We certainly had an adventurous trip to the Atacama Desert of Chile. When deciding to go to that area, we knew the days would have some strenuous activities therefore we were searching for a place to relax when we weren’t hiking and exploring. Our research led us to the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa where we spent 5 nights. So what did we think of the property? We’ll share our pros & cons of our experience.
The Alto Atacama provided a wide array of excursions for their guests to enjoy during their stay. There were many things to choose from at Alto Atacama! We decided to booking the following:
Cactus Hikes in Los Cardones Ravine
Exploring Salt Flats of Salar de Atacama
Relaxing in Hot Springs of Puritama
Hiking the Valle de la Luna at dusk
Exploring Los Flamencos National Reserve to search for flamingos amidst the salt flat
While these were the things we choose, there were a few other options available such as biking, volcano hiking and history tours. Excursions are for all physical abilities and ages. The best part of the excursions were that they were broken out into small groups of eight or less. No large groups or bus loads of people. The small group excursions allowed for a more personal experience. Beverages and snacks were always brought along by the guides to ensure everyone was well hydrated and happy! All of the guides were extremely knowledgeable, friendly and excited to be there leading the groups while exploring many different areas of the Atacama Desert.
There are 6 pools and a hot tub located throughout the Alto Atacama lodge with chairs and towels readily available. This made it easy to find a spot near a pool to relax throughout the day when not on an excursion. Pools were semi private and the views while laying in the lounge chairs were breathtaking. Food and beverages could be ordered and served to you by the waitstaff poolside.
Stargazing is an excursion that can be scheduled and is highly recommended. One group of eight go on a short walk at night to the secret spot the Alto Atacama has built at the top of a small hill exclusively for star gazing. There are eight rotating lounge chairs for everyone to lay down on their backs and stare into the sky while the guide uses a laser pointer to point out stars, planets and galaxies!
The Alto Atacama is far from any light pollution so the amount of stars you see in the sky is amazing. It is the most we’ve ever seen by far. We saw multiple shooting stars and we also had a special view of a lightning storm in the distance over Bolivia. It was quite the experience!
Does it get any better than arriving to your room for the first time only to find a cheese and meat plate with a bottle of champagne waiting for you? Thanks to the Alto Atacama for the nice welcome!
Upon arrival, the Alto Atacama explained that due to the elevation and heat, it was important to stay hydrated at all times. The Alto Atacama gave us water bottles to carry with us. There were water stations in multiple areas of the lodge to fill up your bottle at all times. These also came in handy for the excursions.
In addition to water, the Alto Atacama had multiple bars throughout the lodge ready to mix up a cocktail or pour a glass of wine at your request. It was nice to grab a drink at the bar before dinner and look out over the mountains. A nice selections of Chilean wines were available to enjoy with dinner as well.
It was just as nice to enjoy a strawberry piña colada poolside.
Although we did not have time to take advantage of the spa services, we were told from other guests it was very nice. Who wouldn’t want an open air, private massage with this view?
Location, Scenery, Grounds
The Alto Atacama is built just below the mountain range. As you look out, there are other mountains surrounding the entire property within a short distance. As large as the Alto Atacama is, the entire property was well kept and clean. Everywhere we walked throughout the Alto Atacama, the landscaping was well manicured and visually appealing.
Multiple fire pits were spaced throughout the Alto Atacama lodge. We enjoyed relaxing by the fire at night with a beverage in hand while looking up at the stars. The staff provided wood in each of the fire areas for guests to enjoy. It was amazing to see the pits in the morning while walking to breakfast, because they were cleaned up once everyone went back to their rooms each night. Each pit looked unused from the night before.
The food falls into both the Pro and Con category for us. The breakfast had many options available: cereal bar, fresh fruits, meats, cheese, breads and eggs made to order. There was a lot of food variety and even more with the beverage options. We could choose from multiple juices and/or the coffee bar serving cappuccinos.
The lunch options were good as the Alto Atacama provided a nice variety. As for dinner, the appetizers and desserts were the highlights of these meals. Again, nice variety and many different local Chilean options that we’ve never tried anywhere else. Rica-rica ice cream is a must every day! I would have eaten this with breakfast if it were available. Such a unique flavor.
Spacious and clean room
The room at the Alto Atacama was very spacious and clean from the time of arrival until we departed. The room had a large bathroom with double sinks, a king sized bed and a lounge porch area off the rear of the room with a nice view of the mountains.
Cleaning staff came twice a day for service, turndown and refilling of the water in the fridge.
Food – Dining Area Service + Tipping
The main course of the dinner each night was mediocre at best. Each night the main course seemed to get worse. There were only four options and no rotation of meals or specials. No matter what we ordered, it was over-cooked, unseasoned and in general, bad.
The dining area always seemed to be understaffed. For a resort that knows the exact number of guest there at all times, there was a disconnect between the scheduling of waitstaff. Everyday we waited for a waiter or waitress to take our order or get the meal started. They would mention to us “sorry for the wait, the kitchen is backed up again”. We were not in a hurry by any means, but when there are long delays, apologies given and minimal staff multiple days in a row, it becomes annoying.
The Alto Atacama is an all-inclusive resort. We were told upon arrival that tipping should be done at the end of the trip with an envelope system they have in place. We would write down the names of specific people or departments then place money in the envelopes for them. Great, I like this system. On the second night at dinner, our waiter apologized for all of the delays and then asked if we were happy with his service? We politely said yes and proceeded to leave. While walking away, he stopped us to ask for a signature. We asked what we were signing for and he proceeded to tell us he printed out an approval form for us to sign for the 20% tip he had added to the “estimated cost” of the meal for his good service. This is not the envelope system that was discussed. We asked the next morning at the front desk and were told no one should be asking for tips at dinner. It happened a couple more times and also once while being served drinks at the pool. We are more than ok with tipping, but if they have a system in place, the Alto Atacama should really have the employees on board with the process and keep it consistent which ever way they decide to manage.
There was NO air conditioning in the rooms! Can you believe it? While being introduced to our room, the Alto Atacama staff proceeded to tell us that because of the desert atmosphere and cool evenings, there was no air conditioning. We were told the fan and an open window would provide enough breeze to stay cool. Wrong! While the evenings certainly did cool off, the poor design of the room did not allow us to take advantage of it. There was only one window so unfortunately we could not take advantage of any cross winds therefore the room was very hot! The design concept needs to be reconsidered or air conditioning added in the future.
Pool Temperature & Cleanliness
It was weird to see how dirty the pools would be every day. I don’t know if they were overlooked or the pool cleaning staff was on vacation that week, but something was definitely going on. Temperature was an issue as well. All of the pools with the exception of one were freezing cold. The one that was heated always had the lounge chairs full with people. It was the most popular of the pools and the Alto Atacama should recognize the demand for the warm pool far exceeds the others.
Overall, we had a great trip visiting the Alto Atacama and the Atacama Desert. The resort is in a setting like no other and it is visually stunning from all angles. It was great to sit in different areas of the Alto Atacama and enjoy the views.
The high quality and variety of excursions, friendly and knowledgeable staff make the trip well worth the journey. The excursion staff really goes above and beyond to ensure a good time is had by all. They answer questions, take pictures, set up snack and anything else needed while on the unique excursions.
We would recommend not going in the middle of summer due to the rooms being hot and with no air-conditioning installed. A milder time of year will definitely make the rooms more comfortable at night. Alto Atacama should be fixing the tipping policy which will help make experiencing the resort much more comfortable. While speaking with other guests, this was a common theme of confusion. Also, being mentally prepared for a daily cold dip in the pools or making sure to head to the heated pool first will help you enjoy your stay a little more.
Have you been to the Alto Atacama?
Do you want to go or stay away from the Alto Atacama after reading this post?
Let us know in the comments.