Carla Hunt visited the Explora Group's latest property in
Chile. Her report follows.
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, Chile--The Explora Group opened its second
The Explora in Atacama combines a comfortable hotel with the
natural and cultural attractions of the Atacama, the most arid
desert in the world. The property offers views of the Towers in
Paine National Park. The best views are from the public rooms and
from the rooftop lounge deck, which comes complete with a telescope
for hawk-viewing and star gazing. Below, buildings are linked by
stairways and boardwalks and grouped around big courtyards of
carob, oak and pepper trees.
Ecologically correct like its sister property, Explora in
Patagonia, the new Explora has a nondescript exterior. The hotel
sits low into a desert landscape of changing colors, framed by
distant volcanoes. The rooms--there are 50 now and 50 more to
come--are well-furnished, featuring stone floors, woven rugs,
minibars, lots of storage space and big beds covered with thick
down comforters that pick up the colors and patterns of the painted
The public rooms have large seating areas, colorful modern
furnishings and displays of regional folk art in glass cabinets.
The informal bar sports an American West decor and serves up pisco
sours (a brandy drink). The dining room is big and open, the food
(breakfast was great) and service need a bit of breaking in. A big
pool and Jacuzzi area, looking out on desert scrub and mountains,
was nearly finished when I was there last month. With an ample
runoff from the Andes mountains, there is plenty of water in this
otherwise arid place.
At the entrance you run right into the stable area, happily, it
seemed, occupied by 20 horses that play a major role in daily
excursions, such as a ride to the dramatic Valley of the Moon and
the 12th century Indian pukara (fortress).
Other day trip options include desert hikes; mountain biking;
drives to wildlife areas, archaeological sites, local villages and
museums, and dips in hot spring pools and sybaritic mud baths. The
sleepy town of San Pedro de Atacama is about a 15-minute ride from
the hotel or a half-hour walk.
Life moves at a slow pace around the village square, bordered on
one side by the 17th century Iglesia de San Pedro, an adobe church
whose interiors are interestingly decorated with cactus wood.
Another attraction is a covered bazaar of regional handicrafts,
and the deservedly leading attraction is the Museum of Father Le
Paige, a treasure-house of Atacaman history.
Father Le Paige's findings include paleolithic tools, mastodon
Columbian sculptures, ancient paraphernalia for eating and
smoking psychedelic plants and mushrooms and more than 5,000 human
skulls. The most striking displays are thousand-year-old mummies
with skin, fingernails and hair all perfectly preserved in desert
To date, the 96 mummies found are the oldest in the world,
predating those in Egypt by two to three thousand years. On one
excursion, hotel guests are up and out by 6 a.m., to drive with a
guide and a group of no more than eight people to the El Tatio
geyser field, 60 miles away.
Located atop a plateau field at 14,000 feet, this site is
gorgeous as the early morning light hits the bubbling, multi-hued
fumaroles pumping columns of white steam and bubbling mud into the
cold morning air; the mud baths of the older geysers come in bright
yellows, rich browns, ochers and siennas.
Along the route are occasional clusters of llamas, geese and
rabbits, among other wildlife species. Another excursion takes
guests 25 miles south to the Flamingo National Reserve in the
middle of salt lake flats measuring 30 by 70 miles. The vista is
extraordinary: There are flocks of flamingos reflected in the water
or flying low over the desert, and the horizon is lined with giant
volcanoes. The calm and silence is close to primeval.