I have to say Chile was never really a country on my radar, until &Beyond set up offices in South America to extend the service we offer to our guests. When an opportunity arose to experience our new lodge and some of the varied areas within Chile, I jumped at the chance to go along.
From Africa the flights are fairly long with a connection via Sao Paulo, Brazil. Having left at midday Friday we arrived at 2 am in the early hours of Saturday morning to a fabulous VIP welcome before customs with assistance to get us through the customs area to meet up with our &Beyond guide Maurico. We were then transferred to the Ritz Carlton in downtown Santiago for our first night in the city.
The Ritz Carlton hotel was very comfortable and certainly one of the nicer more upmarket 5 star hotels options to stay at. Sadly we didn’t get much time at this hotel, however, the breakfast that was available was fabulous. A huge selection of everything and anything your heart desires. The Chilean People have a sweet tooth it seems, and there were so many pastries making it really difficult to say no to them.
Next we met up with Carolina our reservations manager In Santiago, and James our tour guide for the day, who shared a lot of the history of Chile with us and took us to various places and areas around Santiago for the morning before we went to the W Hotel lunch were I was very impressed with the food served.
After lunch, we left for the airport to fly North to Calama and the Acacama Desert.
We were joined by Monica our representative from Peru who is currently based in Chile and who accompanied us for the Atacama portion of our trip.
On landing we were met by the lodge vehicle and had a comfortable hours drive to the town called San Pedro de Atacama. A small village in the desert that felt like one was going back in time a little, on arrival we made our way on the outskirts of the village to the Explora Atacama Hotel/Lodge arriving in time to have dinner and check into our rooms.
The following morning we walked into the village to see what the town had to offer and there are some wonderful markets with all sorts of Chilean products on offer. From fluffy lama’s to Jewellery made from the copper mined around the area or Lapis Lazui stones to the wonderful woven colourful blankets.
At the Atacama Explora Hotel, there are 50 rooms, so this is not a small lodge, with wifi facilities currently only available in the main area and not in your room. There are 4 Catur Suites with Balcony views, and 19 Tulur Rooms with views of the hotel grounds (8 of which are interconnected for families) and 27 Yali Rooms with views of the desert landscapes.
The lodge has huge courtyard areas between the rooms and reminded me of a Spanish hacienda style type of lodge with a lot of outdoor activities to be experienced around the area. This place is for the adventure seeking that likes to be active, with huge sands dunes to climb like when visiting the Valle de Luna, salt pans where there are two types of Flamingos to find, volcanoes to hike up, mountain biking and horse riding to experience at all levels of competence.
Bedrooms were comfortable, although with a small bathroom incl wc and a bath, with a shower over the bath. The lodge also has 3 swimming pools with one of them heated so you can use it all year round. As well as two steam rooms at the pool area as well.
All activities are scheduled the day before after lunch with the various guides depending on your level of fitness.
For me the only disappointment during my stay was the astronomy experience – with such an enormous telescope to view the night skies in the Atacama, the presentation was not a 5 star wow experience for us on the night it was done. But perhaps we just went on an “off night”. The presentation jumped around a lot and sadly the presenters “lost” my attention along the way.
All our other guides for the rest of the activities were really knowledgeable, with lots of experience at other Explora Lodges around South America. My biggest surprise was the great food served at the Atacama Explora, the chefs were creative with lots of choices and really excellent tasty food.
A minimum of 4 to 5 nights is recommended for a stay in the area in order to benefit from all the excursions and activities that are included in the cost per night and to acclimatise to the altitude if you want to go climbing the various volcanoes. After only 3 nights, which was not enough to really do all 40 activities offered, we set off early for the Lake District. (to be continued)