Hotel Awasi Atacama
In late August, sneaking in a very last minute trip to Chile before the kids returned to school, our family visited Awasi Atacama – an exceptional Relais & Châteaux property located in Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. I found myself so moved by the beauty of the experience, that I have to admit I stalled a bit in writing about it. Had it really been as jaw-droppingly beautiful as I recalled? Had it left me feeling as spellbound as the great fjords of Norway or as mesmerized as the iceberg-covered ocean in Canada? As it turns out, it had, and I spent the following month telling everyone I know about our incredible adventure at the gorgeous Awasi Atacama. It wasn’t just one special thing either, it was the experience in its entirety – that incredible landscape, the custom tours led by a private guide, the world-class cuisine, and the wonderfully attentive Awasi staff. The experience was not lost on our two children either (11 and 14 at the time) who agreed that Awasi Atacama was undoubtably one of our best family vacations ever.
I can’t wait to share more, but if you want a quick look, here is a 3 minute video of our adventure at Hotel Awasi San Pedro de Atacama:
Awasi Atacama – The Welcome
After a couple days exploring Santiago, we boarded the 2 hour flight to Calama, a small mining town in the Atacama Desert. We were warmly welcomed at the airport by Awasi team member Sebastian, who had been assigned to us as our private guide for the next four days. Awasi is the only Atacama luxury hotel that includes a private guide as part of their top-tier all-inclusive experience, allowing guests to fully customize their adventures.
Our warm welcome continued once we arrived at the lodge in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, where the property is nestled discretely behind adobe walls. We enjoyed a welcome cocktail (locally sourced ingredients, of course), a delicious lunch, following which we sat down with our guide to discuss our excursions for the upcoming days. It would take weeks to experience all the activities that Awasi has to offer, so Sebastian took the time to really delve into which adventures would be most memorable for our family. As we were we traveling with our two children, we naturally also wanted to take their interests into account (happy kids = happy parents). For example, my daughter loves fauna, my son loves volcanos, I prefer shorter hikes over long ones, and none of us are fans of large throngs of tourists. From this, Sebastian put together an excursion plan for our stay. The beauty of this plan, however, was the fact that it was totally flexible. With a private guide, we could make changes as needed.
As we had planned to take it easy on our first day to give our bodies time to adjust to a higher altitude, we did not have any adventures planned and thus decided to explore the little town of San Pedro de Atacama on foot. While charming, we quickly discovered that there was no better place to be than right at Awasi Atacama. The staff, the pool, the outdoor living space, the amazing food and a beautiful oasis of calm, made us realize that there was nowhere we would rather spend our first afternoon.
Awasi Atacama Suites
Awasi Atacama’s 10 spacious suites blend seamlessly into the environment with their adobe, stone and wood construction. There are 7 Round Suites (50m²+ or 540 sq. ft.) near the pool and restaurant and 3 Rectangular Suites (60m²+ or 640 sq. ft) next to the main reception area across a little street. For our family of four, a Rectangular Suite was just perfect, containing a king bed and single beds for each of our 2 children. Every suite has a private patio, outdoor rain shower and a beautiful large bathroom with soaker tub. I was very impressed with the deluxe selection of L’Occitane toiletries at Awasi Atacama as well as other nice additions such as locally sourced pumice stones and bath salts.There were also many other nice surprises in the room including a welcome tea, energy snacks, and sometimes an envelope left in a little wood box by the door containing an invitation to a special event hosted by the lodge.
Gastronomy at Awasi Atacama
Drawing inspiration from the desert and traditional Andean cuisine, Awasi Atacama head chef Jean Pablo Martones makes dining an experience in itself. His artful creations are as beautiful as they are delicious – so pretty, in 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, with a short meeting at the beginning of the stay to discuss food preferences and allergies. 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 had the ingredients in the kitchen – even making my daughter her favorite avocado sandwich. 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, 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 presented by sommelier Felipe Zunñiga. After an extended wine tasting (he had an enthusiastic crowd), I quickly became a Carménère convert and have found myself trying to track down some of my favourites back home in Canada.
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 in this post, one of the things that really sets this property apart from other San Pedro de Atacama luxury hotels is the fact that the Awasi experience includes 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 personal guide Sebastian timed our visits to popular spots in such a way that we rarely came across more than a few other people. We are not fans of visiting tourist sights with bus loads of 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.
As the years slip by and my kids gain more independence, I find myself savoring these special family experiences more than ever. Awasi Atacama is up there with our top family vacations ever. It’s beautiful, it’s interesting and it is incredibly luxurious. If you are like me, you just might find yourself spending a disproportionately long time going through the Awasi website looking at more of their beautiful hotels. (There are 2 Awasi Chile properties and one stunning new property at Iguazú Falls, Argentina.)
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
One More Thing: 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.
Travel at Altitude: 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: 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 many U.S. schools are already back in session. It was perfect.
Child Policy: Awasi Atacama welcomes children 10 years and up. The preferred rooms for families are the Rectangular Suites as they are a little larger than the Round Suites.
See also: Discover more very special luxury hotels in South America including several Relais & Châteaux Chile properties here.
Disclosure: We were welcomed at Awasi Atacama with a reduced media rate. All other costs for the trip including flights were incurred by us. All opinions in this post are entirely my own.