This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, winter 2019, issue 111
Star-gazing and five-star service in the wilds of the northern Chilean desert.
“What’s that mountain?” I ask my AWASI guide on the way back to the hotel in our jeep after an afternoon of hiking the Valley of the Moon’s clay and sandstone formations. “That’s not a mountain, it’s Toco – a volcano,” he says.“Can we climb to the top?” “Sure. But it’s 18,386ft (5,604 metres). The oxygen is thin. We will go slow. We can go tomorrow. I will arrange everything. Do you have any medical conditions?” “Not yet. Ask me tomorrow,” I reply.
That brief exchange sums up the philosophy and the commitment to service of an extraordinary hotel. AWASI Atacama lies in the heart of the Atacama wilderness in northern Chile, the world’s driest desert. It’s one of just three AWASI properties in South America. Each guest (there are only ten suites here) has their own driver/guide who’ll take you anywhere, whenever you want.
Until recently AWASI, a member of the Relais & Chateaux group, was spread out either side of a small backstreet in the dusty, frontier-like town of San Pedro de Atacama. Guests had to cross the street for breakfast. Now a major relocation/renovation sees everything on the same side of the road, tucked away from sight behind old adobe walls, built by hand by locals using ancient techniques including stones ‘softened by the river’.
A newly introduced experience is star gazing, and AWASI has its own private viewing platform near some pre-Inca ruins. The Atacama skies are among the world’s clearest, with the region home to a variety of international observatories. A trained astronomer uses the hotel’s impressive Cassegrain reflector telescope to look at nebulae and constellations.
The hotel has the spirit of a true oasis with its fire pits and swimming pool and superb mix of international and Andean cuisine.
Rates start from US$675 (about A$961) per person, per day, all-inclusive.
The journalist travelled with South America Travel Centre which is a Melbourne-based travel group who are specialists in South America. Read more on Awasi Atacama through South America Travel Centre here. Or visit awasiatacama.com