Photo: Alto Atacama Desert Lodge

Relax poolside at Alto Atacama Desert Lodge, an eco-oasis.

Photograph courtesy Alto Atacama Desert Lodge

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The most authentic and unique hotels in Chile, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List

1. Alto Atacama Desert Lodge

In an almost otherworldly way, the low-slung adobe-and-thatch lodge sinks into a terra-cotta ridge and the curves of the Catarpe valley. Inside, Alpaca pillows, hangings, and throws and a sprinkling of Atacaman crafts underscore local culture. Recycled-wood furniture. Serious commitment to growing native plants. More than two dozen desert excursions with local native guides. 6 swimming pools. Spa. Great star-gazing. 32 rooms; from $398, incl. breakfast.

2. The Aubrey, Santiago

The spiffed-up art-filled 1927 mansion has the look of a traditional Palm Beach, Florida, estate. Open since 2010, it sits surrounded by gardens and palm trees in the hilly, happening bohemian Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago. (A short walk away is the Pablo Neruda Museum La Chascona, one of the poet's homes.) The Aubrey's interior is sleekly chic. Rooms are minimalist luxurious, with feather duvets and LCD cable TVs. Plans include the installation of solar panels. Restaurant. Swimming pool. 15 rooms; from $240, incl. breakfast, mineral water, and Wi-Fi.

3. Awasi, San Pedro de Atacama

Sense of place, indeed. All the mud, wood, straw, stone used to build carbon-neutral Awasi was collected in the immediate Atacama Desert area. Finds from local markets and antiques fairs fill the rooms, which get their personality primarily from traditional regional fabrics. All landscaping features native plantings. Outings play on the strong cooperation established with local inhabitants, who are familiar with the secrets and treasures the desert holds. Among them: geysers, salt flats, lagoons, hot springs, great star-gazing and horseback riding. 8 rooms; from $1,300 per person, including meals, drinks, transfers, personal guide, and Jeep tours.

4. The Cliffs Preserve at Patagonia, Puerto Varas

Luxury in northern Patagonia. Immediately surrounding the 2008-vintage property are 8,000 acres of rain forest and six miles of Pacific coastline. Restaurant uses produce from the greenhouses and organic garden; fish and shellfish from off the preserve's shores. In addition to all sorts of great-outdoors adventures and water sports there are organic farm tours and penguin-watching. The Cliffs Preserve is involved in community and educational initiatives and offers grassroots health and dental assistance. 18 suites; from $675, all inclusive.

5. Ecocamp Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

About half a dozen years ago, the entire lodge was removed from its original location and rebuilt atop a plateau a short distance away, underscoring the nomadic spirit of sustainable design. Guests sleep in geodesic domes that resemble igloos and are engineered to withstand the area's powerful winds. A stupendous plus: the stars in the sky, visible through the dome's panels, are nature's nightcap. This is a hearty home base from which to explore Torres del Paine National Park's monumental glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, and lakes. 25 domes, from $2,010 for three nights, incl. all meals, transport, excursions, and fees.

6. Elqui Domos, Pisco Elqui

Two-story dome tents (each with a detachable roof and lofted bed—the better to stargaze) dot the hillside (watch out for cactus). Telescopes provided, though the real big guns are at two area observatories. This is astronomer central. Back down on the ground, explore the valley by foot, bike, or horseback. Pool. Restaurant. 7 tents and 4 cabins; from $120, incl. breakfast.

7. Hotel de Larache, San Pedro de Atacama

Smartly built lodge—natural airflow maximized and water usage minimized—in the high Atacama Desert in 1998. Explore via horseback, mountain bike, or foot—at more than 8,000 feet, where condors soar. Traditional pit-roasted lamb and barbecued meat and fish. Some of the best star-gazing in the Southern Hemisphere. This is a strong community player, footing the bill for numerous local efforts, including the irrigating and planting of fields, restoration of a 17th-century Machuca church, and programs for children. Four swimming pools (two solar-heated). Restaurant. 50 rooms; from $3,960 for three nights, all inclusive.

8. Hotel Salto Chico, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Part of the Explora trio of hotels, Salto Chico opened in 1993 and boasts location, location, location: on the banks of a waterfall, in a place favored by more than 100 species of birds. Horses figure into the equation, too: guests (from novice to expert) can choose from all sorts of horseback itineraries, all guided by local gauchos. (Note the handsome handmade Chilean and British saddles!) For the by-foot group there are more than a dozen trail options. At the start of a stay, a guest is given a steel bottle to use and refill—and take home. 50 rooms; from $5,550 for four nights, incl. all meals, transport, excursions, and fees.

9. Hacienda Tres Lagos, Aisén

Lakeside in northern Chilean Patagonia (think Norwegian fjords). Stylish/rustic. The on-premises greenhouse grows organic vegetables for the hacienda. Stellar fly-fishing. There's a new boat for cruises around the lakes and tours to marble caves. All tours are conducted by hotel-staff guides. Ambitious reforestation involving some 60,000 species of plants and the planting of more than 3,500 trees. Spa. Two restaurants. 20 rooms; from $149, incl. breakfast.

10. Lapostolle Residence, Santa Cruz

Elegant, modern Colchagua Valley country property that's part of an organic vineyard (Clos Alpa) and wholly dedicated to eco-savvy behavior. There are bikes to jump on and ride; solar-heated pool for a swim. The locally sourced fare—some right from the grounds—reflects the superb agricultural climate. Hiking. Massage. Restaurant. 4 cottages; from $1,000, incl. breakfast, welcome drink, bottle of wine, Wi-Fi.

11. The Lodge at Valle Chacabuco, Carretera Austral

The energy-self-sufficient lodge—stone with copper roofs—make use of local wood and very neutral colors. Handsome design, in and out. (Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel was the inspiration.) The low-slung structure blends into its surroundings: 173,000 acres of Chilean Patagonia worthy of national park status, which is being sought. Activities galore: hiking, bird-watching, fly fishing, kayaking. 6 rooms; $600, incl. all meals.

12. Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, San Pedro de Atacama

All in all, a sophisticated homage to a desert oasis. The building was designed by Chilean architects to look as though it had spontaneously erupted from the earth. It's quieter than that, actually, a linear building with lots of glass. All rooms have a terrace and volcano views. The nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama has good handicrafts. Under an hour's drive away is Puritama Hot Springs: heavenly soaks at over 11,000 feet! 32 rooms; from $1,940 for two days, all-inclusive.

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