Culinary adventurers don’t often put the Atacama Desert on their bucket lists. Known as the driest non-polar desert in the world, the region of northern Chile is visited by travelers in search of sublime terrain (that, in certain cases, resemble lunar landscapes more than terrestrial ones,) starry skies and picturesque sunsets painted in celestial corals and purples. Yet, this region is an interesting—and often overlooked—locale for travelers looking to pair the luminousness of the Valle de la Luna, for instance, with the everyday deliciousness of typical Chilean fare.
There are two ways to go about eating in the Atacama Desert: the all-inclusive hotel route—a.k.a. the prix fixe—or the à la carte route, sampling the smattering of restaurants that dot the tiny touristy town of San Pedro de Atacama’s main thoroughfare, Caracoles. I chose a mashup of the two options while visiting the region during the Altiplanic winter in June.
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San Pedro de Atacama offers several all-inclusive hotels that combine explorations through the area’s popular attractions—like the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), El Tatio geysers and the salt lagoons of Baltinache—with multi-course meals served at the hotel. At Explora Atacama, one dinner commenced with a delicate pumpkin soup followed by porcini and beef risotto topped with a filet of beef tenderloin and grilled grape tomatoes, served alongside Chilean Carménère wine: an exceptional meal, if not expressly Atacamian. Then came dessert: two scoops of a house-made cherimoya (custard apple) and rica rica ice cream. The custard apple, a fleshy fruit ubiquitous in the tropical Americas and West Indies, tastes like, well, a sweet custard, making for an indulgent juice blend when mixed with mango (cherimango.)