Chile: The Two Extremes

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The park is a natural preserve with hiking trails, beautiful flora and waterfalls. Later, we were treated to still another Patagonia bbq at Quincho where before lunch, we enjoyed a traditional dance presentation by the local folks, all decked out in their traditional costumes and, of course, the opportunity to join them in their traditional dances. Finally, we were off to Balmaceda for a flight back to Santiago and a late-night check-in for a 2-night stay at the capital city’s W hotel.

The W Santiago, by the way, is relatively new, it’s quite beautiful, but it’s all form and no function. Both check-in and check-out was chaotic, the elevator layouts defy description and overall, it didn’t meet up to the W hotel standards we’ve experienced elsewhere. If you’ve got particular clients who expect more, send them elsewhere.

The next day, the USTOA members held their business meeting and after a group luncheon at the Apero restaurant—it’s excellent dining located in an upscale area of Santiago, recommend it—we started off for the Casa Piedro Events Center for a tourism seminar with the Chilean tourism suppliers and officials. Later in the small trade show following the seminar, it was interesting to note how many of those suppliers had cancellations following the earthquake Chile had suffered in February. Television coverage, as usual, focused on the hardest hit areas of Concepcion and Valparaiso without mentioning that the quake did very little or no damage to the rest of the country. But it hurt their overall tourism badly. There was no visible damage at all in Santiago, in fact. Remind nervous travelers of that if they’re wary about booking. Later at a cocktail reception, the group got a surprise and lively dance presentation by Easter Island natives in traditional costume, an area Chile is promoting heavily with new resort properties and activities.

The next morning, we started off to the airport for a flight to Calama in the north, followed by a transfer to San Pedro de Atacama and the second part of our Chilean adventure. From Calama, we transferred to San Pedro de Atacama, a small village and an oasis in the midst of this driest of deserts, thanks to glacial snows that make their way down from the Andes and two rivers that mercifully offer water to the small, thirsty corn fields spotted throughout the area. It’s a relatively high altitude here—a little over 8,000 ft.—and the small puffy clouds set against the incredibly clear, blue skies seem low enough to reach up and touch. The vastness of the desert we drive through en-route to San Pedro is mesmerizing, made all the more beautiful by the occasional desert dunes that seem to seem rise off the desert floor like gigantic sandy flowers in bloom.

Our first stop in San Pedro is the KUNZA Hotel & Spa and with its minimalist design and adobe-like walls framing its single-level guestrooms, lounge and spa, it fits into this desert environment like a comfortable pair of old shoes. The interiors are reminiscent of the Southwest with colorful interiors and an open-air feel to them with spacious patios. The spa is subdued exotic with a relaxing ambiance and a simplicity to it that belies its sophisticated services. The dining options are indoor or outdoor and the luncheon format during our visit was Atacama-style bbq, enjoyed under a shady table and washed down with a variety of Chilean wines.

Next stop is the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa for check-in and a resort stay that’s as unique as it is beautiful. Here, too, as in the other resorts in the area, the sprawling single-level resort is seemingly laid out and designed by the desert gods themselves so as not to intrude on the incredible beauty of its surroundings. This heart-stopping, 32-room, five-star beauty is perched up against the colorful Salt Mountain range a short drive from the village of San Pedro in the Catarpe Valley, built to mirror the adobe-style settlements of the indigenous Likanantay people, many of whom work on staff and as guides to the various local attractions.

But your clients are definitely going to enjoy this bastion of traditional design with all the modern comforts of complete services—yoga field, hot springs, wooden decks, six swimming pools, and a drop-dead gorgeous common room with a huge, cozy fireplace. There’s a complete bar and dining area with exceptional menu choices and even a telescope to take in the stars in those incredibly clear nighttime desert skies with what seems like the whole galaxy turning out just for you to enjoy.