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Planning the Getaway

Tierra Atacama's infinity pool with the Salt Mountains in the distance.  

For Outdoor Enthusiasts
A rugged adventure, from sand to snow
When to go: June through October
Hours from NYC: Fourteen
Cost: $10,000 for two weeks

What to Expect
With its salt-rimmed lakes, thermal springs, volcanoes, sand dunes, and energetic geysers, the Atacama (the highest desert on earth) feels like a natural amusement park in the clouds.

Where to Stay
Built from stone, adobe, and rammed earth, Tierra Atacama (from $1,995 per person for seven nights, meals and activities included; has 32 minimalist rooms with private terraces. Book one that faces east for its canopied beds, outdoor glass showers, and views of the 19,000-foot Licancabur Volcano. The staff can arrange guided excursions of nearby geological sites that range from effortless to extreme. After a strenuous day, a volcanic stone massage at the spa will set you right.

Where to Eat
Go to dinner in San Pedro de Atacama. Arrive early to get a table below the thatched roof of Café Adobe (, a semi-enclosed eatery with a crackling bonfire and a menu of rustic Chilean specialties like lomo a lo pobre (grilled beef, fries, sautéed onions, and fried eggs). Later, knock back a few frothy pisco sours while jugglers and fire twirlers entertain the crowd.

To Do, By Day
Spend the first day getting used to the high altitude (7,920 feet) before exerting yourself. Once acclimatized, bike to the Laguna Cejar, an emerald lagoon surrounded by a thick salt crust. Swim—or float, rather—atop the clear water. Then sign up for an easy hike through the Valle de la Luna’s jagged hills and massive dunes. Get to the mirador (lookout point) by sunset to watch the sky turn a dizzying array of colors. Or, before nightfall, sandboard down the 500-foot dunes of the Valle de la Muerte (translation: Death Valley). An outfitter ( provides boards with bindings, wax, and instruction. (Bring Advil.) On a day when you’re not sleeping in, get to the Tatio Geysers by sunrise to see the fumaroles release bursts of water and steam. On the way back, stop for a relaxing bath in the mineral-rich Puritama Springs.

To Do, By Night
Atacama is famous for its clear sky. Book a stargazing tour with Celestial Explorations (, and have the Southern Hemisphere’s constellations explained to you by owner and astronomer Alain Maury.

Side Trip
Think the trails at Whistler are fierce? Try Ski Portillo, a resort set in the snow-capped Andes that’s become a preferred summer training destination for various Olympic ski teams. Drop your bags off at Hotel Portillo (from $1,450 per person for seven nights, all-inclusive;, the only lodge around, and ski out to one of the mountain’s fifteen runs. For après-ski, head to the resort’s bar and kick up your boots by the big stone fireplace or take a dip in the heated outdoor pool.

Getting There
LAN Airlines ( travels direct from JFK to Santiago. From there, fly to Calama (the closest airport to San Pedro de Atacama). Transfers to the hotel are included in all-inclusive packages. For Portillo, return to Santiago and arrange ground transportation through the resort.


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