Blending beautifully into the surrounding desert, boutique stay Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa offers equal opportunities for adventurous excursions and blissful relaxation. Spend days hopping between the six pools, destressing in Puri Spa, or spotting birds swooping over Lake Tilo, or follow expert staff on guided, bilingual tours through the desert’s otherworldly landscape. Back at this eco-friendly stay, dark adobe walls keep the art-lined interiors cool; a locavore-lover’s restaurant (with a serious selection of Chilean wines) keep hunger at bay and thirsts deliciously quenched. Wind down with evenings by the bonfire under the stars, pisco in hand.
Rates include breakfast. All-inclusive rates also cover round-trip airport transfers, lunch and à la carte dinner (wine and spirits included), transfers to San Pedro de Atacama, open-bar, minibar refills, use of mountain bikes, an astronomy session.
The hotel's gardens were designed by expert botanist Verónica Poblete; you’ll find nearly every type of flora native to the Atacama Desert, including shade trees, fragrant plants and herbs. There’s also an organic garden, used by the restaurant.
At the hotel
Alfresco fire pit; spa with treatment room, steam room, hammam, sauna and hydrotherapy pool; llama corral; yoga and meditation sessions; free WiFi throughout; on-site parking; laundry service. In rooms: minibar, free bottled water, Damana bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We’re partial to the Tilo Suites, with their alfresco showers, sweeping views of the Salt Mountains and lagoon, and spacious sleeping area.
The six outdoor pools are dotted around the lush garden. There’s also a Jacuzzi, a pool bar and a bonfire pit nearby for Saturday barbecues. Please note: the pools aren’t supervised by lifeguards.
Partially sunken Puri Spa is strategically nestled into the centre of Alto Atacama for shade from the hot desert sun. Inside, there’s a hydrotherapy pool, Watsu and mineral water baths, an indoor Jacuzzi, two treatment rooms, a hammam and a steam room. Choose from a well-honed menu of classic treatments, including deep-tissue and Swedish massages that use Weleda and organic Coesam products, or locally-inspired Altiplanic mud wraps and quinoa facials; crank up the romance level with an under-the-stars couple’s massage. After (or between) treatments, relax on the outdoor terrace with chilled water and fresh fruit. The spa is open daily from 9am to 11.30pm.
You’ll want to bring plenty of active wear so you can take full advantage of Alto’s excursions. Remember to throw in the swimming togs and sunblock, too.
One Quitor room has been adapted for wheelchair-users and guests with other mobility issues.
Very welcome; they’ll love the smattering of swimming pools (although parents will need to keep a close eye on little ones), runaround space and llama corral. There are on-loan bikes; excursions aren’t too tiring.
Very. Designed with an eye to minimising energy waste and impact on the environment and maximising natural light, the hotel was built with recycled and eco-friendly materials. Green cleaning and bath products are used, low-flow taps help to conserve water and solar power heats the pools. Alto Atacama also has its own reverse osmosis water and compost plants, vegetable gardens and decorative gardens, where 90 per cent of what grows is native.
For the best views, make a beeline for the outdoor dining area.
You can stay casual at Caur; veering towards active wear during the day is acceptable, but steer a bit sharper for dinners.
Caur restaurant is helmed by chef Jaime Cisterna; the menu is influenced by traditional Atacama and Chilean cuisine, with the occasional nod to international dishes. The restaurant works closely with local producers, so most ingredients are sourced nearby, if not from the hotel’s own gardens. Spacious and softly lit, the indoor dining area is warmed by fireplaces in the winter; the outdoor, thatched-roof dining area has dramatic desert views and is cooled by the breeze. Sip on a selection of Chilean wines and try the guanaco meat, hominy grits and lamb stew, or fresh quinoa salads; save room for the refreshing ice-cream, made with rica-rica, a minty local herb. At breakfast, there's an à la carte selection with healthful and indulgent choices.
Guests have the run of a free open bar, including a selection of eminently sippable Chilean wines. Softly lit, decorated with artwork by local artisans, and dotted with comfy couches and overstuffed chairs, the indoor bar is just the place to curl up in as you work your way through the list. There’s also an outdoor bar by the pools that’s open until the evening and an outdoor lounge space next to the nightly bonfire. Order a minty rica-rica pisco sour or a coca-leaf pisco sour and watch the stars sparkle overhead.
Breakfast is available from 7.30am to 10am; lunch is dished up from 1pm to 2.30pm; take your evening meal between 7.30pm and 10pm.
There’s no room service, but you can raid your free in-room minibar between meals.
Alto Atacama is in the beautiful Catarpe Valley, about three kilometres outside of San Pedro town.
From Santiago International Airport, hop a two-hour flight to Calama Airport; room rates include return transfers from Calama or Bolivia's Hito Cajon Airport.
San Pedro is seven minutes away by car; there’s on-site parking at the hotel. All-inclusive room rates include return transfers from the border with Bolivia at Hito Cajon.
It’s possible to jet in or out by helicopter or private plane; just ask the hotel for local agencies’ contact details.
Worth getting out of bed for
Rotate between the six swimming pools and soothing Puri Spa. By day, visit the Atacama and Incan ruin sites of Pukará de Quitor (just next door), and at night, make your way to the observatory for first-rate stargazing. Venture further afield with Alto Atacama’s expert-led excursions, one full-day trip or two half-day trips are included in your stay. Adventures include visiting otherworldly Salar de Tara and Salar de Pujsa salt flats or Monjes de la Pacana rock formations, watching the El Tatio geysers do their thing, running down the massive sand dunes in the Valle de Muerte, or taking a moonlit walk (appropriately enough) through the Valley of the Moon. Alternatively, swap one half-day experience for a spa tour: a 'three-course massage experience'.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in the Catarpe Valley and unpacked all the bottles of Chilean wine that would fit in their cases, a full account of their luxury break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Alto Atacama in Chile…
Surrounded by a lunar-like landscape and terracotta-coloured mountains, luxury stay Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa is just the place for perfectly remote holidays. With an eco-friendly ethos and a commitment to embracing nature, this boutique getaway is all about engaging in active, guided excursions, learning about the local culture – which, luckily, is heavy on delicious foods, Chilean wines and the inimitable pisco – and unwinding at an impressive altitude. Spend time cooling off under the carob trees or in your pick of the six pools, letting go of any built-up tensions in the organic-centric Puri spa, and watching birds swoop around Lake Tilo.
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