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Whether we hailed from Brazil, Scandinavia, Britain or the U.S., each of us was united as we marveled at the bright glow of Saturn’s rings. We all shared this sense of awe in the heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert, known for some of South America’s most precise telescopes and for being the world’s best stargazing locale.
But while staying at Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, it became clear that this region is Shangri-la for more than just astronomers.
A variety of otherworldly landscapes are found in this region, including the steamy El Tatio geyser field. As I warmed my hands during a sunrise breakfast trek, I couldn’t help but think of it as an extension of the steam room at Tierra’s Uma spa.
The hotel prides itself on its “adventure spa philosophy,” and guests are encouraged to be active and explore the property’s beautiful surroundings. My stargazing experience at Ahlarkapin Observatory is just one of more than 20 activities in the all-inclusive package of guided tours that focus the gaze both heavenward and back down to the fascinating discoveries found on the ground.
Excursions are categorized by level of difficulty, with “easy” activities ranging from the mild — an outdoor lunch at the salt flats of Tuyajto and a visit to the remote lagoons of Aguas Calientes — to the more adventurous, such as a volcano climbing excursion that takes nine to 11 hours to complete.
Clients are paired with an experienced specialist to select their activities, and groups are small, with no more than six people. The guides meet up with guests to determine their special interests and will coordinate their stay based on preferences and available tour times.
On the property, natural elements of the region are seamlessly integrated into the hotel’s design, making guests feel at one with the landscape. The indoor/outdoor showers in guestrooms are remarkably private yet freeing. There are no television or clocks in rooms (although Wi-Fi access is readily available), so I went hours listening to the buzz of bees, the flutter of birds’ wings and the flipping pages of a novel as a soundtrack. For those who want a little conversation, the bar — comfortably nestled between the dining room and fireplace — serves up local wines, beers and varieties of Chile’s ubiquitous pisco sours.
I was satisfied at each meal and had a choice of two dishes for each of three courses, from beet-root carpaccio and flaky white fish with spiced eggplant to savory root vegetables and braised rabbit with quinoa. Each plate was as elegant and understated as the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
The integration of and appreciation for the landscape at Tierra Atacama even has some “natives” fooled. After a long flight from the U.S., I relaxed with a massage in the spa, where, as in the guestrooms, the doors discreetly opened to the outside. I thought spa’s nature-inspired music sounded surprisingly realistic — and then saw the bird that made its nest in this artfully crafted environment. My feathered friend clearly had the right idea — making Tierra Atacama your own nest, if even for a few days, just feels natural.