San Pedro from the Heights

By Cristóbal Forttes

Due to the mining and tourist activities carried out in the area, Calama, San Pedro and its surroundings seem more connected than ever. New highways and roads have been built so as to make it possible to get to these places without disturbing their tranquility and their physiognomy. Calama has stopped being the ghost town it once was and it is now filled with malls, hotels, supermarkets, friendly neighborhoods and a number of stores covering all people’s needs. Looking at this new oasis in the desert you can’t help but ask yourself what would happen if copper suffered the same destiny as saltpeter. Mind you, most of Calama’s economic activity is based on this mineral.


As soon as you arrive at the beautiful town of San Pedro de Atacama you experience emotions that are inevitably linked to the desert. You witness the desolation, immensity, and the clarity projected by its landscapes, the contrasts, the breeze, energy, history, and salty soils. It’s a land that, despite its economic growth, still preserves its essence thanks to the work of Chileans and foreigners that have come here to build their dreams. Without a doubt, and partly due to its extended seasonality, San Pedro is today the capital of Chilean tourism, standing at the same level of any top tourist destination.


The stories of blackouts and of irresponsible tourists camping in the moon valley are now behind and the whole area is protected by the government and the indigenous communities that now live a life based on agriculture, the extraction of lithium from the depths of Atacama Salt Flat, or on the growing tourist industry.


The town offers all the necessary services, such as world class –pricy- commerce, and crafts markets boasting beautiful local work. At night, the town morphs to show its bohemian side, with excellent restaurants and bars that have integrated local ingredients like Quinoa and Rica Rica Herb to their recipes. With such a big hype going on, it’s inspiring to see how growth can be attained respecting the local cultures, the urban planning and the town’s unique architecture. It’s the exact opposite to what we saw with the sad spectacle of the mall in Chiloé.


The hotel industry has experienced a sustained growth to meet the demands of the visitors: there is a plethora of hostels and guest houses, as well as five star hotels that can stand to any world class hotel. In this sense, Hotel Alto Atacama is leading the trend, both for its excellent services and its privileged location (only 3 kms away from the town). It is set very close to the Quitor Pukará, one of the area’s most interesting archaeological monuments. The hotel’s architecture is harmonious with the clay-colored mountains that contrast with the deep blue sky. The overwhelming tranquility of the landscape will inevitably change your mindset and make you get immersed into reflection and retrospection. Words fall short, but if I had to define the hotel in one word I’d say that Alto Atacama is an oasis inside another oasis.


Its decoration architecture is harmonious with the environment, its landscape is nourished with local fruit, plants, and flowers, and its decoration includes local products. At day the constant breeze and beautiful views of Licancabur volcano and Socaire valley call for a relaxing rest in its pools after an intense day of physical activity. At night, the temperatures drop down and bonfires are lit up to let you appreciate the starry night under one of the clearest skies on earth. It’s just an invaluable privilege. The dim light helps to create an intimate atmosphere while you enjoy the excellent food and the great attention provided by the staff, which will spare no detail to make you feel comfortable.  With this scenery, the momentary headaches caused by the height disappear, the heart rate stabilizes and you feel ready to discover the attractions offered by the hotel’s excursions. Like other tourist spots with a high number of passengers, San Pedro and its surroundings offer a great variety of tourist buses, both for private and group tours. It is precisely in this respect that Alto Atacama sets itself apart from other hotels: its excursions have been carefully planned and in general they keep you away from the big tourist masses. Also, most of the guides are experienced rock climbers that know the area like the back of their hand, and many routes, such as the «cascadas», are exclusive to the hotel. Attention is paid to every single detail.


At 13.800 mts above sea level, and while we enjoy a delicious lunch overlooking Miscanti lagoon, we can see vicunas, horned coots, and a few other birds looking at us from the heights.


To visit the hotel and have a unique desert experience click on this link.