Explore Chile’s Atacama desert and discover Life On Mars


Sophie Burgis visits a specially designed eco-lodge and spa in Chile, nestled amongst the arid sands and salt lakes of the Atacama desert.

As far as the eye can see, flickering pinpricks of light extend across the night sky. Tilting your head back to take in this spectacle is a humbling experience at Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa’s private star gazing observatory, one that leaves you feeling at one with your natural surroundings, just as the Lodge’s design intends. Located little over a mile from the town of San Pedro, in the heart of Chile’s remote Atacama Desert, Alto Atacama has subtly become part of the landscape.

chileD2-42 Credit Michael Stolp-Smith-minIt offers guests a luxurious getaway with a difference, ensuring that the resort’s ethos of sustainability positively impacts the way in which people experience and become involved in the Atacama’s breathtaking scenery and culture. The resort aims to complement its natural surroundings and minimise its impact upon the environment through its eco-friendly structural design and ‘Leave No Trace’ excursions, while supporting the local economy. The resort’s setting guarantees a secluded and invigorating holiday and thanks to its environmentally friendly infrastructure, you can avoid feeling guilty about treating yourself here.

ChileD6-2 Credit Michael Stolp-Smith-minThe resort aims to take sustainable tourism to the next level whilst ensuring that luxury is a central element of guests’ experiences. For those looking to relax, the hotel offers a myriad of lavish, yet environmentally friendly features, including thermal Inca baths, an oasis-like pool, fully-serviced spa and a buffet-style restaurant and bar which showcases locally sourced and organic produce.

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For adventurous guests, there is much more to see beyond the Lodge’s exotic grounds. Deemed the most arid place on earth, the Atacama’s wind-swept ancient rock formations and barren salt lakes have been likened to those reportedly seen on Mars. For guests to authentically experience this, Alto Atacama provides guides with information about high traffic areas that may be suffering from environmental degradation as a result of tourism. As such, guests are given the opportunity to participate in low-impact excursions that showcase less travelled parts of the desert. This means that guests may explore the celestial desert scenery as if they truly were walking in space.

ChileD6-93 Credit Michael Stolp-Smith-minThe Lodge’s desire to seamlessly blend into its surroundings means that eco-friendly architecture is a core element of the resort’s design. The building’s aesthetic is in keeping with the local village architecture and the colours of the desert, while the rooms are thermally insulated, meaning the temperature is controlled without the aid of air conditioners. In the same vein, the grounds have been astutely designed by Veronica Poblete, a Paris-trained landscape designer and botanist. Using ancient agricultural techniques, aided by a fully self-sustainable recycled water system, Poblete has cultivated an oasis that features gardens overflowing with local flora, an orchard, a llama and alpaca corral and open-air mineral displays.

chileD3-4Credit Michael Stolp-Smith-minFurthermore, 90 percent of the materials and labour used in the landscape’s construction were sourced and purchased locally from the Atacameño and Aymara people, making the resort truly part of the community. Through its innovative design and ethos, the resort effortlessly marries luxury and sustainability. This provides guests with a uniquely fulfilling experience where they too can feel part of the ‘bigger picture’ and otherworldly arid cosmos that is the Atacama Desert, rightly deemed Chile’s brightest shining tourist destination.