Explora Atacama hotel, also known as Hotel de Larache, opened in the early 1990s and was a pioneer in northern Chile. They were the first ones to really put the area on the tourism map and their all-inclusive adventure lodge concept has become the norm others in the area have had to adopt when they arrived on the scene.
Tourism exploded in the region over the past decade and we’ve reviewed several excellent competitors: Awasi, Tierra Atacama, and Alto Atacama. Explora has kept up with the challenges though, renovating here, adding new excursions there, and making major upgrades to what’s offered in the restaurant. So while it’s not the fanciest in town, especially when it comes to the rooms, the 50-room lodge still draws more upscale adventure travelers than anyone else.
I’ve just updated our review of Explora Atacama after spending three nights there toward the end of 2012. The original reviewer described the public areas as “REI meets Ikea” and I still like that description. Well-traveled people donning apparel from Patagonia, Columbia, and ExOfficio are often perched on the sleek furniture sipping a Chilean Carmenere or a pisco cocktail. It is kind of like a luxury summer camp for adults, days spent hiking or biking, nights spent conversing and eating well. For each excursion, whether it’s soaking at the recently reopened Puritama Hot Springs or visiting the Tatio Geyser, the guide will have good food and drinks at the ready set out on a tablecloth.
Explora Atacama also has a few attributes few other lodges can equal. Despite its sizable acreage, it’s only a 10-minute walk from the town square. The bevy of horses in the in-house stables has no match elsewhere and the menu of excursions here is more extensive every day than at any of the other lodges. (Depending on occupancy, there are typically 12-18 guides on site, some doing two excursions per day.)
And the last attribute is, you can stay here before or after a Travesia overland tour through the Bolivian desert and salt flat (Salar de Uyuni). I did just that in November and will have a feature story up on it soon.
See our updated review of Explora Atacama Hotel de Larache.