For anyone wanting to escape the autumn smog-ball that is Santiago, there is only one thing to do: catch the next bus north to the fog-free paradise that is the Valle de Elqui. With its sleepy calm and some of the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere, you would be hard pressed to find a better place to shake off the tension of the city. And for those who take their soul rehabilitation seriously, there is only one place to stay when you get there: the Elquidomos hotel.
Photo by Shanna McGoldrick
The fact that the Elquidomos is the only astronomical hotel in the southern hemisphere and one of only seven worldwide already makes it pretty special. But its concept is truly unusual – guests sleep in one of seven luxury ‘geodesic domes’ which are essentially two-story domed tents nestled into the valley. They have been designed to take full advantage of the site’s main attraction: the stars. No detail has been overlooked in ensuring that the guests’ experience is as special as possible, from the free use of the beautiful outdoor swimming pool under the night sky to the chic décor of the rooms.
Feeling pretty serene after a day spent touring the region’s pisco factories in the baking heat, we arrived at dusk just as the sky was beginning to darken. We were ushered in to the reception dome – a sanctuary of stylish minimalism that could have been any modish hotel in the world, were it not for the telescopes lined up against one wall.
The domes are designed to sleep three people each but the staff had no problem letting us squeeze a few more for the same price (spot the students), and even provided us with extra bedding. In fact they were extremely accommodating, letting us use the barbecue by the pool and later providing kindling for our campfire.
The nightlife in Valle de Elqui is fairly basic. After eating there was nothing to do but pull the sun loungers up to the fire, stretch out with a glass of wine and tilt our heads back. The vast sky was implausibly clear and glittered brilliantly with diamond-hard beads of light, holding our attention for hours. When it finally became too cold to stay outside – the valley is freezing at night – we headed up to the domes, piled on to the double bed (which is on a raised veranda at the top of the tent) and unzipped the roof to reveal more celestial magnificence. This is undoubtedly the unique selling point of the Elquidomos hotel; guests can sleep in luxury, literally under the stars. I fell asleep with the patterns of the constellations blinking on my eyelids.
The domes are constructed from thick tent-like material, but that's really where the similarities with camping end. Each dome has its own en suite bathroom with a shower, a fridge with a mini bar, easy chairs and coffee-making facilities. Thick insulation means the tents don't get too cold at night - although a heater is provided, just in case. The real gem is the roof, which features a completely removable section just above the bed. Ultimately guests experience all the adventure of sleeping out in the open from the safety of a feather quilt; the perfect camping experience.
We woke up under a burning sun and a cloudless blue sky which was less dramatic but almost as beautiful. After wandering down to the main dome for breakfast - which is included in the price and consisted of delicious fresh juices, bread, eggs and coffee – we took a dip in the ice-cold pool before saying goodbye to the Elquidomos and hitching back in to the village. If only camping could always be this blissful!
Camino Público Pisco Elqui Horcón
Sector Los Nichos
Región de Coquimbo, Chile
Phone: 07 709 28 79