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explora Atacama, Chile
The excitement builds as you travel in four-wheel-drive-comfort towards what is the best place to stay in the Atacama desert, across a sci-fi landscape of dusty earth, all shades of pink and ochre – 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. It is utterly surreal. Explora Atacama, like Explora Patagonia and Explora Rapa Nui (Easter Island), is about experiencing the landscape 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 that this is also 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 constellations unique to the southern hemisphere.
In the heat of the day, don hats and sunglasses for guided excursions: the Valley of the Moon bike ride takes you into canyons and up onto dunes; the 18km bike trail to Laguna Piedra, a large salt lake fed from a spring where you can swim, is 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 arranged, and with more than 20 horses especially bred for the conditions and stabled on site, this is a fantastic place for everyone to have a go, whatever your level.
The lodge itself is simple rustic elegance with tiled floors and wooden ceilings; meals are often taken outdoors – with lots of quinoa, pataska (delicious stewed vegetables) and turrón de chanãr, 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.
Source: Condé Nast Traveller