Chile – Atacama Desert (Explora Hotel de Larache)
March 15, 2008
(March 2, 3, 4, and 5). Imagine a desert so dry that parts of it have never had any water, that other parts are so arid that there only two types of plants that can grow, where even the oases are so dry that water is definitely a precious resource. That is the Atacama Desert, the world’s highest at 2500 meters. In the middle of this wasteland, about an hour’s drive from the Calama airport and a 2½hour flight from Santiago, is one of the most agreeable hotels in design and service that we have encountered, ranking in our minds with our resort gold standard, the Singapore-based Aman Resorts.
Explora Hotel de Larache has about 50 rooms, spread out over long stretches of covered walkways and vast areas of lounges, bar, dining rooms and all sorts of dramatic public space. A bit away from the main courtyard there are four beautifully layed out and landscaped swimming pools angling through walkways over canals and grassland.
Everything is included here—all meals, all drinks, and all excursions (plus high-speed internet access). Excursions are first and foremest at Explora. There is a list, but it always growing, of a dozen-and-a-half hikes, six high mountain climbs (up to 5-6,000m), nine horseback rides, and four mountain bike rides.
Each evening, we sat around the bar, with a guide and pisco sours and worked out which ones we wanted for the next day—some are half day and some are full day. All have a van and driver to take you to the start of your excursion and then to pick you up at its end.
The amazing scenery on these excursions is not only breathtaking, it is like nothing we have ever seen.Each evening there are various lectures, for those interested in topics like flora and fauna, geology, indigenous people. And there is one fabulous one on astronomy, culminating in a walk to their observatory with its high-powered telescope and a look at the absolutely pristine skies, including Saturn and its rings.
The food lives up to the whole experience. Both lunch and dinner each day offer two different appetizers and two different main courses, every one of which was delicious. Each day there were about six desserts from which to choose.