A heavenly adventure in Chile’s Atacama Desert
- March 16, 2023
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Alto Atacama is the first property outside of Costa Rica for eco-hospitality brand Nayara. It opened just before the pandemic and then closed until reopening in September 2021. Our stay at the lodge was exhausting. We mountain biked the nearby Devil’s Throat, a series of twisting slot canyons. We hiked through the Rainbow Valley surrounded by striped peaks that looked like Neapolitan ice. We visited the Valley of the Moon, a landscape so barren that NASA used it as a proxy for Mars. And in a setting framed by active and dormant volcanoes, the snow-capped peak known as Licancabur in the indigenous Kunza language always towered the tallest.
When the altitude caught up with us, we stayed on the property, feeding clumps of algaroba pods to the hotel’s llamas, or lounging in one of the pools. A couple of times we took a shuttle to the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama. At first it reminded me of Mos Eisley, the pesky spaceport in Star Wars, with its jewelry sellers and tour operators. But soon, as we were having ice cream in the plaza, even that enchanted us.
Late in the day we took walks along a dry riverbed near Alto Atacama, past the archaeological site where a pre-Columbian fort is being excavated and watched the changing colors of the lunar terrain. As Urbano Mena had said about the night sky when we arrived, the landscape looked like nothing. But after our eyes got used to it, we started to see everything.
For a unique astronomical itinerary, Black Tomato’s seven-day Atacama experience includes guided stargazing, as well as adventures like private trekking along the Rio Salado and flamingo-viewing at Laguna Chaxa.
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This article appeared in the April 2023 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.