone I knew about Awasi – it seems it was! It wasn’t just one special thing either. It was the experience in its entirety. We were so moved and impressed by the incredible landscape, the private guided tours, the world-class cuisine, the beautiful accommodation and the wonderfully attentive Awasi Atacama staff.
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Hotel Awasi Atacama Video
Awasi Atacama – The Welcome
After several days exploring Santiago, we boarded the 2 hour flight to Calama, a small Atacama Desert mining town. Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Sebastian who would be our Awasi private guide for the upcoming days.
Note: Awasi is the only Atacama Desert hotel that includes a private guide, allowing guests to have a customized experience.
Our lovely welcome continued once we arrived at the Awasi property in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama. Nestled discretely behind adobe walls, you could almost pass by without noticing it. Once you enter through the gates, however, it is hard not to be wowed.
Following a refreshing cocktail and a delicious lunch (locally sourced, of course), we sat down with our guide to discuss our excursions. It would take weeks to experience all the activities that Awasi has to offer. We appreciated that Sebastian really took the time to delve into which adventures would be most memorable to us.
As we were we traveling with our two children (11 & 14 at the time), we naturally also wanted to take their interests into account. Happy kids = happy parents! For example, my daughter loves fauna, my son loves volcanos, and I prefer shorter hikes over long ones. Furthermore, none of us are fans of large throngs of tourists.
From this, Sebastian put together an excursion plan for our stay. The beauty of the plan, however, was the fact that it was totally flexible. With a private guide, we could make changes on the fly.
The big adventures, however, would start the next day as we needed some time to adjust to the altitude. We decided on a little walk to explore the town of San Pedro de Atacama. While charming, we quickly discovered that there was no better place to be than right at Awasi Atacama. The staff, the pool, the amazing food – it was the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
Awasi Atacama Suites
Awasi Atacama’s 12 spacious suites blend seamlessly into the environment with their adobe, stone and wood construction. Every suite has a private patio, outdoor rain shower and a beautiful large bathroom with soaker tub. Personally, I loved the deluxe selection of L’Occitane toiletries and locally sourced bath salts.
Several suites have the option of an adjoining room separated by the enclosed patio making them perfect for families.
During our stay we also discovered many nice surprises in the room. These included a welcome tea, a selection of energy snacks, and sometimes even an envelope containing an invitation to a special event hosted by the lodge.
Something quite notable about Awasi Atacama is the respect that is shown for the environment, even right on the property. For example, during the construction of a new villa, great care is taken so as not to disturb a single tree. They simply build around it (see our patio tree below).
Gastronomy at Awasi Atacama
Drawing inspiration from the desert and traditional Andean cuisine, Awasi chef Jean Pablo Martones makes dining an experience in itself. His artful creations are as beautiful as they are delicious. I found them so pretty if fact, that sometimes I felt reluctant to take a bite (I gave in eventually).
Like everything else at Awasi Atacama, the dining experience is custom-tailored. While we encourage our children to eat what is on the menu, we did appreciate that the restaurant also offered several kid-friendly options. Nothing was too much trouble as long as they could source the ingredients. They even made my daughter her favorite avocado sandwich (she still talks about this).
Love to cook? Awasi guests have the opportunity to book a cooking class with Chef Juan Pablo.
Dining at Awasi Atacama includes a continental breakfast buffet and à la carte menu, an amply-sized lunch menu, afternoon tea, and a dinner menu that changes daily – offering a choice of appetizer, main and dessert.
When on excursions, a picnic style snack or meal is provided. This is typically set in some amazing locale. For example, after an early morning outing, we enjoyed breakfast at 4400m next to the El Tatio geyser field.
Paired with the fine fare at Awasi Hotel Atacama are beautiful Chilean wines. After an extended wine tasting (with an enthusiastic crowd), my husband and I found ourselves becoming quite fond of Carménère. While not easy to find a great a selection back home in Canada, when we do find a decent bottle, the taste brings us right back to Awasi Atacama.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the gorgeous signature cocktails offered up each evening using unique, locally-sourced ingredients. Very thoughtfully, the bartender would also prepare an equally special non-alcoholic cocktail for my children, making them feel very grown up.
Awasi Atacama Private Tours
As mentioned earlier, one of the things that really sets Awasi Atacama apart is the ability to enjoy customized tours with a private guide. Here are just a few of the reasons this made our visit extra special.
- Our excursions were designed specifically with our interests in mind. There was no wasted time on a tour that was only partially what we wanted.
- Our guide timed our visits to popular spots so that we rarely came across more than a few other tourists.
- We felt very well taken care of and safe. It is clear that the bar is set very high at Awasi in terms of education and safety training. Traveling at altitude can cause anxiety and discomfort for some, and we appreciated being checked in upon periodically.
- One final benefit of having a private guide was the fact that we didn’t have to get up quite as early as I had expected for the sunrise excursions. A private guide does not have to run around picking up guests at other hotels, so for our sunrise visit El Tatio geysers, we were able to leave the hotel at a reasonable 6:15am, not the 4:30am departure I had anticipated.
With only 3 nights/4 days at the Atacama Awasi lodge we really had to hone in on what was most important for us to see. Here are some photos of our favorite places and experiences. See also a full list of Awasi Atacama excursions here.
More on Awasi San Pedro de Atacama
Getting There: Awasi Atacama is a 2 hour flight from Santiago, followed by a 90 minute drive to the lodge. If you book your own flight, be sure to choose a window seat facing east so you can enjoy an incredible view of the Andes.
Packing: Year-round, you will need to have clothes for both warm and cool weather for the Atacama Desert, as the temperature changes dramatically between night and day. Please see the following Awasi Atacama packing list.
- Summer clothing for the day: Short sleeve t- shirts, shorts, bathing suit.
- Winter clothing for the night: Sweater, long sleeve t-shirts, jacket, fleece, long pants.
- Hiking Shoes and/or Boots
- Routine Medications
- Sandals or Flip Flops
- Wind Breaker and/or Fleece Jacket
- Restaurant Dress Code: Casual Attire
Outside of a trip to Egypt, my skin has never felt as dry as it did in the Atacama Desert. While Awasi is very generous with their L’Occitane moisturizers, if you have favorite skin hydrating products, I strongly recommend bringing them.
It’s not just your skin either – it is your eyes and nose that start to feel very dry. If you normally wear contacts, you might want to bring along a pair of glasses as well, for your comfort. While Awasi places humidifiers in the suites at night, I still suggest that you fill your toiletry bag with anything that could help you stay ahead of morphing into a reptile.
Avoiding Altitude Sickness in the Atacama
The town of San Pedro de Atacama is at an altitude of 2450m (8036 feet) but during our stay we ascended to as high as 4400m near El Tatio geysers. Altitude sickness (also known as acute mountain sickness) can occur at elevations greater than 2500m due to reduced levels of oxygen.
Symptoms of mild altitude sickness can include shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, sleepiness (and ironically sleeplessness), as well as general malaise. Ascending to higher altitudes slowly (over several days ideally) allows your body time to adjust. For this reason, our trusty guide planned our highest altitude excursions for our third day and frequently reminded us to drink plenty of water and take our hikes slowly.
While it is hard to predict the effects of altitude on any given individual, in our family we only experienced some shortness of breath on hikes. Learn more about altitude sickness here.
When to Visit Awasi Atacama
If you have flexibility in your schedule, March-May and September-November* are beautiful times to visit with pleasant temperatures and less tourists. You can also benefit from slightly discounted shoulder-season rates, and special packages if you visit more than one Awasi lodge on a trip.
*We visited Chile during the last two week of August when some U.S. schools are already back in session. It was perfect.
Child Policy: Awasi Atacama welcomes children 10 years and up.
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