The small town of San Pedro de Atacama is a quintessential oasis. Smack in the middle of the Atacama Desert, the town is accessible by a single rocky road that winds hundreds of kilometers through moonscapes straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie. It is breathtaking. A small river sustains scrubby bushes, plants, and now humans and dogs in what was once the bed of the Atlantic Ocean.
San Pedro is not large and it takes only a few minutes to pass through to the opposite side of town. Between the palms, a local soccer stadium, a gas station, hostels and souvenir shops. My home away from home is Tierra Atacama, one of the world's most unique lodges.
Tierra Atacama gracefully melds into its environment by incorporating cultural and historical elements into its design. The entryway to the hotel is a century-old cattle corral that winds through a lavender and herb garden to the main lobby and communal spaces. Tierra’s commitment to sustainability and strong sense of place was made apparent when Tierra Atacama made headlines as the first property in Chile to supply 100% of its daytime energy with solar electricity. It makes sense, everything in Atacama extreme.
The Atacama Desert is one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. Considered the driest desert on Earth, Atacama is home to extensive salt flats, prehistoric sea-beds, jaw-dropping hikes, and petroglyphs that seem to come from another world. NASA uses the area to conduct research simulations of Mars and on the weekends, guests can visit the world’s largest joint radio telescope array, ALMA.
After a day of exploring the moonscape, I sat with new friends on Tierra's sunken patio overlooking fields of herbs and the Andes mountains in the distance. Around the fireplace with a signature Atacama Sour in hand, we laid beneath stars so bright you could read a book.
A visit to Atacama is not for everyone. Those who are willing to make the trek are rewarded. In the desert, silence is heavy and if you're quiet, it's not hard to hear a symphony of rocky minerals expanding in the heat.