Explora, Chile | Conde Nast Traveller
Conde Nast Traveller | April 2014
The world's best family hotels
Action stations: Explora Atacama, Chile
The excitement builds as you travel in four-wheel-drive comfort towards the best place to stay in the Atacama Desert, the Hotel de Larache. The drive takes you across a sci-fi landscape of rocky and dusty earth, all shades of pink and ocre; occasionally as pink as the flocks of flamingos you see around the salt flats. On the horizon cone-shaped volcanoes soar into a cloudless sky.
Explora Atacama, like its sister properties Explora Patagonia and Explora Rapa Nui (Easter Island), is all about getting the family out into the landscape so you can experience it with all five senses – the smell of sulphur from hot springs, the sound of rock that chinks like glass, the feel of desert sand beneath your feet, the sight of great canyons, and the taste of salt from the ground. Children will come away enthralled by the natural world.
The night skies are so consistently clear and free of light pollution, that the desert is the world’s number one destination for stargazing, and the lodge has its own observatory. Walk inside and your guide will point out highlights in the milky swathes of stars, and focus you in on the Moon, the planets and the constellations unique to the southern hemisphere.
In the heat of the day, don hats and sunglasses for small-group guided excursions. The Valley of the Moon walk takes you into canyons and up onto dunes to see wide-open vistas; a guided mountain-bike outing is an ideal family activity, as challenging or as easy as you like. The 18km bike trail to Laguna Piedra, a large salt lake fed from a spring where you swim, is sandy, flat and fun — but make sure all the family visits the bathroom first, as there is not a single bush if you are caught short!
Have a horse-mad daughter? Exhilarating trail rides or simple lessons can be tailormade to all abilities, and with more than 20 horses especially bred for the conditions and stabled on site, this is a superb place for everyone to have a go whatever your level.
The lodge itself is simple, rustic elegance, wth tiled floors and wooden ceilings; meals are often taken outdoors, with lots of quinoa, pataska (delicious stewed vegetables) and turron de chanar, a sweet sticky pudding made with honey. But it's the space, freedom and freaky beauty of the landscape that will fire children's imaginations.
Journey time: a 17-hour flight to Santiago, then two hours to Calama, and an hour's transfer
Time difference: UTC -3 hours
Insider tip: Ask about taking a picnic to the thermal baths of Termas de Puritama, where a pool is reserved especially for Explora guests
Book it: Journey Latin America (+44 (0)20 8747 8315, journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers four nights from £2,406pp full board, based on two adults and one child, including flights, transfers and daily excursions