“In a remote valley between Santiago and Atacama, a celestial escape where you can touch the stars from your domed or stilted refuge”
It's not every day you get to lie in bed gazing up at the stars, and it's a pretty fantastic experience, particularly in this privileged spot.
The 7 domes are set along a central path heading upwards towards the mountains. Made from white plastic-covered canvas over a metallic frame - like a tent but much more sturdy - they can sleep up to 4. Inside, a pine structure creates a ground-floor lounge with armchairs, sofabeds, a wardrobe, a heater, a kettle and a minibar. There are several windows, although removing their covers is a little fiddly. Above, a mezzanine level holds a double bed under a removable roof.
Round the back of the living area is a small bathroom, with a toilet, washbasin and shower. Here, the décor is white, with a couple of decorative splashes adding a bit of colour. Towels and small sachets of shampoo and shower gel are provided.
If sleeping under canvas isn't your thing, opt for one of the 4 stilted wooden houses, known as Observatories. These angular structures have been added since our visit, but they look wonderful: perched on the highest point of the site, they have vast panes of glass set in their walls and ceilings, offering panoramic views of the valley below and the sky above. Each has a double bed set on a mezzaine, plus a bathroom with a shower and a sitting area with benches and striped cushions. An additional single bed can be added on request.
The furnishings in both the domes and houses are quite basic, so your attention is quickly drawn outside, where your decked terrace invites you to soak up the sun by day and indulge in some star-spotting by night. Best of all, a large telescope is already set up and ready to use.
A main dome houses the minimalist restaurant, furnished with small glass-topped tables and hard-backed chairs, which match the pine trim of the rooms. It verges on canteen-esque, but the unfussiness and cool atmosphere rescue it. By day, the full-length windows show off great views of the mountains and valley.
For a mid-range hotel, the food is excellent. We were the only guests when we visited during the low season, but this didn't faze Carlos, the bubbly chef, who knocked up a fine 4-course dinner with just a couple of hours' notice. We weren't given a choice, but the menu of perfectly cooked prawns with salad and a simple spicy sauce, followed by a good steak then a perfect chocolate and mint mousse, would have pleased most. The appetiser of mussels with a pisco sour aperitif was spot on.
All diets can be catered for with advance notice. There's a decent list of Chilean wines, on which Carlos can provide guidance. Just don't ask him about the stars: in his words, his skills are 'gastronomic not astronomic'!
Breakfast is a more rudimentary affair, but perfectly pleasant - a couple of bread rolls served with fruit conserve and slices of ham and cheese, plus tea or coffee.
If you have your own transport, there are several restaurants in and around Pisco Elqui. Miraflores, on the road out to Elqui Domos, is recommended for parrillas (barbecued beef), while Hotel Elqui just off the main square serves good traditional Chilean dishes. Los Datiles is a great option for well-priced good food.