Day 5 in Chile: Elqui Domos!

Happy 2014! Our group started off the new year bright and early to catch a flight from Santiago to La Serena. We had originally considered renting a car to drive 9 hrs to our destination, because Elqui Domos, the hotel we were staying at, is literally and purposefully in the middle of nowhere (and no public transportation access whatsoever D:!). However, we came the conclusion that, due to the short nature of our trip, the not-too-terrible plane ticket costs ($180 RT/person), and the terrible fear that our lack of Spanish knowledge would doom us if we got lost, convenience was preferred. 

So why go to a place that is so remote, without an easy way to get there? Well, remote = very little light pollution, and apparently astronomers all over the world come to gaze at the super clear skies in the Elqui Valley. What drew us in specifically was the one-of-a-kind experience the Elqui Domos hotel offers. Elqui Domos is apparently one of only 7 astronomical hotels (meaning, hotels specifically geared towards stargazing) worldwide and the only one in the southern hemisphere, consisting of 7 hotel ‘rooms’ that are actually sepearate spherical tent-like domes with REMOVABLE ROOFs and 4 wooden houses with glass ceilings–all set up perfectly for stargazing. Think of it as glorified camping…haha. It was even featured in Unusual Hotels of the World! We couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to stay here one night while we were in South America. The price wasn’t bad either, split across 3 people!

Fortune would have it that our flight to La Serena was blissfully EMPTY on New Years Day. We later realized this was probably because we left so early, at a time when most people were just heading to bed after the New Years Eve celebrations. Come to think of it, when we had asked our concierge to book us a taxi to the airport that morning, he had actually joked that we were lucky they found someone, because most taxi drivers would normally be still recovering 😛 We had no complaints and took full advantage of the empty plane, each taking up a full row.

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the emptiest I’ve EVER seen on a plane

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a whole row all to myself 😉

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santiago airport, as we were taking off

While C and K tried to catnap, I took one look out the window and immediately got snap-happy with my camera. If you could see this view in person, you would too 🙂

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bye santiago!

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i got excited when i started seeing these mountains in the background…

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…but was in for SO much more…!

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as if out of a dream…

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aw

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the Elqui valley!

Needless to say, I was glued to the window. Before I knew it, we had arrived at La Serena and were amused to find out how tiny it was!  The airport has only two gates, and security doesn’t open until an hour before your flight due to the lack of people. I’m pretty sure one can only get to La Serena domestically, via Lan or Sky Airlines (we had opted for the latter). The airport’s size was in our favor, because we had no problem finding our taxi driver (arranged by the hotel).  He promptly picked us up, and literally whisked us to Elqui Domos. In a trip that would have taken about 3 hours if we went the speed limit, he got us there in 1.5 o_O! To his credit, our driver was extremely skilled, but was passing cars and barreling down mountain roads like it was his job (which, I guess it was). Still, that didn’t stop me from TRYING to get some pictures of the stunning scenery (note the blurriness of the road…hahaha)!

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i will never get tired of mountains

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we drove by tons of vineyards

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the elqui valley!

the elqui valley!

The downside of not having your own transportation at Elqui Domos is that once you get there, you are now stuck there. Also, because we arrived on New Years Day, which was an off day, the usual activities available around the hotel (poolside astronomy lessons, horseback rides, massages, etc) were all closed. Nevertheless, we didn’t complain, and used it as an excuse to finally RELAX. I used it as an excuse to explore the area and take photos 🙂 First of the hotel:

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rooms! true to the websites hahaha

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inside. note the removeable ceiling (!)

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top floor of the  main dome/reception area

top floor of the main dome/reception area

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Then went and took photos of the surrounding area (which was, as promised, pretty much nothing):

a bit further up the hill our hotel was on, there was an observatory!

an observatory up the hill!

view from the observatory-- the other lodging option at Elqui Domos

lone house on a hill...not sure what it was for

lone house on a hill…not sure what it was for
nearby was a desolate little neighborhood

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abandoned outpost

abandoned outpost

IMG_7693 IMG_7700 IMG_7706 IMG_7716We had to order dinner at the hotel because we were literally in the middle of nowhere, there were no nearby restaurants, and we didn’t have a car, but dinner turned out to be quite delicious! There was one chef who made the food and brought it out to us one by one–it felt very home-y and made for a wonderful meal experience 🙂

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first course: cream of pumpkin soup

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main: salmon and sauteed vegetables

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dessert: peach custard cobbler with vanilla ice cream P:

After dinner, it was time to wait for the sun to set…and the stars to come out. Let me just say…we found out why astronomers worldwide flock here. Because the photos of the sky at night in the Elqui Valley are beyond words, they deserve a post of its own 🙂 Stay posted!

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