Explora Atacama: Chilean adventuring in style

Rooms at the Explora Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, offer views of the An-des. Photo Credit: Nadine Godwin
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I think I would really like horseback riding if I did more of it. But because I don't, I rode the exceptionally calm Salvador when a guest at the Explora Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile


Later, I learned he was a top choice for the children who ride while at Explora!

The Explora Atacama is for active travelers who like their comforts after, say, a day of hiking, riding or even mountain climbing. Also, Salvador the horse lives on the grounds; he is one of the property's 24 mounts, which are specially bred for easy handling and for life in the high-altitude Atacama, the world's driest desert.

I went riding with a handful of U.S. tour operators. Our two-hour outing took us through a shallow river, across flat landscapes, over a sand dune and onto a small hill for our best views.

It was not a challenging itinerary, but the Explora Atacama offers nine riding "explorations," classified as easy, moderate or advanced. The rides are included in basic room rates, as are biking and hiking excursions.

Those rates, starting at $2,125 per person, double, for the minimum three-night stay, are very inclusive. They cover airport transfers (one hour-plus from Calama); all Explora-operated excursions and activities; all meals; all drinks except premium wines; use of swimming pools, saunas and Jacuzzis; plus guided stargazing using the property's high-powered telescope. Massages are extra.

Ana Maria Varela, commercial director, North America for Explora, said the resort "is about the outdoors and activities but not necessarily tough physical exercise; it's about the adventurous soul."

Explora also is about traveling — and resting — in style. Varela said the facility highlights "refinement more than luxury," but it does pass the luxury test and is a Virtuoso and Signature supplier.

Guests may opt for down time in such a place, enjoying massages, the pools and Jacuzzis; the relaxing public spaces; and a short walk into tiny San Pedro (population: 6,000) for shopping.

The property's central building features an expansive open plan. Visitors, on entry, encounter reception but can follow a sweeping arc of public spaces used for reading and presentations, the Explorer's Bar and the dining room. Fittingly, given the emphasis on exploration, wall decor includes maps and satellite images of the Atacama. Big windows show off the Andes.

The indoor space, bright in a land where clouds seldom block views, is wrapped by a veranda with tables for outdoor dining, more appealing at midday than on chilly desert nights.

A 2015 fire destroyed the main building, but it reopened after reconstruction in December, unchanged except for improved fire-prevention features, Varela said.

Accommodations, detached from the main building, were not burned. The 50 spacious rooms, where bathtubs are whirlpools, feature sunny views of orchards or mountains. These are quiet spaces, too, with no TV and, in a severe test of one's ability to withdraw, no WiFi. There is WiFi around the bar.

With a nod to the desert and altitude, in-room amenities include lip balm and a pitcher of fresh water purified on site. A services table at reception offers the same water in dispensing machines to fill reusable bottles; jugs of sunscreen; and energy bars.

See www.explora.com.

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