Chile: The Two Extremes

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The spa is full service with a variety of local applications utilizing the natural elements of the desert, as well as a Finnish sauna, Turkish bath, Scottish showers, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, as well as a full menu of massage offerings.

The rooms themselves are amazingly spacious, delightfully decorated with local crafts with the color scheme emphasizing desert browns and earth tones. All offer huge patios, but for your clients, book the rooms facing the red-colored mountains. They offer guests a twilight show they won’t soon forget as the dying sun gives its last performance of the day, turning the desert colors into a colorful and hypnotic hue that is pure rapture. The formula here is luxury plus simplicity and equals total satisfaction and a resort experience second to none.

The activities here, too, reflect all of the activities available in the area. There are morning bike rides to the salt flats and the lagoons of Sejas where riders can float in the highly salted water hole. You can drive out to the small village of Tocano and continue on to the National Flamingo Reserve, followed by a 30-minute walk around the Chaxas Lagoon to see the flora and birdlife and a whole lot more.

About a 10-minute drive down the road is the village of San Pedro de Atacama, a place that could be a setting right out of a western movie with its dusty streets lined with adobe-like, 2-story buildings housing jewelry and crafts shops, souvenir stores, restaurants and bars. Here, too, you’ll find local tour outfitters offering horseback riding, trekking and sand boarding excursions in the desert. There’s even an Astronomic tour that leaves about 8 p.m. and heads into the desert for the magnificent, heavenly, nighttime show that goes on in the glittering skies above the timeless desert floor. And, because it’s been a traditional backpacker’s stop, there are also plenty of hostels and hotels.

It’s a friendly, laid-back town. When you enter a store, the owners leave you alone and while you browse, they’ll be, as likely as not, watching soaps on their small TVs or enjoying a meal with their family or friends. There’s also the inevitable tree-shaded town square, anchored by the church, which in this case, is also the Gustavo Le Paige museum. The resort offers regular transfers there or clients can bike into town if they prefer.

A favorite resort activity, however, is the Quebrada de los Cardones hike, a half-day adventure that starts with a drive out on the highway that brings you to an area they call the Guatin entrance. From there, you set off through this wonderland of a moonscape that leads you up and down hills and just when you think everything looks the same, you turn a corner and it’s not. Beautiful rock formations rise up and stare you down like the intruder you are and when you’re a former cigar smoking old guy, this is the place where the scenery starts to take your breath away, literally, and you realize you’re going up, quite a bit up in my view. The diminutive female guide wearing a heavy pack containing water and snacks keeps bounding away like an annoying leprechaun, smiling away and acting like it’s a walk in an Amsterdam park. You take satisfaction in the fact that some day she, too, will get older.

Finally, you’re at the top and you realize you no longer need that team of paramedics to resuscitate you, after all, the view is gorgeous, made all the more so by the fact that you’re breathing normally again. And then that damn leprechaun with that backpack that’s literally half her size is bounding away again, only this time it’s down, way down a very steep, sandy and rock-strewn incline. Down? Never thought of that. A lifetime away with a list of promises not even the most sainted soul could ever begin to keep, we’re down on the dry river bed, a very flat river bed and while walking out, a mental promise is made to move to the Netherlands at the first opportunity.

Later that day, after a farewell lunch, accompanied by still another local dance performance, this one performed by local indigenous musicians and dancers, it’s time to head back to Calama for a flight to Santiago for another late-night check-in at The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago and get up the next morning for a 2-hour drive to the wine country and a tour, tasting and lunch at the Matetic Vineyard.