Anytime a “world’s best stargazing” list is created, you can be sure Chile’s Atacama Desert ranks at the top. It’s the driest non-polar place on Earth, and the lack of rain makes for a barren landscape — two things that provide optimal stargazing.
In fact, the skies above the Atacama Desert are so clear and open that it was selected as the site for some of the world’s biggest and most advanced observatories and telescopes, including the world’s largest radio telescope, ALMA, and the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, Very Large Telescope. The desert is also the future site of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be more powerful than any existing ground-based telescope when it is completed.
These tools make the Atacama Desert a hub for astronomers, but it has also become a popular astro-tourism site, drawing travelers who yearn to see the hallmarks of the Southern Hemisphere sky — perhaps the Tarantula Nebula or even the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Those who come to Chile to stargaze may enjoy the perks of viewing the night sky from a high-powered telescope, but chances are the privilege of seeing the night sky from bed and drifting off to sleep under a pitch-black, star-studded blanket is the Atacama Desert’s biggest appeal. To that end, we’ve highlighted a few of the area’s best stargazing hotels, including those with dedicated stargazing domes and their own private observatories.
Our Habitas Atacama
Our Habitas Atacama is the latest property to join the scene and is committed to showcasing Chilean culture. Its 51 rooms, for example, are furnished with local decor and textiles. And its on-site restaurant and bar showcase regional ingredients. Guests can take part in workshops to learn cooking, mixology, ceramics and crafts, and wellness activities like sound baths and meditations.
MiLodge Elqui Domos
Elqui Domos isn’t new to the astro-tourism lodging scene, but the hotel is still one of the area’s best options. For starters, the hotel is set in the Elqui Valley on the southern fringe of the Atacama Desert. Unlike the barren desert, the valley can support plant life, including a stretch of vineyards.
Elqui Domos is set among this desert oasis. The boutique hotel has just 11 rooms, including seven geodesic domes and four observatory-style cabins. The roof on the former opens to reveal starry skies, while the latter has a giant window designed for stargazing. There is also an on-site observatory and regular stargazing tours.
At Explora Atacama, the roofs don’t open to the night sky, but there’s a private observatory and a natural hot spring — both of which provide an excellent way to see the stars. The luxury Explora property is set on a desert estate with an indoor and outdoor pool, a spa, and a menu developed by the renowned Peruvian chef, Virgilio Martínez. The clean, modern rooms have desert views in lieu of TV and Wi-Fi and they offer spectacular journeys and expeditions, including multi-night trips through South America.
There’s no bad room at Tierra Atacama, a property that overlooks the Licancabur Volcano and the Atacama Desert. In fact, the hotel was built to take advantage of the area’s expansive views and some rooms even have al fresco bathrooms so guests can shower under the starry skies.
Beyond rooms with serious views, Tierra Atacama has a spa with an indoor and outdoor pool, a steam room, and a menu of treatments that incorporate regional specialties, including sheep’s milk, honey, and clay. Similarly, the on-site restaurant does its best to rely on local produce to create its menu of north Chilean cuisine.
Hotel Awasi Atacama
The experience at Hotel Awasi Atacama is all-inclusive, so guests don’t have to worry about getting to and from the hotel or paying for food or drink (including alcohol). There are also a series of excursions guests can choose from, including horseback riding, biking, and tours to the salt flats, highland lagoons, and local archaeological sites. In the evening, guests can book an astronomical tour with a local guide.
The property is also unique because it is made of stone, wood, and mud and is set under a latched roof — a traditional way of building in the desert. The highlight of the eight well-appointed guest rooms is the private patios with solariums and outdoor showers.