Family Vacation in Patagonia and Atacama
An Indagare member recently took her family to Patagonia and Atacama in Chile. Here are her impressions of the trip.
Cliff Preserve in Patagonia was so wonderful—words and pictures could never begin to do it justice. We knew we were in for a treat when we met a family in Atacama who told us that they had never found any place harder to leave than Cliff Preserves the day prior. At the end of our trip, we felt the same way.
My husband and I have traveled through some of the best African game parks and that’s probably the closest experience I can compare it to in terms of service. Each family has their own house and private guide throughout their stay. Our guide planned and accompanied us to everything, but in a way that was never invasive of family time or privacy.
Our sprawling two-bedroom home had sweeping views of the Pacific from every room. The refrigerator was always fully stocked with drinks and wine. The lodge building, the center of the property, is bright with sunshine flooding every room and lots of nooks and crannies for reading or playing games.
The food was five-star—the chef was superb. Every meal was started with freshly baked bread and artisanal butter, and every menu was a delight. With only six houses at the Preserve there was never a wait and meals were available whenever we wanted them. The bartender was a treasure—he would make delicious drinks for the kids with fruits and vegetables but keep it all a mystery so they never caught on to the fact that they were drinking something healthy! For the adults he make the most delectable arugula martinis, and I don’t usually even like martinis. His creativity and talent are matched only by his warmth, a case that was true of all the staff. Everyone we got to know would hug and kiss us, and we got to know everyone by name.
The spa was excellent and we were delighted that each guest received a complimentary massage. Some activities we loved included galloping on the beach on horseback and then trekking through the mountains; fishing off drift boats in a beautiful river and having a grilled picnic lunch in a grove of trees by the river; a canoe trip; endless trails and hikes each with a view more spectacular than the last; taking a Zodiac boat to see penguin colonies and sea lions; and woodworking with a kind carpenter, who helped our kids build a toy dog to bring home.
I cannot rave enough about this place. The owner is a man from Vermont who spent the last forty years in Chile. He is a gem as is his staff. The property was so family friendly and set in the most beautiful location I have ever seen.
Our time in Alto Atacama paled a bit in comparison. The excursions were great but not nearly as customized—we had to sign up for activities at least a day or two prior and they would all be with a group. Hikes through the Valley of the Moon and Cactus Valley as well as taking a bike ride to the salt flats were amazing. But the van excursions were less fantastic, and they were long and a bit boring. Some activities started really early, which would have been hard for kids under ten years old, and all activities end by around noon. Afterwards is downtime and there is nothing to do at the resort except scorch in the sun or nap in your room. Afternoon trips depart around 5:30pm and then don’t return until 8:30 or 9:00pm, which makes dinner late—a difficulty when mornings are early. One day we missed the morning activity and then had nothing to do until 5:30pm. I would recommend Alto Atacama more for adults and older children.
The food was ok but nothing like at Cliff Preserve. There was very little flexibility in the menu choices and occasionally we had to wait a while for a table. At several meals, we found the meat to be quite undercooked. The woman who arranges the excursions was very good and the manager was also quite nice. Service in general was ok and they were very kind to arrange a guide to take us to the hospital and translate when my son got sick.
The lobby was dark (partly due to its adobe architecture) and could have used some board games. All but one of the six small pools were too cold to use, so all the guests were vying for the seats around the one warm one. Guest rooms were fine but quite dark and could get a bit stuffy at night.
All in all, the physical activities in Atacama such as hiking and biking were fabulous and the setting is beautiful and otherworldly. We were glad we went, but Cliff Preserve is the huge winner—I don’t know when we’ve had a better experience.
Tip: The Holiday Inn in by the Santiago airport, rather than the Hilton, is the place to stay if you have an early flight. It is brand-new and about a 2-minute walk from the airport’s check-in desks.