Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in southern Chile, gets our vote as one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
The top place to stay is Explora Patagonia. No question about it. Overlooking Lake Pehoé, it’s the only luxury lodge in the heart of the park with close-up views of the jaw-dropping Paine Range.
“Location, location, location,” they say in real estate. How Explora’s owner acquired this magnificent site is a story that, if known, would surely make developers foam at the mouth with envy. Like a box seat for music lovers at the Met or Lincoln Center, the lodge offers intimate, full-stage views of the setting. The privileged few who make it here don’t have to take a hike, or even leave their beds, to look upon one of Mother Nature’s grandest spectacles. And like a coquettish woman adjusting her wardrobe to please, the Paine Range changes by the minute as light and shadows work their magic. It’s the kind of destination that photographers—and anyone inspired by nature—dream about.
Wildlife is abundant: guanacos (wild mammals that are members of the camel family), rheas (a large flightless bird resembling an ostrich), pumas, flamingoes, foxes, condors and more. Experienced guides at the lodge lead small groups on exploratory treks and horseback rides that can be as physically challenging, or as leisurely, as they wish.
The cuisine is healthy, delicious and beautifully presented—and the service impeccable. Weekly barbecues are also a treat. Gauchos cook, over an open fire, the world’s most tender lamb and other Chilean specialties, accompanied by a cornucopia of fresh, seasoned vegetables and some of the country’s finest wines.
Founder of the Explora company, Pedro Ibáñez, didn’t want to replicate traditional travel experiences, but, rather, to offer ways to combine in-depth exploration of remote, magical places with luxury accommodations. Explora also has lodges in Chile’s Atacama Desert and on Easter Island.
It’s little wonder that Explora has been recognized as South America’s Leading Expedition Company by World Travel Awards. For more information on the company’s lodge-based and nomadic journeys, visit www.explora.com, call toll free in the United States at 1-866-750-6699 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting there: Delta offers 9 ½ hour flights from Atlanta to Santiago, Chile. From there, LAN Airlines has connecting flights to Punta Arenas, Chile. The lodge can help arrange the 5-hour drive from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine. This is one of the simplest ways we’ve found to make the journey from the East Coast..
Guanacos, one of the largest wild mammal species found in South America, roam throughout the area. The iconic Torres del Paine (which translates “towers of pale blue” from the indigenous Telhueche language) provide an epic backdrop.
Hikers take in the views at Lake Sarmiento, named after Spanish explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. The lake’s shoreline has large calcium deposits resulting from, geologists suggest, hydrothermal activity in the lake and/or sediments trapped in mats of blue-green algae.
The Explora Patagonia lodge overlooks Lake Pekoe and the iconic Cuernos (horns), so named because of the horn-like shape of the twin peaks at the far right.
The Paine Range and Cuernos under a full moon, as seen from the lodge, create a magical setting. Italian priest Alberto de Agostini, one of the first to explore the area, said during a 1945 journey, ” The Paine massif is unrivaled…in its colors and forms it is without doubt one of the most spectacular sights that the human imagination can conceive.”