When you travel to the southern extreme of the continent to experience the wild, natural beauty of Patagonia, you’ll have some quite extraordinary options for places to stay. Having recently come back from an inspection trip, here are my top 3 picks for a lodge-based trip in Torres del Paine National Park (the jewel of Chilean Patagonia):
1. EcoCamp Suite Domes
Make yourself at home in a Suite Dome at the EcoCamp, a small complex of individual dome-shaped hotel rooms, ideally located a glance away from the granite torres, or towers, that give the Park its name. Don’t let the name EcoCamp fool you; this is not camping. Your spacious, heated Suite Dome comes complete with a private bathroom, and is just a few steps away from the community domes, where you’ll enjoy excellent meals, sip Chilean wine and plan out the next day’s adventure with your guides. You can hike right from your dome to the base of the Paine Towers, and you can feel good about experiencing nature while minimizing your impact on it: the Ecocamp is powered by solar panels and a micro-hydro turbine in a nearby stream, and has won awards for its sustainability and light footprint.
2. Tierra Patagonia Hotel
This brand new wooden work of art blends into the shore of Lago Saramiento, on the eastern end of the Park, not far from the Argentine border. Built with planks of local lenga wood that interlock in an impossible wave shape, Tierra Patagonia features panoramic windows in every room that look right out at the lake and the Paine Massif behind it. Their fleet of vehicles take you on your choice of daily excursions, and you’re free to hop out and take pictures of the herds of wild guanacos (llama-like distant cousins of the camel) that run by along the way.
3. Explora Patagonia – Hotel Salto Chico
Located alongside the Salto Chico waterfall on Lake Pehoé, right in the heart of the Park, this beautiful adventure lodge is the most upscale option available, perfect for those wanting to spare no expense on the Patagonia trip of a lifetime. A fire that burnt about 8% of the entire Park came dangerously close to the hotel in December 2011. Since then they have restored the bright, inviting interior to repair smoke damage and have rerouted some of the excursions to areas not affected by the fire. Despite the fire damage to the surrounding landscape, which was just beginning to show signs of new life when I visited in April 2012, Explora’s location is awesome. Their own private dock and catamaran allow you to enjoy boating and hiking day trips to the nearby Grey Glacier and French Valley, two of the highlights of the Park.