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Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa — San Pedro de Atacama

Camino Pukará S/N, Sector Suchor, Ayllú de Quitor, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

In a spectacular narrow valley location flanked by orange rock mountains, luxury resort Alto Atacama feels remote and at one with nature, but is only 3kms from the town center.

In the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, nature is close by, but getting to it usually requires an excursion van ride to somewhere else. At Alto Atacama, however, you really feel like you're in a desert retreat, the mountains and star-filled sky looming over the low–slung resort. With dim lights aimed downward and little to no outside noise, it's hard to believe you're a short bike ride from the throngs of tourists in town.

This is not to say you're stuck in the countryside, of course, as Alto Atacama's menu of adventure activities may not be as extensive as Explora Atacama's but is similar to what you'll find in most any other local resort. You can hike through Moon Valley, swim in a salt lagoon after a bike trip, see pink flamingos, or do a five–hour hike at high altitude. On my short visit I opted for the popular Tatio Geyser at sunrise, with a hearty breakfast rolled out by our excellent guide and a ride back in a very comfortable vehicle. Staffers sit down with guests individually to match them up with the right half– or full–day tour to coincide with your physical fitness, your acclimatization level, and your priorities. Unlike at most area resorts, there are a few short local hikes you can take right from the property.

This hotel gets high marks from guests for its food, which is varied and accompanied by good Chilean wines. Seating is indoor and outdoor depending on the temperature, with a view of the surrounding scenery always accompanying meals. The chef works hard to source organic produce locally whenever possible and though his creations often have a Mediterranean slant, some dishes also highlight local crops such as quinoa and native potatoes. The changing menu is kept small to enable freshness and keep down waste, but there is generally one main dish with meat, one with seafood, and one vegetarian option. Dessert is a different story though: often you'll find six flavors of ice cream to choose from.

In theory the open bar runs from 11 in the morning to 11 at night, but if occupancy is low you might have to go track someone down to get a drink. The sedate living room lounge is a pleasant space to linger in, however, with leather sofas, coffee table books, a fireplace for winter, and board games inside, lounge chairs with candles or torches outside.

The pool area and Puri Spa are both standouts. Several pools of varying temperatures are on several levels, ranging from seasonally cold to body temperature. Once the vegetation matures, several Incan hot springs will go in next to the spa, which has its own whirlpools plus wet and dry saunas. Spa treatments, which include such novelties as a quinoa facial, range from a 15–minute chair massage to various 90–minute face and body indulgences.

A viewing platform a short walk from the restaurant area is a prime spot for star viewing, here in a spot where you can often make out every constellation seen from the Southern Hemisphere and whole distant galaxies with the naked eye.

With Alto Atacama being newer than many of its competitors, it has ample rooms with large furnished terraces. The smallest Quitor rooms are 550 square feet and come with robes, slippers, good reading lights, minibars stocked with included sodas, and complimentary Wi–Fi. The walls have been crafted to look like adobe and most of the decorations are local crafts and weavings.

Baths are shower-only, but are outfitted with double vanities, towel warmers and an interesting lighting treatment under the sink area that simulates burning coals. The top–end Tilo rooms have their own private outdoor showers as well, in addition to more space overall. All rooms have some kind of view from their terrace. Nightly turndown service is standard while you're at dinner.

There is a strong sense of place at Alto Atacama Lodge, from the stone and wood blending into the natural landscape to the use of native plants already growing in the region instead of more showy ornamental ones from elsewhere. In a region known for high-end adventure lodges, this one hits all the right notes in a spectacular setting.

Web Address:
Total Number of Rooms: 42
Published rates: $511 to $624 per person double all-inclusive, lower for room only.

Review and photos by Timothy Scott.