The Best Desert Getaways: 8. Atacama Desert, Chile

See why the Atacama is Earth's most Martian landscape

The Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert     Photo: Tierra Hotels

South America isn’t exactly a weekend road-trip, but southern-hemisphere fall in the world’s driest desert is spectacular—temperatures hover around 78 degrees Fahrenheit from April to June during the day, and at night the skies are so clear that the Milky Way is in view with the naked eye. (It’s much more enhanced, however, when viewed through the world’s largest telescope, which is located nearby.)

The hub of this 40,600-square-mile desert, famously referred to as the most Martian landscape on Earth, is the 10,000-year-old village of San Pedro de Atacama. It sits within view of a string of volcanoes, the highest of which, Lincancabur, tops out at 19,423 feet.

Stay at Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, a sleek, eco-friendly boutique hotel that blends into the landscape and was built by the Purcells, the same family that started the famously intimate Ski Portillo resort. From here, set out in any direction—mountain bike from the hotel toward the Salt Mountain Range; four-wheel to the El Tatio geothermal geysers at 14,000 feet; visit the village of Machuca, where the roofs are made of cactus and the local delicacy is grilled llama; or take a day trip to the salt flats and Chaxa Lagoon to photograph pink flamingos. Double occupancy rates start at $1,050 for a two-night stay, which includes all meals (and drinks); daily activities; full use of all the hotel facilities, including gardens, pools, saunas and Jacuzzi; and airport transfers to and from Calama.

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