One of the Amangiri's gorgeous loungers.
It’s hard to find more beautiful scenery anywhere than the national parks of Utah and Arizona. And the easiest way to visit them, logically, is to decide on an itinerary and then stay each night at motels nearby or in the parks’ guest lodges. That way you’re only driving from park to park and if it’s summertime you can be up early and hike while it’s not too hot – after all, Arizona in July can reach temperatures of well over a 100 Fahrenheit.
But the problem with this is that most of the accommodation in and around the parks, other than the Desert Pearl Inn in Zion, is pretty average. So the second option is to base yourself in one place and then each day drive to one of the parks – and back.
This is what we did choosing the Amangiri at Black Water near Lake Powell – and we think we chose correctly. Amangiri, in the Aman Hotel group, is possibly the most beautiful inland hotel in the world. A strong claim, but from the moment you arrive, particularly if you have a room both overlooking and leading into the desert, you know you’re somewhere very special.
We won’t try to add to the excellent existing reviews of the hotel, one by Bella Pollen already featured on Globalista, and the other by Geoff Dyer originally in the Financial Times, but instead we’ll be more prosaic and highlight some of the things we loved and some we didn’t.
What we loved. The rooms are extraordinarily beautiful. We stayed in a Desert Suite ($1000): The rooms couldn’t be more comfortable. Not everyone is going to love sinking into the softest beds imaginable but we found them the most comfortable that we can remember sleeping in anywhere. The bathrooms with their open view of the desert are superb. And finally the way the terraces have been designed – with two beds for watching the sunrise and sunset and for stargazing – couldn’t be improved on.
The pool and the beds around it are also fabulous – so lovely and inviting that you have to think twice before leaving the hotel and venturing out into that beautiful scenery. And the spa is probably amazing – as we are not spa people, we can’t comment authoritatively on this.
Add to this a wonderfully simple check-in, in your room with only one signature required and none of the tiresome welcome drinks in reception that other fancy hotels insist on when all you want to do is get to the room. Simplicity is a hallmark: Delightfully, you don’t need to sign for anything while you are there and we wish other hotels would institute this policy. It’s so much more pleasurable than having to wait around for your bill. And the hotel’s attention to detail was very much appreciated: It’s worth sending out your laundry just to see how beautifully they’re returned, while the personalized parking service meant that we left fresh bottles of water already in the car every morning.
But, finally and most spectacularly, the setting is stunningly beautiful.
What we were less enamoured with. Our gripes are minor and don’t in any way detract from the pleasure of staying at Amangiri. However, the food was a bit hit-or-miss: Breakfast is a rather sad affair featuring a few bowls of melon, grapes and little else; lunch is much better with excellent salads and a superb Wagyu burger.
Supper is variable. It can range from the parsimonious (an eggplant tortellini starter with two small tortellini) to okay (the wood oven cooked lamb and steak) to the excellent (the wood grilled chicken). The specials, though, are often too inventive and simply misfire: A duck special managed to bear no resemblance to a duck anyone might have previously encountered and not in a good way.
On another corporeal note, the hotel has been designed, not for spirituality, as the manager would contend, but for sex – whether in the bed, the bathroom, the terrace whilst stargazing, the pool, indeed everywhere. So do NOT go alone which is what I did, the “we” in this review being a royal we. It would be too, too poignant.
The cost of the Amangiri excursions is frankly outrageous.
And then there were the excursions. At Globalista, we don’t normally comment on the cost of anything unless we think something is poor value – and we’ll make such an exception here. The cost of the Amangiri excursions is frankly outrageous. To take a few examples, a car ride for a family of four to the Grand Canyon will cost $1500 for the day and if you want a proper Field Institute guide at the Canyon, that’s another $1400; a three-hour trip around Lake Powell in the cheapest of the hotel boats will cost $1300; just walking around the hotel property for two hours with a hotel guide is over $300. It’s one thing to pay $1000 a night to stay in the most blissful hotel imaginable, but $1500 for a day at the Grand Canyon, only two and half hours from the hotel, is madness.
The effect of this is that the hotel isn’t terribly helpful advising what to do, at least when it doesn’t involve taking one of the hotel’s own excursions. This is surprising, as Aman Hotels are usually brilliant at advising where to go, particularly where traveling around is part of the experience.
In light of that deficiency, we have compiled for you the unmissables and everything you need to know but might not have been told.
Glen Canyon and Lake Powell Glen Canyon, carved by a long stretch of the Colorado River, and Lake Powell, the man-made lake created by the Glen Canyon Dam, are absolutely spectacular. You’ll first see the lake from Highway 89 – that first view is dramatically beautiful and really can’t be surpassed.
You arrive at the lake by turning when you see the signs for Wahweap Marina. Don’t be put off when you reach the shoreline and see the giant carparks, camping sites, caravans, RV’s and the hundreds of houseboats moored alongside. When you get out on to the lake, particularly cruising through the canyons, it’s magical – that is, when you aren’t being buzzed by jet skis.
There are five ways to see Lake Powell, though the hotel, just 15 minutes away from it, will only tell you about three of them. Firstly, you can take the hotel’s own 36ft Cobalt cruiser; for three hours, it will cost $1800 including service. You can slum it – comparatively – and take the hotel’s Open Bow Tour Boat, at $1300, and you can also ask the hotel to organize something more modest, which they quoted at $1000.
Or you can rent your own boat from the clearly marked Boat Rentals. A 19-foot powerboat runs $400 for the day or $300 for a half day, while a 36-foot Weekender houseboat costs $600 for that day; be sure to remember your ID.
Finally, for a significantly less expensive option, you can visit the Lake Powell Resort reception and book a public tour; a two-and-a-half-hour tour, which, frankly, is plenty, will cost $68. The recommended Canyons Adventure Cruise leaves twice a day between April and October at 9am and 1pm, and between May and September, there’s an extra cruise leaving at 4pm.
A word of advice: Make sure you are one of the first on the boat and sit on the top deck in one of the two rows in the shade. Otherwise, depending on the time of year, you’re either in the blistering sun or sitting in the windowed lower deck.
It is Grand.
The Grand Canyon As with Lake Powell there are a number of options for getting to the Grand Canyon, and again, the hotel options are by far the most expensive: You can do a combined land and air tour organised by the hotel, at $2800 for two people, or just a scenic flight organised by the hotel, at $1780 for two. A hotel car and driver runs $1200 for two.
Or, you can drive yourself for about $100, including petrol and $25 entrance fee – the only downside, unless you share the driving, being the journey back.
When you arrive at the canyon entrance, it’s a 25-mile “scenic drive” to the village. Be warned: It’s not that scenic, as for 95 percent of the drive, you’re in a forest. When you arrive at the village make for Mather Point, park the car and then walk the clearly marked Rim Trail, which is an absolute must. It’s pretty busy – not to say noisy with more mothers than you can imagine screaming at their children not to stand too close to the edge – but don’t be put off, the views are sensational. The most popular and easiest walk is about 2 kilometers and you can either walk back the way you came or use the shuttle buses.
Bryce Canyon is a seriously unmissable excursion
Bryce Canyon The Grand Canyon may get all the attention, but the lesser known Bryce Canyon, also around two-and-a-half hours from the Amangiri, is a seriously unmissable excursion – even if you feel you’ve had your fill of canyons. If you’re going there from the Amangiri, head north on Highway 89 to Kanab, a magnificent drive in itself; at Kanab you keep heading north for another 60 or so miles till you see the signposts for Bryce. From Kanab, the scenery changes completely and within minutes you’re driving through a lush green valley interlaced with streams and ponds – more Wyoming than the dusty reds of Utah.
Before arriving at the canyon you’ll pass the breathtaking Red Canyon. It’s worth stopping and walking on the path that runs alongside the road.
Arriving at Bryce, you’ll find a number of viewpoints. Stop at all of them – the views of the amphitheater are completely different at each one. We also recommend the Rim Trail walks. The easiest one is from Sunrise to Sunset and back, about half a mile each way. If you’re fit and willing, then you can descend down into the base of the canyon; the easiest of these is the 1.8-mile Queens Garden hike.
Zion National Park Zion National Park is an hour-and-a-half drive from the hotel; seeing it fits comfortably into an afternoon. The Park is incredibly beautiful – so don’t just restrict yourself to the magnificent 11-mile scenic drive.
Exploring the Upper Canyon requires going by shuttle, as cars aren’t allowed through the Canyon, but that’s easy enough: Shuttles leave every six minutes from the Zion Visitor Centre. You can either opt for the super sedentary option and simply stay on the shuttle (the roundtrip takes 80 minutes) or get off at one of the clearly-marked stops and walk or hike one of the beautiful trails.
There are a number of options here, from a simple river walk from Canyon Junction back to the Visitor Centre, to the much more adventurous and vertigo-inducing Angels Landing hike, starting from Weeping Rock. A word of warning: If you opt for the most popular walk, the 1.3-mile roundtrip, largely paved trail to Lower Emerald Pools, it’s not going to be a spiritual solitary walk. Instead, you’ll find yourself in a daisy chain of walkers in both directions, so this is only recommended if you’re short of time or, like us, unfit.