How to have the desert vacation of your dreams
It’s been over a year since I visited the Atacama Desert, and I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about this magical place often. I wouldn’t consider myself an adventurous traveler, but seeing photos and videos of the Atacama Desert blew me away and convinced me to visit the highest and driest nonpolar desert on the planet.
Tucked away in the Catarpe Valley, you’ll find a hidden oasis at the 5-star Nayara Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa. The region is famously known for its otherworldly landscapes: think lagoons, geysers, salt flats, caves and the Valley of the Moon. It’s no surprise you’ll feel like you are on another planet.
Experience the magic that lies within Chile with a stay here.
Get your bearings
To reach the Atacama Desert was a journey in itself—a flight from Miami to Santiago de Chile (SCL) to Calama (CJC), plus an hour drive to Nayara Alto Atacama. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by the highly attentive staff who will give you a tour of the grounds including the cactus gardens, llama corrals (yes, there are llamas!), pool areas, spa and much more.
The resort is breathtaking from the minute you arrive. It’s everything you would imagine a wilderness lodge should look like, with its earthy tones perfectly blended into the mountainous surroundings and desert’s natural habitat.
Dozens of excursions to explore the surrounding area are available throughout your stay, and the concierge does an incredible job at describing the options that suit your desires (and adventure level). Just remember that the seasons are flipped from the Northern Hemisphere when packing for your stay.
I traveled to Chile in June accompanied by my brother, who was equally prepared for an adventure of a lifetime. We knew it was winter in Chile, so we came ready with many layers of clothing, and of course, open minds.
Our first excursion was a half-day tour of the famed Valley of the Moon. It’s easily one of the most iconic views you can catch of the region. Then, we were off to see a stunning sunset near the sacred Volcán Licancabur bordering Chile and Bolivia—the volcano was worshiped by the Incas long ago, but it is still highly respected to this day.
This moment will be imprinted in my memory forever. It was undoubtedly the most amazing sunset I have ever seen with its pink and orange hues reflected upon the mountain range, mimicking a painting in real life.
The next morning, we caught the sunrise at El Tatio geysers located in the Andes Mountains side of Chile; it’s the third largest geyser field in the world. Residing about two hours north of San Pedro de Atacama, the journey to El Tatio began around 5 a.m., but was worth it.
Despite the proximity of impressive geysers of steam and boiling water, temperatures were still low where we stood. Come prepared for bone-chilling temperatures. The full-day tour included a stop for breakfast, plus incredible views of the flora and fauna in the area.
Don’t forget to look up
Located atop one of the hills on the property lies an open-air observatory exclusively available to hotel guests. After a few steep stairs, you’ll make your way to the hotel’s observatory alongside an expert guide narrating the dramatic night sky.
Come nightfall, you won’t believe your eyes once you catch a glimpse of the gleaming Milky Way. The lack of light pollution makes this the ideal location for stargazing; it's one of the best places on earth, actually. I was in awe at witnessing the clearest night sky of my life; so vivid and bright, you didn’t need a telescope to admire its utter beauty.
While I don’t want to give away every detail about my incredible stay at Alto Atacama, I will note that the food was top-notch and the local wines were delicious. What else can you expect from a place so rich in culture and tradition?
If you’re looking for a phenomenal experience in the Atacama Desert, this is it.