Features 8 minutes 02 November 2023

Inside Amangiri, One of America's Most Exceptional Hotels

Four days and three nights at the exclusive Utah resort.

Editor's Pick Hotels Travel

When Amangiri opened its doors in 2009, the whispers were almost immediate: discussions among well-heeled travel junkies trading tidbits of information (this was pre-Instagram, mind you), like rumors about how the 900-acre land acquisition required Congressional approval, or that the central pool is built around a 165-million-year-old rock formation. As it turns out, all were true, and in the years that followed, both its name and unmistakable photogenic landscape popped up on every must list and popular social media feed. The famous and famously discerning proclaimed it to be their top escape destination, and soon the lore and mystique granted visitors the humble brag, as if was like being a member of some exclusive travel club. In time it became the sort of place on every “before-I-die” short-list discussed at cocktail parties...have you been? Have you seen the light?

Below, one writer shares his experience at this once-in-a-lifetime property from arrival to check-out.

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As a lover of food, travel, and far-flung destinations, I have a few times been regrettably lured by the siren song of hype. And in the age of Fyre Festival type hoaxes, or waiting 30 minutes in line for what turns out to be average baked goods, I’ve found there are far too many “musts” these days. So experienced people whose opinions I trust are far more reliable than a bevy of trending hashtags, and suspiciously repetitive imagery on Pinterest.

This past spring, with my pregnant wife expecting a baby in June, we decided now was the time for a blowout baby-moon. We were going to be out west visiting family anyway, so we figured now or never. Or at least now or in 15 years. Everyone who’s been to Amangiri all told us the same thing: two nights is not enough and four is one too many, so we booked three nights. And was this hotel in fact worth the hype? We’ll get to that, but there’s much to unpack first...

Just getting there is perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Amangiri because it is uniquely isolated, which of course is simultaneously both its greatest allure and most significant drawback.

From Los Angeles one has to fly to either Las Vegas or Phoenix, and from there, you have two options: drive approximately four hours directly to the hotel or fly the one hour flight into Page Municipal Airport, which is about 25 minutes from the hotel (the hotel provides a shuttle to-and-from the Page airport).

One of my more enterprising friends told me an insider hack is to get on a sightseeing tour that leaves from Las Vegas, that happens to land in Page to refuel. Upon landing, you can just stay there, and it costs a fraction of a commercial flight without the hassle of airport security lines.

For east coasters, it’s the same process, with just more distance to cover, but for the sake of planning routes, Salt Lake City is another arrival point from where you can drive (but it’s 5 instead of 4 hours). About the drive: some will tell you a car ride is worth it because of the beautiful scenery along the way, and while that’s true, nothing really tops the vistas surrounding the hotel, so it’s not like the journey by car is going to provide anything particularly superior to your end destination. So in short, if you don’t mind small planes or the extra expense, flying into Page is the way to go. (For those who prefer to charter or fly private, all of this is moot and you can land directly at Page).

When you arrive you’re met by a team of welcoming attendants in the courtyard and brought inside to reception which is in the main pavilion. Here, you get the first real opportunity to take-in the showpiece of the hotel, the pavilion’s large open floorplan space about a football field in length, which is comprised of a lounge, the dining area split into three sections, and the exposed chef’s kitchen, all with jaw-dropping views. I’m confident that even the most jaded travel snob would be taken aback in this first moment because the prehistoric landscape hits you in the face requiring a cartoonish eye-rub. All the buildings at Amangiri are built low at grade level, so the modernity of the structure makes you feel like you’re less in a building and more of a just-landed spaceship looking through a window in time.

Those who greet you at reception do that signature Aman thing where they offer a special welcome beverage (they change it for the seasons: warm tea if it’s cooler, a cold elixir in a hot month), and invite you to sit you in the lounge to discuss the itinerary that you have created. Stepping back for a moment here: before going to Amangiri, the hotel’s “experience team” reaches out to discuss the various offerings at the hotel, and ask if you’d like to book certain activities during your stay. There is an almost dizzying array of offerings, none of which are obligatory of course, but they highly suggest a few because, after all, you’re not traveling all that way to just sit by a pool for three days.

I did my bit of research, and after talking to a bunch of regulars, I was told that we absolutely had to do the 'Via Ferrata' climb, the three slot canyons tour, a few hours by boat on Lake Powell, and some of their signature spa services. We confirmed all our various bookings with the experiences rep.

After a brief tour of the campus, we settled into our room, a Mesa Suite which is one of the mid-level rooms, and was neither short of, nor exceeded expectations: it was actually quite simple-perfect. The bed is situated in the center of the space to maximize a dead-on landscape view. And as a smart designer knows with views, windows will always be the star, so an interior that attempts to compete is a futile endeavor. What you look out to every morning is nothing short of miraculous, and in the simplest terms, pure unobstruction—you could almost draw the visual of a dinosaur roaming this landscape in your mind, and the integration of structure versus nature is unlike any other hotel I’ve come across (with maybe the exception of The Fogo Island Inn).

The bathroom was of ample size, as was the his/hers closet, and sitting area with welcome refreshments. There are larger rooms offered at the hotel, some with private pools, but if you’re doing the outdoor experiences, the amount of time in your room is pretty minimal, and the common spaces are so remarkable that to me a private pool seems superfluous.

After unpacking and a leisurely shower, we went to dinner. There are two dining options at the hotel: the dining room in the main pavilion, and the dining area over at the other side of the hotel which is called Camp Sarika. Tonight, we planned for the main dining room, where you can choose to lookout onto the desert or the pool, and all the tables are situated spaciously enough to allow intimacy between one another. All the meals at Amangiri are included with your stay, so if you fancy yourself a competitive eater, this is the opportunity to get your money’s worth, and the staff even invite you to get the most bang for your buck.

I found that none of the servers look at you sideways for ordering two entrees, which after a long travel day was exactly what I did. The shrimp ceviche which we started with was not an actual ceviche, but rather an artfully plated cooked shrimp cocktail. Despite this, it was still totally enjoyable and fresh, considering being in the middle of nowhere Utah. The duck confit was a particular favorite, the salmon evenly cooked medium rare, and the vegetable curry was richly flavored.

The next morning we awoke at 8 a.m. after a deep sleep, and headed back over to the main pavilion for breakfast. The breakfast menu was by far our favorite dining offering, with pretty much anything and everything you could want from fresh juice concoctions to a full English breakfast. I shamelessly went a little overboard again. At 10 a.m. I had my 'Via Ferrata' climb as the morning activity, so I walked over to meet my guide Sarah at reception to start our walk to the canyon on foot. Once you reach the base, the climb might look daunting to the unversed, but in fact, has in place every single safety measure one could possibly imagine, almost to the point where it’s cumbersome. You’re constantly clipping in and out throughout, which on the one hand assures that you’re not going to fall to an untimely death, but on the other, definitely slows down the process and sense of adventure significantly (one can imagine the Aman hotel group did not want to be faced with any lawsuits or major incident stories, and I’m sure their insurance carrier had every imaginable requirement for these climbs, so you take it with for what it is). The ascent has perfectly placed rebar foot and hand holds, creating a rhythmic course that’s a nice sweet spot between not too easy and not too difficult. The vistas are remarkable, and walking across the two suspension bridges is something you won’t soon forget. I would strongly suggest that any guest just swallow hard and overcome their fear of heights to walk the bridges, as you’ll only regret not doing it. Overall, for the inexperienced climber, it is everything you could want and more, but for anyone who’s climbed the Matterhorn, this whole enterprise might come across as kiddie-play. Yet regardless of skill level, no one can throw stones at the scenery which is top tier in every direction.

After returning for a light lunch, it was time for their spa—they call it the Water Pavilion—which I can only describe as if David Lynch’s and Paul Verhoeven’s production designers had a love child who grew up to be an architect, this is what he would produce. Concrete minimal to the point of spooky, Mexico City in both vibe and decor (or lack thereof). Everything about the feel and visual experience, flowing in and out of various spaces was aesthetically remarkable— see Pinterest. The steam room was not only perfectly hot, but strikingly designed with mosaic tile and round edged seating—frankly I’m hard-pressed to recall a finer looking steam room. Shortly thereafter this pre-game, I met my wife to indulge ourselves with a couples massage which was fine.

After the spa, we decamped to the room for some downtime, and for dinner we tried the other restaurant at the hotel located at Camp Sarika, which is a quick five-minute shuttle from the main pavilion. This part of the hotel provides a more ‘glamping’ experience to those who require more privacy (read: Jay-Z and Beyoncé). The dining room at Sarika is a lovely space, far more intimate than the larger dining area on the neighboring campus, and the idea of their small dish tasting menu experience (as opposed to the other a la carte) seemed promising.

The next morning was free so I used the gym across from our room, and decided to do the guided hike on the grounds of the hotel which is complimentary and leaves every morning at 9 a.m. It’s a 10 minute walk to a cave on the property (where they happened to film the John Travolta B-movie, Broken Arrow sometime before Amangiri was ever built, and left parts of the set there), and for the older, less seasoned hiker, this is a good intro. I did this hike with a group of about eight people and it was totally enjoyable.

I returned to shower and change for our day off-campus which would start with the Navajo Nation Slot Canyon tour. The slot canyons are a mere 40-minute drive from the hotel and considered to be some of the best in the world, so I was excited to experience them firsthand. Led by a Navajo guide, this tour includes Rattlesnake, Owl, and Upper Antelope Canyons, and runs about three hours long. The hotel arranges for a driver who takes you to meet your guide, who in our case was not only incredibly knowledgable, but also a master at taking pictures of us (sidenote: every guide that Amangiri arranges for you seems to possess uniquely impressive iPhone picture skills, as if they took a course....needless to say, a great perk). The private tours are the only way to go: no lines, no crowds, no small talk with strangers, and no wait times to enter the canyons. To explain what it’s like to walk these long red cracks in the earth’s crust would be pretty futile; I would suggest Googling some images, and just imagine walking by yourself through these, without a tourist in sight.

After taking a ton of postcard worthy shots, we headed back into the car for the other experience I was told was a must, which was the guided boat tour on Lake Powell (if you elect to do two back-to-back off campus experiences like we did, the hotel arranges to have a nice pre-selected boxed lunch waiting for you on the boat). For the unindoctrintaed, Lake Powell is an extraordinary man-made body of water created by the flooding of Glen Canyon, with tiny outlets like varicose veins that stretch all the way from Utah across the northern border of Arizona. The water is supplied from runoff of the Colorado Rockies, and in the summer months, we were told there is a plethora of house boats that venture out for all sorts of cliff diving, jet skiing, and wake boarding throughout the lake’s many pockets. I will say Powell was like a trip to another dimension, and roaming the various skinny hallways of the river was like wandering the waterways of Mars (also an actual shooting location for many movies, including Star Wars)...silent and dreamlike, with a total absence of life, except the three of us on a small, private boat. However the whole joy of doing this trip is being able to do some water sports in the spring and summer months, and despite the beauty, we found ourselves quite cold in March, bundled up to avoid the chilly head winds throughout our journey in an open top boat.

I’ve had the great fortune of going to several Aman hotels, and the one constant between them all seems to be their commitment to service. Everyone on staff is friendly and helpful beyond expectation. The company ethos prizes itself on no request too outlandish, and to their credit, it’s not just empty talk—but they will also bill you handsomely for it. Whether it's a special champagne they’re going to fly in or a certain type of pillow that you need (as mentioned my wife was pregnant at the time of our stay, and they thoughtfully made an extra effort to get her a longform pregnancy pillow) but I guess the question in the end is, what expense is simply too much?

Make no mistake, Amangiri itself is a marvel, both in concept and execution. It is a temple to topographical architecture, organic and modern all at once. Considering inflation, and no dearth of high-income adventure seekers with a post-pandemic itch to scratch, or new couples on a mission to insta-proclaim their newfound love with a not-so-humble-brag background, one could argue it’s hard to fault their price point when the demand dictates it. And in the end, it was worth it.

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Hero image: Amangiri

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