Though our past hikes on the Milford Track (New Zealand), Inca Trail (Machu Picchu), Glacier (U.S.), and various areas of Switzerland and Austria were particularly memorable, we must confess that the hiking, horseback riding, and spectacular setting of relatively inaccessible Patagonia is unparalleled. The critical contrast is Patagonia’s pristine remoteness: no mass tourism or crowded hiking trails here!
When hiking a wide range of areas on the Patagonian Andes, it is easy to see how Torres del Paine still has hundreds of unnamed mountains, with many points inaccessible and unexplored. Located at the tip of the South American continent, the outstanding national parks and private reserves stretch 1242 miles across the Andean wilderness. Interestingly, during my last visit with a small party of 5 Explora hikers, we had several opportunities to observe giant condors flying overhead, while never seeing another human being outside of our own tiny group!
The extraordinary Explora Patagonia is our favorite luxury lodge in the entire 1,242-foot stretch of the Patagonia Andes. The 49-room Explora Patagonia, Chile is located in the very heart of Patagonia, in the unspoiled Torres del Paine National Park, sitting on the shores of Lake Pehoe. This lodge is the quintessential base for exploring the montage of ecosystems in Torres del Paine National Park, designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve! Despite its remote location, Explora Patagonia provides all essential luxuries in a comfortable, understated way that reflects Patagonia’s natural environment. The sleek, linga-wood designed rooms seem large when looking out at the splendid views. A deciduous, mountain tree, the Patagonia linga is now fully preserved in its unique South American environment. Though it is perhaps not as architecturally striking as the Singular, the Explora more than makes up for it with one of the most spectacularly picturesque settings of any lodge we have stayed at in the world! Explora’s luxurious amenities include open-air hot-tubs with the Paine River insight, a heated pool, spa, sauna, Chilean bar, and its own horse stable. With the area’s highest quality guides, wonderful food selections, and many hiking and horseback riding options, this place is certainly worthy of a four-night stay. Of special note, Explora is the only lodge in Patagonia with its own bred and trained stable of 26 horses (including Arabian!). All horses have been raised on the Ibanez Estate, not far from the Explora property.
Explora Patagonia Hiking Options
Depending on your physical fitness level and general hiking interests, Explora offers a wide variety of hiking options ranging from one to three-hour treks to a full day, eight to 10-hours trek. Of the more rigorous hikes, the Base Torres Hike, passes through the lush Ascencio River Valley and Chilean Refugio Valley, leading to the base of the majestic Paine Towers. This is a full-day, eight-hour, excursion. For a shorter, more relaxing excursion, the Lago Grey Hike begins by crossing the hanging bridge over the torrential Pingo River, walking through a lenga forest until you reach the shores of Lake Grey (generally quite windy), where you will be able to see the enormous icebergs that break off the Grey Glacier. Explora also offers various horseback riding options including a family beginner level, as well as more demanding, full-day rides for more experienced riders, with ascents of 486 to 762 feet.
Explora Patagonia Sustainability
Dedicated to preserving the environment of Patagonia, Explora’s policy consists of three tenants: a commitment to the environment, support and involvement with local communities, and research. The hotel is designed to maximize the use of natural light and limit their electrical power consumption in addition to featuring its own on-site water treatment plant, allowing Explora to supply each traveler with fresh water throughout their hikes. Each guide is meticulously trained to leave no impact on the environment, respecting the frailty of the eco-system. In 2014, Explora joined with the Fundación AMA Torres del Paine and the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF) to commit to playing an active part in the reforestation of Torres del Paine National Park. You may rest easy here knowing that you’re enjoying this natural wonder without leaving a heavy environmental footprint.
Though we prefer the Explora Patagonia’s unique location as the only luxury lodge within the confines of Torres del Paine National Park, we consider the 5-star Singular Patagonia to be the highest quality property in all of Patagonia! An approximately 10-minute drive from the town of Puerto Natales, the Singular is built on the National Historic Landmark site of an early 20th-century meatpacking and refrigeration plant. When walking through the various areas of the 57-room property, you see how much the sites industrial equipment has been integrated within the striking, modern design of the hotel. We were most impressed with the Singular’s 19-foot glass walls with picturesque views of the sea and mountain peaks. We feel the dining here is among the finest we have seen in all of South America: fresh breakfast buffet at Desayunador and lunch and dinner at El Asador for grilled meats and regional specialties. The homemade ice cream here is beyond delicious! Amenities include a spa, indoor/outdoor pool, and outdoor excursions with the Singular’s well-traveled guides. Please note that due to high-demand, spa reservations must be made a month in advance.
Singular Patagonia Hiking Options
Here, you may opt for a half-day hike for all levels of experience. Trekking to the Mylodon Caves, one of Singular’s beginner hikes, is one of the most important archeological and paleontological sites in South Patagonia. These caves hold evidence of human presence dating back to 6,000 years BC. Meandering through various caves in the area, the excursion leads to the Large Mylodon Cave; 200 meters deep & 80 meters wide. For those who want more of a challenge, Trekking Mirador Dorotea reveals the truly magnificent fauna offered in this national park such as the Antarctic beech and lenga forests. The hike’s peak height reaches 600 meters above sea level, allowing for a fabulous panoramic view. On Randy’s April 2017 visit, while hiking with the Singular guide, Andrea, he was amazed by the spectacle of four condors flying overhead for over 20 minutes! With the condor nest just below the Mirador Dorotea’s peak, this is an ideal trek for a chance to observe these giant birds.
In-house manager, Valentin Virasoro, and his staff create an intimate, family-style, atmosphere at Eolo that makes you feel most welcome. With only 17 suites, this simple, upscale lodge, located approximately 15 miles from El Calafate, is truly a heavenly ranch-style property. All rooms offer varying sweeping views of Lago Anita Valley, Ago Argentino, and Torres del Paine. Similar to other high-end lodges in Patagonia, Eolo offers extensive hiking, biking, and horseback riding activities in the surrounding picturesque areas. Please note: we will arrange a separate private tour excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier from Eolo. The lodge includes a small indoor pool and a TV room for those who need a CNN fix. Noted chef, Juan Pablo Bonaver, makes dinner here a delicious, fine dining experience, though no fancy clothes required. It is no exaggeration to say that the braised lamb Randy had here was perhaps the most tender and delicious he has had anywhere.
Eolo Patagonia Hiking Options
Among the planet’s most dynamic and accessible ice fields, Glacier Perito Moreno is the remarkable centerpiece of the southern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Referred to locally as Glaciar Moreno, it measures 18 miles long, three miles wide, and nearly 200 feet high (approximately 20 stories!). Incredibly, the unique feature of Moreno is the ice in continuous advance (up to six to seven feet per day!), causing huge icebergs to fall from its face every few minutes.
To fully observe and hear the sensation of the falling ice is a rare, singular experience! This glacier is one of the most awe-inspiring natural forces on earth. Experiencing the glacier via wooden walkways or trekking on the actual glacier with crampons, the Perito Moreno is not something you want to pass up while visiting the southern cone. To be in the presence of the glacier emits the feeling that you are in another world, as its vastness envelopes you and you feel you cannot look away. It is truly a natural force that cannot be captured by film or photograph!