This resort is a modern-day oasis nestled away in the highest desert on earth

April 9, 2022, 11:00 AM UTC

After strict lockdowns but stellar vaccination rates among its population, Chile reopened to tourists in late 2021 and is poised for a tourism resurgence. Among one of the most breathtaking and adventure-filled destinations in the South American country is the Atacama Desert, the driest and highest nonpolar desert in the world.

Getting to and around Chile is quite simple as Latam Airlines has multiple direct flights from Los Angeles and New York City, among other North American departure points, with connections available out of Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport.

To get to Atacama, El Loa Airport in Calama is your best entry point. From there, you could either stay in Calama or make San Pedro de Atacama your home base, which is more centrally located to all the major sites. In case you are prone to altitude sickness, note that San Pedro de Atacama is located at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), and that’s among the lowest points you’ll be at.

View of a private terrace at Hotel Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa in Chile
In contrast to its locale in the driest place on earth, Nayara Alto Atacama is an oasis.
Courtesy of Nayara

Nayara Alto Atacama is the only full-service hotel in the area in the San Pedro River Valley, located three kilometers away from the town square. The estate was designed to fit and flow seamlessly within the red rock mountains that surround it. Truly, the hotel is a tucked-away oasis in the desert, which you probably wouldn’t be able to find if you didn’t know it was there. But the hotel can arrange airport transfers for guests, so they won’t need to worry about getting lost.

Nayara Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa
Local artisans from the surrounding ancestral communities helped create the hotel’s gardens and adobe architecture.
Courtesy of Nayara

A member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, the Alto Atacama hosts 42 guest rooms, all of which have private terraces and views of the gardens or surrounding mountains. And all of the rooms have all the basic amenities and then some, including Wi-Fi, HDTVs with satellite cable, a mini refrigerator, air conditioning, plush bedding, and private outdoor showers on the terrace connected to the bathroom.

Nayara Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa
Surrounded by local shepherds and family orchards, guests have direct access to the river and nearby hikes.
Courtesy of Nayara

There is a full-service restaurant and two bars on site, including an outdoor bar in the pool area. Guests should also make time for the Puri Spa, where they can pick from a number of different massage treatments as well as visits to the sauna and six different mineral baths of untouched water sourced from underground, kept at different temperatures (two warm and four cool).

Nayara Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa
Offering guests entrée into the fascinating landscape of the Atacama Desert, with its crystal-clear night sky and unbeatable stargazing, its salt mountains and lake, and its vastness, the 42-room hotel is the only hotel in the area in the San Pedro River valley.
Courtesy of Nayara

And while the hotel is a destination of its own, visiting the Atacama Desert is all about enjoying the best the outdoors has to offer. And you’ll find colors and shapes in landscapes here you’ve never seen anywhere else, from sunrise to sunset.

Starting in San Pedro, the settings are quite dramatic with the ochre morning lights turning into pink sunsets in the afternoon. And at night, the sky is beaming with stars, which you can either view from the hotel’s observatory or basically anywhere (even your hotel room patio so long as the lights are turned down).

The geographic area showcases some of the highest peaks in the Andes Mountains. Many of the hotels in the area offer guided tours and transportation to all the major sites. One commonality across many of the landscapes here is a high concentration of salt. The Atacama Salt Flat—the third largest in the world at 1,158 square miles—is known for its spectacular hues and reflections at sunset. And the hills of the Rainbow Valley are also rich in minerals, appearing multicolored, almost like a frosted cake, when bathed in sunlight.

Inside one of the guest suites at the Alto Atacama resort.
Courtesy of Nayara

Closer to the hotel, guests have direct access to the river and nearby hikes, and bikes are available for rental for traversing some of the more flat paths. (Most of the roads are paved but quite bumpy, so if you’re also prone to motion sickness, be prepared.)

Since reopening to international vaccinated visitors, getting into Chile can be a time-consuming process with a lot of paperwork. As of now, noncitizens coming into Chile need to fill out a vaccination verification form, which can take up to a month to have verified.

Once that certificate has been processed and issued, visitors then need to fill out affidavits within 48 hours of departure, both for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, the latter being the typical customs form you fill out when entering most countries in pre-pandemic times. And for the time being, a negative PCR test is still required, which must be taken within 72 hours before departure.

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