Ah, the Atacama Desert. Most easily explored from the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile, this hot, hot, hot destination (No. 2 on The New York Times list of where to travel in 2017!) offers enormous salt flats, high-stepping flamingos, vast sand dunes, hot springs, geysers, stark formations with epic names like Valley of the Moon, and volcanoes (many of them active) that soar to more than 22,000 feet, all in one of the largest, oldest, and driest deserts on earth.
Atacama adventure doesn’t end when the sun goes down either. The area has some of the lowest levels of light pollution in the world and the hyper-dry climate means there’s almost no pesky humidity to cloud your view. Beginners look to the stars using some of the most powerful telescopes available for private use while serious scientists from around the world watch the heavens using massive radio telescopes at the nearby Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array research facility (ALMA for short).
And speaking of stars, you can once again book a stay where Bjork, David Letterman, and the Prince and Princess of Monaco go when they want a dose of the desert.
After more than a year of restoration following an electrical fire in 2015 (relax, no one was hurt), the Explora Atacama has re-opened. It debuted in San Pedro de Atacama in 1999 and essentially created the concept of the luxury all-inclusive adventure lodge by offering style and service with rates that include all food and beverages including alcohol as well as guided excursions into the desert.
It’s a model that’s been much-copied, but the Explora Atacama, one of four Explora adventure lodges in South America, continues to offer guests experiences that other lodges can’t.
The Explora Atacama adventure menu includes more than 40 different ways to experience the best of the Atacama on foot, by bike, by 4X4, or on horseback. The stable at the Explora Atacama is full of horses bred and trained specifically for Explora and the tack room is full of traditional Chilean saddles as well as English saddles.
The Explora also offers one of the most powerful privately owned telescopes in Chile so guests can appreciate that amazing desert night sky. The Explora also owns the popular Puritama Hot Springs where the first (and hottest) pool is reserved exclusively for Explora guests along with a private shaded deck with lounge chairs. Guests from other area hotels and lodges have to settle for lower, cooler public hot spring pools.
It’s fun to picture Bjork, David Letterman, and the Monaco royals soaking it up in the volcanically heated hot springs, just not at the same time.
From June 1 to August 15, 2017 all four Explora hotels will take one child (under 18) for free for each paying adult. So there's your next uber-glam family friendly travel plan.
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