Luxury retreat in Chile’s adventurous Atacama Desert

Manager at Awasi Hotel talks about luxury hotels in Atacama, the upcoming opening of Awasi Patagonia and how they strive for an exclusive experience.

 

Hotel Awasi opened its doors in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama in 2006 and has since become synonymous with luxury and exclusivity. With 50 permanent staff catering to guests’ needs and just eight rooms available, it’s not hard to grasp why.

It has firmly held the number one spot in the Atacama hotels category on Tripadvisor for the past few years, with reviewers describing it as “an oasis” and “a dream”. This is Chile was lucky enough to visit this boutique hotel and meet with the delightful resident manager, Virginia Contreras.

Originally from Argentina and visibly enthusiastic about her job, Contreras has considerable experience in the industry and has lived in the area for five years giving her an insight into the growth of the Atacama luxury hotel business.

“I think the pioneer in the luxury experience is Explora, here in the Atacama. They started up with three hotels together, in San Pedro, Easter Island and Torres Del Paine. But they have around 50 rooms, so although the service is luxury, the experience is not as exclusive,” Contreras told This is Chile, as we sipped Awasi’s homemade lemonade, sprinkled with the aromatic ‘rica rica’ herb native to the region.

Awasi and other more exclusive offerings soon followed suit in San Pedro, with key players Tierra Atacama, Alto Atacama and Kunza.

The uniqueness of the Atacama, which poses a challenge for niche hotels like Awasi, means that visitors tend to be extremely diverse, from all walks of life.

San Pedro is visited by many different types of people. From backpackers, to the scientific community drawn by the nearby ALMA observatory, miners, European and American professionals, nature lovers, families, couples and Chileans, a lot of whom will be coming to San Pedro for the September national holiday,” Contreras said.

The largest percentage of guests at Awasi are Europeans, though it is also rapidly becoming popular with North Americans, having been featured as ‘best hideaway in the world’ for 2012 by Andrew Harper, an esteemed reviewer of luxury hotels.

“Our outreach to Europe is mainly through travel agencies that specialize in exclusive holiday experiences. We get a lot of people from France, the UK and Germany,” Contreras said. “The response from the US has also been amazing since Andrew Harper’s review. We get a lot of couples on their honeymoon or anniversaries, but also families that come back to us.”

“These loyal customers are one of the reasons we decided to launch Awasi Patagonia, since most of our loyal guests also visit the far South,” Contreras added.

Awasi Patagonia, set just outside the Torres del Paine national park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, consists of 12 villas, each measuring  100 square meters. These are strategically located so guests can enjoy sweeping views of the famous peaks and enjoy privacy.

The official launch is set for November 15th and Awasi Patagonia is already fully booked for its opening. Contreras holds that the essence of Awasi will be the same in Patagonia as in Atacama, with their motto being ‘the joy of tailor-made’. Contreras revealed how they have been striving to deliver this in practice already in the northern desert.

“We know our clients expect a lot and are often well-researched in the geological idiosyncrasies of Atacama before arriving. Each of our expedition guides go through special training by professional geologists, so that they always provide the utmost accuracy on whichever topics interest our guests,” she said.

Each room has their own car and guide at their disposal, allowing guests to customize their daily excursion destinations and length of stay in each trip.

Though they spoil guests and treat them to exclusive experiences, relaxation, in the traditional sense, is not the focus of Awasi’s offering.

“We want to provide guests with ‘active relaxation’. For example, although we treat our guests to massages, we don’t have a separate spa area. Our three pillars are lodging, cuisine and excursions,” said Conteras. “We want Awasi to be a retreat from a busy and active day, since outdoor activities and exploring are the main reasons our guests come to Atacama in the first place.”

By Daphne Karnezis