Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa is the only lodge in the San Pedro region that is totally enveloped by natural surroundings. Located in the lush Catarpe Valley of the Salt Mountain Range, just over a mile from the plaza of San Pedro, the Alto Atacama’s design was influenced by local village architecture and conceived to blend seamlessly into its environment and appear as a part of the terracotta-colored ridge that rises behind it.
Environmental sustainability and a strong connection with the local culture have put the Alto Atacama in a category of its own, as has its “Andescape” concept of decorative flora and stable of friendly llamas and alpacas, local cuisine, and Leave No Trace-schooled guides. Veronica Poblete, creator of Andescape, is a Paris-trained landscape designer and botanist, and ex-Harvard lecturer who has developed this new concept using local flora and ancient agricultural techniques.
5 rooms closest to the Common Areas. The view from the private terraces of these guestrooms looks out on to the garden area of the hotel, framed against the Cordillera de la Sal in the background.
27 rooms located in the gardens of Alto Atacama. Slightly larger than the “Quitors”, with a more private terrace, offering an uninterrupted view to the Cordillera de la Sal Range and the Catarpe Valley
10 rooms specially located in the gardens of Alto Atacama, with an open view to the quiet Lagoon and the Catarpe Valley.
A wide array of tours is offered, each falling into a conceptualized category based on the type of experience on offer. Whether that is to contemplate, to seek adventure, cultural heritage, gastronomy, astronomical enlightenment and so on. Alto Atacama has over 30 different tours and excursions to choose from. Guests can connect with the landscape, through carefully devised walks, hikes, and biking routes. To the people, via cultural and heritage tours created with the native population, or to the night sky and Solar system, with the help of our open air observatory.
1. Lican Antai
We will start our tour at the archaeological site of Tulor which is 2,400 years old. We will then visit the Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology to learn about the 1,500 year-old Tiahuanaco culture. We will end at the Pucará de Quitor, a 10th century Atacameñan fortress.
2. Rock Art
This trip begins in the region of Hierbas Buenas. Here, you will find ancient petroglyphs, thousands of years old, which represent scenes of the local shepherd way of life, the people´s day to day lives and the growth of the farming communities. Having explored the caves and rock faces, move onto Rainbow Valley, so called due to the multicoloured nature of its hills and cliffs, caused by the build up of different mineral deposits and their reflection of the sunlight.
3. High Andean Villages
The first stop on this tour will be Machuca. Known locally as the ancient village of shepherds, Machuca offers an insight into traditional farming techniques and practices. Guests then continue to the Putana Vado, known for inhabiting a variety of native flora, fauna and birdlife species. Next stop is Caspana, another typical village of the Altiplano though noted for its representative architecture and strong cultural identity. After lunch at a local restaurant in Caspana, the journey continues to Chiu-Chiu, a former trading hub of the region. Chiu-Chius streets are best explored on foot, visiting the central church along the way. Finally, this exploration ends in the village of Lasan, stopping at the lagoon of Inka Coya en route, then back to the hotel.
4. High Catarpe
During this tour, guests will hike to several lookouts of Catarpe. The first stop is a prime view across the Tambo Valley; this vantage point shows off the surrounding hills, farmland, and pastures. The walk continues past petroglyphs and rock carvings before hitting the Cordillera de la Sal, and a scenic descent down to the San Pedro River.
5. Tambo Inca Catarpe
This wide-ranging walk takes in some of the most scenic and culturally significant sites which surround Alto Atacama. Begin at the renowned Chapel of San Isidro, an iconic example of colonial architecture which is ideally located near the Catarpe Valley. Enjoy views of the surrounding Cordillera de la Sal, where prehistoric geological formations of sand, clay, salt rock and volcanic ash, which have formed over millions of years, line the horizon. From San Isidro, having walked through some of the most breath-taking and beautiful trails of the valley, we will cross to Tambo de Cartape, a former centre of the Incan empire, constructed over 600 years ago at the height of their dominance.
6. Valley Of The Moon
This tour allows guests to enter a sanctuary of nature and geology. The Valley of the Moon is a spectacular geological formation created through the conflicting pressures of the Andes and the Cordillera de Domeyko. As one of the most breathtaking and iconic views in the entire region, travellers from all over the world migrate here to enjoy the sun setting over the Valley.
7. Atacama Salt Flat and Toconao Village
This varied tour starts with a visit to Toconao, a local village known for its masonry and architecture which is typical of the area, as well as its important agricultural heritage. Next, continue to Tamarug´s forest, a woodland region en route to the National Reserve of Los Flamencos, one of the most iconic and memorable spots to enjoy the renowned sunsets of the Desert.
8. Tatio Geysers
“Grandpa crying” is the local name used to describe the Tatio Geysers, a geothermal field sitting at 4,321 meters above sea level. Beginning at dawn, you will explore the Geysers, which consist of large pools of boiling water and mud, fumaroles, and natural hot springs. This is also a good chance to appreciate the unique flora and fauna adapted to flourish in this extreme environment. On return, you will stop at Machuca, a traditional village previously used by local shepherds.
9. The Salt Lakes
The tour of Ojos del Salar takes us to two incredibly deep freshwater pools which emerge unannounced from the arid Desert plains. This trip is noteworthy for its conclusion on the banks the Turquoise Lagoon of Tebinquinche; we will arrive just in time for sunset. Tebinquinche is known as a unique location to experience the pallet of colours associated with Andean volcanic waters, and surrounding mountains as the sun sets and the light morphs across the ever-changing landscape.
10. Andean Lagoons
This excursion will take guests through the southwest region of San Pedro, initially voyaging into the Tropic of Capricorn at a crossroads where the Ecuadorian and Southern Chilean Empires met, an important location during the days of the Inca. The tour continues to Socaire, a local village known for its traditional Church and historical terraced plantations of quinoa and purple potatoes. Next, on to the high Andean Lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, formed as a result of ancient ice thaws, these crystal waters provide a sanctuary to observe the immensity of the mountains. The region is also a showpiece for the unique fl ora and fauna adapted to these high altitude conditions.
11. Wetlands and Pecan Monks
The Wetlands tour offers the chance to delve deep into the Andean landscape, observing a variety of wildlife. The first stop is the wetland park of Quepiaco, an important protected area in the region, and a great place to spot native bird species. Next it is the Salar de Pujsa, the largest reserve of its kind and the migration point for nesting flamingos to lay their eggs. Finally, guests visit the immense rock formations known as the “Pecan monks”, noted for their sheer size and sudden emergence from the Desert floor.
12. Salt Flats Of Aguas Calientes and Tuyajto
This excursion will take guests through the southwest region of San Pedro, initially voyaging into the Tropic of Capricorn at a crossroads where the Ecuadorian and Southern Chilean Empires met, an important location during the days of the Inca.
The tour continues to Socaire, a local village known for its traditional Church and historical terraced plantations of quinoa and purple potatoes. The journey continue to Aguas Calientes and Tuyajto, near the border with Argentina. At a height of 4,000 meters above sea level, you can explore crystalline lagoons, known to reflect and mirror the contrasting colours of the surrounding mountain landscape.
13. Sunrise in the Atacama
The crystal clear salt waters of the Tebinquinche Lagoon, surrounded by the imposing Cordillera mountains, are our preferred location to witness the intense contrast of colour, texture and shadow of a high Andean sunrise. Here, you will see the landscape shift and change as the sun rises, and the light levels move across the plains.
14. Andean Astronomy
To make the most of our privileged position in the desert, we have installed the only open air observatory in the region. It sits atop one of the many hills near the hotel.
There, six swivel chairs and a powerful telescope will enable guests to take in the intricacies of our universe with real clarity while here. You will also have the knowledge of one of our expert guides to answer questions and give information on the long history of human astronomical discoveries.
15. Full Moon Walk
This night time trek is only possible during periods of complete illumination from the light of a full moon. You will begin by travelling the Cordillera de la Sal, and through the appropriately named Valley of Mars. Once you have scaled to a decent height, enjoy views of the Cartarpe Valley, the oasis of San Pedro, Salar de Atacama, the Andes and Cordillera de Domeyko, all visible by the unique and eerie light offered by our celestial cousin.
16. The Colorados
This route crosses one of the most important ancient thoroughfares used by local shepherds thousands of years ago. Next, you will pass through the daunting tunnel formerly used to connect San Pedro with Calama. The walk continues along the cliffs of the Cordillera de la Sal, the perfect place to observe the Catarpe Valley, the oasis of San Pedro, the Salar de Atacama, the Andes, the Cordillera de Domeyko, and even Alto Atacama itself! Finally, as the trek begins to turn make its way back, cross a path which rolls down the middle of the high dunes, a well know feature of Mars Valley.
17. Cactus Hike
This hike begins in Guatín, at the point where the Puritama and Purifica rivers meet, turning into the mighty Vilama River from Guatín onwards. Trek through diverse rock formations and vegetation, including ancient cacti standing at over seven metres tall. The region was once populated with an abundance of shepherding communities so you will pass through former settlements as you walk.
18. Inca Pass
This challenging half-day trek begins with a climb to the base of the cornices of the Catarpe Valley, to enjoy the expansive views before your descent. After taking in the surrounding vista, you will begin the climb down through the dunes of the Mars Valley. The first stop is Coca Stone, an ancient centre for the trading of goods and animals, commonly a stop along old indigenous caravan routes. Here, hikers will also find an abundance of preserved rock art. Next, the vast and arid Llano de la Paciencia showcases geological formations typical of the area, before continuing through the Mars Valley and eventually home.
19. Devil´S Throat
This excursion begins on mountain bike from the Ayllu (settlement) of Quitor. From here the path winds through the spectacular gorges of the Cordillera de la Sal in the Catarpe Valley. The tour continues on the Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat), named in connection with ancient myths of the local people. Finally, you will bike to visit San Isidro and its perfectly situated church as an ideal end to the ride.
20. Vilama / Devil’S Throat
This varied hike takes in a mix of both intriguing archaeological history and captivating landscapes, carved out predominantly by the ferocious flood waters of the Vilama and San Pedro Rivers over many millennia. Starting at the Vilama Sulphur mine, the route then follows in the footsteps of local shepherds of times gone by, until reaching the ancient petroglyphs of Lican Antai, a real-life history lesson and glimpse of the past. Finally, it is onward to the ominously named Devil’s Throat Canyon, which offers sublime views across the Cordillera de la Sal.
21. Kari Gorge
The ever-majestic Cordillera de la Sal never fails to entice and excite, with jagged caverns, steep cliffs and narrow passes in fine display at Quebrada de Kari. Walking first across open, expanding plains, which lead into tight passageways and formidable mineral mountains, the hike to Quebrada de Kari offers a beautiful insight into the historical geological processes which have shaped these lands. We are also taken into one of the rare habitats frequented by high-altitude birds, which enjoy the protection offered by high salt concentrations in the rocks during cold winter nights.
22. Catarpe Valley
This tour treks exclusively within the Catarpe Valley itself. Guests will travel along the famous San Pedro River, before crossing into Tambo, the former administrative centre of the Incan Empire. After exploring Tambo, the walk continues through the vast landscapes of the Valley, passing smaller villages along the way.
23. Capur Salt Flat
Making the most of the Altiplano during this challenging hike, you will face the majestic heights of Salar de Capur, meaning ‘Fox’ in the local Kunza language. This 4-hour hike will take place along 10km of scenic, ascending trails, reaching panoramic lookouts and changing terrain as the pathway weaves its way up to an ultimate altitude of 4,300m above sea level. Once at the summit, expansive views across the salt plains of Aguas Calientes are the reward for efforts made, with this vantage point providing a striking, memorable look at these undulating lands.
24. Desert Valleys
This extensive tour will take you across some of the most arid and inhospitable regions of the desert, recreating old routes formed by the ancient people of this area. You will start in the east, at the Valley of Mars, before trekking through to the Llano de la Paciencia, and on to the western side of the Valley of the Moon. From there, cross to the Cordillera de la Sal, and pass the “Three Marys” (Ancient rock formations sculpted largely by extreme winds) and on to an exploration of the central crater of Valley of the Moon. The geology changes throughout this trek, including giant sand dunes and compacted salt mineral beds.
25. Route of the Shepherds
Recreating an ancient route taken by migrating local shepherds and their flocks for many centuries, you will begin this full day hike in the wetlands of Vado Machuca. Following the line of a nearby river, the tour passes the abandoned ruins of old stone structures used by the shepherds, though some are still inhabited to this day. The trek continues to Peñaliri, a now deserted village though noteworthy for its well maintained agricultural terraces. Finally, the last few kilometres of this trek will take you on a scenic journey to the Rio Grande, where you will stop for some well earned local food.
26. Llaretas Route
This excursion is a specially designed route created to prepare guests for the acclimatization and skills necessary to then go on to enjoy high altitude volcano climbing. Its name “Llaretas” comes from the name of the plant which grows locally, and is attached to rocks in this area. The plant was used as fuel between the herdsmen of the region to create fire and fuel both cooking and heating.
The road starts with the hills surrounding the east of the Geysers. The pathway is marked only with the vague tracks of local animals, and at four thousand meters the route descends between rocks and cliffs, following the improvised footpath of animal tracks. The trail leads down until you reach the bottom of the ravine, before beginning an ascent back up to the mountain pass.
27. Toco Volcano
The Toco Volcano tour begins in an old abandoned sulphur mine near the border between Chile and Bolivia. From here, the ascent up the volcano begins. After a challenging guided hike up the mountain side, the scenery from the summit is breathtaking. From there, you will have panoramic views of Bolivian Lagoons, neighbouring volcanoes, the Andes, and the Chajnantor Plateau (home to the Alma astronomical project).
28. Soquete Volcano
Amid the mountain range stands the pointy top of Volcan Soquete, near the Tatio Geysers. The path taken on this trek is a good way to acclimatize for those looking to take on more demanding heights and tougher treks throughout their time in the region. It is also an excellent tour to go into the mountains and observe the unique flora and fauna of the area.
29. Volcano Licancabur
This extended expedition begins with an ascent at the south-western edge of Laguna Verde (4,350 m) on the eastern slope of Juriques Volcano, near the Bolivian border. From here you hike the path to neighbouring Licancabur in Bolivia. Licancabur is thought to house the earliest remnants of human activity in the high Andean region, with traceable signs of ancient ceremonies still visible to this day. On reaching the summit, climbers will be treated to unparalleled views of the surrounding craters, the Salar de Atacama, Andes and wider Altiplano.