SINGULAR PATAGONIA AND SANTIAGO by Mary Levine
ALTO ATACAMA, NOVEMBER 2014
For me, a trip I’ve been dreaming of for 20+ years. The first time Daniella, the sales rep from Explora Atacama/Patagonia, described the two resorts, I was hooked!
My journey began on a high note, business/first with LAN Airlines from Miami to Santiago. It was my first experience in a Dreamliner and I was not disappointed. The lie-flat seats and cabin service made a long flight enjoyable and I was not worn out upon arrival into Santiago. Keep in mind, I had a lay-over and then another 1 ½ hour flight to Calama, Chile and a 90 minute transfer to San Pedro Atacama.
Alto Atacama – The Driest Desert on Earth!
From the minute the driver met us at the airport, offered refreshments and our arrival at the resort, I was impressed. Nothing here is “over-the-top” but, extremely comfortable and keeping within the natural environment of the desert. We were greeted by a welcoming staff with refreshing fruit juices after 24 hours of travel. After a lovely lunch on the patio looking out at the canyon and grounds of the lodge we checked into our rooms. What a delight! I had a Tilo suite, junior suite with no separating doors but, an outdoor shower/patio area off the large spacious bathroom. There is a large indoor shower, double vanity and separate W.C., no bathtub. At the other end of the room is a large outdoor patio with an extra wide built in bed, with comfy pillows and two patio chairs with overstuffed seat and back cushions. A wonderful space to take in the natural beauty. Inside the room was a king bed, easy chair with pedestal lamp and table and a flat screen T.V. Wi-Fi is available in the rooms and throughout the resort at no additional fee. The mini-bar is complimentary and stocked twice a day with water and soda. Advisor Note: It is extremely important to stay hydrated in the desert, take advantage of the complementary bottled water often.
The premise behind the desert experience is to explore and experience the desert in this northern region of Chile. There are many volcanos, the largest has been inactive for hundreds of years but, is still pretty imposing! Guest have a morning choice and an afternoon choice for a guided excursion. There are different degrees of difficulty and this is all explained to the guest each evening in the bar/living room area of the main lodge. The guides are local and are true experts in their offerings. After dinner each evening you can go to the Observatory with a guide and explore the sky…the stars are in abundance and to me, its mind boggling! The landscape of the resort is a tour unto itself. If you are lucky, the Landscape Architect, Veronica, will be on property and give you a firsthand tour including a visit with the resident Llama’s.
On my first full day, I chose a 21 kilometer bike ride to the Salt Flats along with 6 other travel advisors. It was an enjoyable, easy ride, all flat terrain. A van with a trailer follows the group. Once we arrived at the Salt Flats, we explored on our own for a while and then jumped in and floated in the salt/mineral water. We chose to take the van back to the resort but, riding is an option, too!
The next day we went to the Geysers which required us to depart the resort at 545 am for a 2 ½ hour drive. It was beautiful to watch the landscape change with the sun rising. Once we arrived we were able to explore the Geyser fields before enjoying a picnic breakfast prepared by our guides and drivers. It was great fun to visit with the guides/drivers and be surrounded by such exotic scenery. There were different birds along the way and condors, too.
I was able to enjoy the resort that afternoon, a massage in the spa and taking in the sunshine at one of the 6 pools. The pools are small and spread out with a separate sitting area at each one.
The next day we transferred back to the Calama Airport and flew to Santiago. There we were met by the A & K guide and driver. Luckily, there was no traffic.
The Singular Santiago is brand new. It opened its doors in October and we were the first group of travel advisors to experience it. The hotel is contemporary but, warm and inviting. The furnishings are eclectic and beautiful. My room was very large, the bathrooms are 5 fixtures and well thought out. Again, the mini-bar is stocked daily with complimentary water and sodas and the Wi-Fi is available throughout at no additional charge. After meeting the upper management team on the rooftop for a cocktail and snacks, we walked to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. After being in the desert for a few days, the contrast was dramatic. The next morning we had breakfast, ordered from the menu and included in the price of the room, and a sight inspection of the hotel. Several room categories and all are spacious and beautifully decorated.
Onto to the Singular Patagonia!
We transferred to the Santiago airport and boarded LAN for a flight to Punta Arenas. The flight did make one stop to drop off and pick up passengers. It’s not ideal but, there are very few non-stop flights. A small price to pay for travel to the end of the earth (not quite but, close). Upon arrival at Punta Arenas we were met by Singular Patagonia for our transfer (1 ½ to 2 hours) to the resort. The driver provided us with bottled water and a light snack. I found the drive to be pleasant and very comfortable. The landscape was calming and picturesque. A stark difference to both the Atacama Desert and Santiago.
Singular Patagonia, Puntas Arenas
The arrival at Singular Patagonia is unusual because the owners/architects wanted to keep as much of the original structures in place. The guest enter in a sort of barn/garage that houses all of the resorts’ vehicles and some “toys” (kayaks, bicycles). The lobby is very modern with glass and minimal furnishings. From there you can take a vernacular or stairs to the main lobby of the hotel. The original buildings, several in various sizes are scattered and the grounds are not manicured. The lobby is connected to the sleeping rooms and spa by a museum of original machinery that has been painstakingly restored.
The rooms are in a new 3 story structure and all rooms face the water. You enter your room and there to the immediate right is a dressing area with an in-room safe, hangars and drawers to store your belongings. Also, a mini-bar with, you guessed it…twice daily stocked water and soft drinks, complimentary! The large bathroom, 5 fixture, with heated floors is connected to the dressing area. When you enter the main room you are transfixed by the wall to wall, floor to ceiling window! ONE huge plate glass window. The view is breathtaking! I had the small boat dock directly in front with the water and mountains as a backdrop. On either side of the window is a door…one opens about 6″ the other does not. Not sure why the 2nd one does not open but, it would have been nice. I like to sleep with the door/window open to hear the evening chatter of the wildlife.
We arrived in time for a late dinner and planned our excursions for the next two days. The format here is very similar to Alto Atacama. Daily excursions, chosen by the guest the evening prior after discussions with the guides.
Our group woke up early and after breakfast we boarded the Navigation for our excursion to the Glaciers. This is a private boat of the Singular Patagonia. It holds about 20 passengers in very comfortable individual seats with seat belts. There is a bathroom on board and a small view deck at the rear of the boat. The huge picture windows provide ample viewing for all passengers. We were the first tourist to arrive at the glaciers in about 30 minutes. The guides on board are very knowledgeable and accommodating. We had the chance to get off the boat and do a short hike in a national park before heading back to the resort. The captain took us in search of the seals and sea lions but, we were not successful. The scenery is magnificent! Reminiscent of other parts of the world but, unto itself as well.
Later that day we had the choice of a Condor Hike with a guide or horseback riding on an Estancia (working ranch). I chose the horseback riding on the private Estancia Sophia! This is a ranch, and it was hundreds of hectares with a lake and hill that provided a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. The hike would have been more of a workout and they happened upon a group of condors having an early dinner!
There are several dining areas at Singular Patagonia and guest should venture to each during their stay. Our first night was in the smaller venue that until recently was only used for private parties. There is a long bar with enough seating for 20 facing a huge grill. Next to the grill is a BBQ pit where they were roasting the main course, lamb. The other two evenings we dined in the main dining room. The food is beautifully presented and very good. The variety is plentiful and no one will go hungry or be disappointed. The resort is 5 minutes by taxi or shuttle to the small town of Puerto Natales for food and shopping. Nothing exciting but, authentic and inviting. The local people are very friendly. The resort has bicycles and the roads to town are safe for cycling.
The next day we went to Torres del Paine National Park for hiking and touring. The drive is about 2 ½ hours. There is a shorter route but, it is not always open to the public. The guide was very interesting and knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. Again, each guest can choose the level of difficulty of hike. Ours was a very easy, slow paced walk. The scenery is awe inspiring. We saw more glaciers, lakes, salt flats, wildlife, the Towers…3 huge granite spires. We saw plenty of condors, guanacos, fox, flamingos and nandu (Darwin’s rhea) along with other bird species.
The next day we flew back to Santiago. Because we had an 8 hour layover, we were met by A & K for a short city tour and lunch with the management from Valle Nevado, a ski resort 90 minutes from Santiago. Once we arrived back at the airport, we cleared security and relaxed in the VIP lounge for LAN before boarding our flights back to Miami.
I have to say that my transfer in MIA was very easy and hassle free. Advisor Tip: Have LAN in Santiago check luggage all the way to ORD so you do not have to exit and re-check in at AA in MIA.