Camino Sequitor s/n, Ayllú de Yaye, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Typically, this jaded traveler can find some kind of faux pas in a hotel stay – a customer service snafu, a water pressure problem, or perhaps, a bit of culinary confusion. Nobody’s perfect, right? But, from the moment you pull into this unassuming property, you’d be hard pressed to find any fault in Tierra Atacama. It’s like the straight "A", picture-perfect high school prom queen who can do no wrong, but with way more substance, soul and style.
After touching down at El Loa Airport in Calama after the swift two-hour flight from Santiago, it’s as if you’ve been plunked down on another planet. The surreal contrasts of the desert—the colors, landscape and textures—are so incredibly striking that the 75-minute transfer on the two-lane autopista only teases the senses for further exploration of the vast Atacama altiplano desert region.
Guests get a quick glimpse of the quaint, yet lively village of San Pedro de Atacama before venturing a short distance from town down dirt roads to the Tierra Atacama property. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel to the main hub and definitely worth exploring either on foot or via bike.
The exterior of Tierra Atacama is a bit misleading. Sparse and simple, it doesn’t properly convey the cosseting that occurs behind the white walls. Maybe it simply prefers not to put on unnecessary airs. Walk through the entrance of the main building to reception, a small desk to the right, though, and there’s an immediate sense of warmth. Service is friendly and polished, and there’s this indescribable vibe that straight away, you’re a very special guest in someone’s very cool home. All Everything is taken care of—meals, drinks and excursions are included in the rate—and without a lot of fanfare, the staff seems to sniff out guests’ every want or need and make it happen.
It’s in this main building where fellow travelers, an eclectic international mix of honeymooners, baby boomers, stylish 30-something hipsters, and the occasional young family, mingle and recap the adventures of the day. The restaurant, bar, fireplace and television lounging areas, reception, and computer stations all flow from one another in this spacious, open floor plan. Floor-to-ceiling windows physically envelope the space, while décor respects, but does not distract from, the natural outdoor beauty. Comfy oversized sofas draped with beautiful animal hides and locally made textiles beckon relaxation and conversation, especially at night in front of the massive stone fireplace. Low Noguchi-style coffee tables further inspire cocktails, reading and conviviality. Concrete floors, often times a harsh design element, are softened by organic matter, such as blonde branches slung from the ceiling, hand-carved stone llamas, and earth hued artisanal woven goods.
Thirty-two, perfectly spacious rooms are separated into parallel rows. On one side, rooms have private patios with peek-a-boo views of Licancabur volcano. The other side also boasts volcano views, but has patios that face mountain views and the property’s farmland. Private entrances and outdoor spaces make rooms feel more bungalow-like, than standard issue accomodations. These stylish rooms epitomize comfortable luxury. Siesta-worthy canvas canopied beds take center stage, but the spa-like indoor and outdoor shower spaces are also swoon-worthy. Once again, the décor nods to natural elements. Concrete, stone, wood, slate, animal hides and woven alpaca linens harmoniously create a definite sense of place, yet manage to maintain a high standard of swank. Complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room safes, robes, slippers and hairdryers, L’Occitane products, and bottled water are welcomed amenities. For families, there is a room that sleeps up to six, with a separate sleeping space for kids. For couples, room #3 is highly recommended.
The serene surroundings and amenities of the rooms make it difficult to leave, but the property offers several other Zen-inducing areas, including an infinity pool, outdoor Jacuzzi tub, semi-secluded fire pit lounges (prime starry sky viewing spot), and the Uma Spa, where flip flops and cover-ups seem to be the dress code de rigueur. Uma Spa offers the usual spa fare—body scrubs, wraps, massage, facials, and waxing—but steps it up with exquisite steam, sauna, and relaxation area facilities, which conveniently, spill out to the intimate pool area and its womb-like lounge chairs.
Most visitors don’t come to Tierra Atacama to sit poolside sipping Pisco Sours for the duration of their stay (although it’s certainly not discouraged!). Instead, it’s the property’s nearly two dozen excursions that are the major draw. Upon arrival, Excursion Director Paula sits down with guests to hatch a plan of what they’d like to see and do. Excursions are divided into half or full day adventures, ranging from “easy” to “difficult” skill levels. No more than 8 people are booked per outing, allowing for a highly personal and interactive experience. On a recent visit, excursions to the Tara Salt Flat, a hike from Guatín to the Thermal Springs at Puritama, a visit to the National Flamingo Reserve, and photo-ops at Moon Valley and Death Valley were all awe-inspiring and spectacular. See our Atacama Desert tour feature. Our guide Salvador was an invaluable source of information, well-versed in the area, its history, people, and traditions.
After working up an appetite climbing mountains, hiking deserts, and navigating river canyons, the culinary delights at Tierra Atacama do not disappoint. Each morning, a light breakfast buffet is offered, with fresh-squeezed juices, meats, cheeses, fruit and pastries. At lunch and dinner, a more elaborate three-course menu, complete with free-flowing Chilean wine can be expected. Food was tasty and inspired, incorporating local ingredients whenever possible. Chilean favorites, such as pastel de choclo (corn pie), quinoa salads, and a luscious lucayma cheesecake were all memorable. Service adheres to fine-dining standards without any pretentious fuss.
The dining room has an airy, Anthropologie feel to it, with 3 long robin’s egg blue table punctuating the earth toned space. There are nooks and crannies for romantic tables of two, as well as spaces for larger parties wishing to whoop it up a bit. It’s these subtle options that seem to define Tierra Atacama: it’s a flexible, yet top-notch destination that can tailor every turn of the experience to exactly what you want.
Web Address: www.tierraatacama.com
Total Number of Rooms: 32
Published rates: $840 per person, per double occupancy for a two night, all-inclusive stay.
Review and photos by Charyn Pfeuffer.