TORRES DEL PAINE, CHILE] — Okay, here’s the deal: the Tierra Hotels in Chile have an awesome setup, all built around the adventure side of travel.
There are two different sister hotels, one in the Atacama Desert in the north and the other right next to/inside the Torres del Paine national park in Patagonia. You pay one (hefty) price per day, but all your meals and drinks are included, but what is really cool is the “Guide Experience” that comes included. Each hotel has about 10-15 trained guides (and a dozen nice new vans) whose sole purpose is to maximize your experience in these magical places.
When you arrive, they just ask “What are you in the mood for? You want hikes? You want relaxation? You want views? You want a horseback ride? You want spa?” They have a set destination tours, with half-day or full, that you can setup, change or do on the fly.
They’ve picked out the best things to do, the best sights to see. The rest is up to what you’re up for. Then you go.
It really is a great setup. You pile all that together — the incredible decor, the guided trips, the excellent food and booze — and it really is worth every treasured penny, resulting in a trip you’ll never forget. The groups are small — so you’re not stuck with a dorky group the whole time like on a cruise ship — and can be anywhere from 2 to 9 people. People are always coming and going, so there’s new people everyday and you get to mix with a different group on each outing, or pair up again with people you like. The drivers drop you off, then guides show you the way and know everything about the adventure you’re on. From hiking to flora, fauna or geology. They all know what they’re doing and teach you things all along the way. I don’t usually do guides — I usually like to figure it all out myself and get lost — but this is one sweet setup.
The hotels are small — like 40 rooms are so — so the feeling is more like a small lodge and rather intimate. You can be by yourself or meet interesting folks — and man, when you’re at the end of the world in a very nice place, the people you meet are just like you. I met incredible people all week, and the notes we all shared — where have you been? where should I go? Got any cool places in Buenos Aires? — alone are worth the price of admission. You go on hikes, then often agree to hook up later and share a great dinner…or do you own thing.
There are other similar hotel setups — the Explora, who started it all long ago and the Awasi, considered the Mercedes Benz, complete with one-to-one guides and private cars — both have sister hotels in each place and you run into them on the trails. But I like the aesthetic of the Tierras; great architecture, not as formal and totally friendly.
You’ve probably seen this hotel featured in all the top travel mags. The design is off the charts cool; designed to meld into the landscape and not stick out like an eyesore to others. The whole place is trimmed in a special birch tree — the Lenga — which is from the area, is sturdy as hell, ages with time and totally fits into the dramatic landscape. From afar, the place blends right into the landscape and is hard to pick out — it just looks like a ridge line. Totally cool.
What’s awesome about the Tierra Hotels in Chile is that have a small army of experienced guides included in your stay. Each day, you pick a different place to go, whatever you’re in the mood for. A big hike. A lazy stroll. Or just some easy sightseeing. And then they take you there. They know exactly where to go, when to avoid crowds and the best time of day to get great pics. And teach you along the way.
You don’t waste valuable time getting lost. You don’t have to figure things out. They ask what you’re interested in and take you there. Surprising you, all along the way.
I’d never stayed at a place like that before, normally I prefer to get lost on my own. But I tell ya, this changed my whole way of thinking. I got more out of my stay than any other place I’ve been. What a great experience.
The Guides. They made the trip. They don’t just lead you on a donkey ride, they care about you, learn about what you like and your interests, and even with others in the group, know what you’re interested in and talk one-to-one to you. “Pssst, Dan, there’s going to be an awesome picture coming up around the bend….get your camera ready…” This is Chris, an awesome and knowledgable guide from Australia. Ask for Chris.
Every detail is well thought out, well-planned. Going on more of an easy car tour? They surprise you not just with “lunch” but a small feast. Wine included.Going for a hike? “Here, I’ve packed a lunch for you” (…and have been carrying it for you.)Need some water? “Here, I have a bottle for you.”
While the rest of the group may delve into their own thing. One person might be interested in birds. They’ll not just ignore you. They come up, point out the bird, tell you about its species, how they live, etc. Extremely knowledgeable about everything. The geology. The history. The cool stories about what makes Patagonia special.
The hotel is right next to the boundaries of the park, so you really feel like you’re in it. And you are. There are very few hotels in the area, this is one of them.And when you hear “national park” don’t think of the typical car-choked national park, clogged with chugging RVs and stupid people. When you go out exploring each day, you might pass ten, maybe twelve other cars IN THE WHOLE PARK. Often fewer. It is like having the whole park to yourself.
Okay, after all that drooling. Here’s where you find out more.
You can book it directly, but really, I just called my local travel agent and they booked it through a New Jersey wholesaler called Maxim Tours. They really know the logistics and have been there themselves — how far things are, how long things take, what the weather is like, etc. — and will plan it all for you, including all the critical transfers. They got it down. Don’t try to figure it out yourself (like I normally do). They know how to do it. Their on-the-ground logistics people are ProTours and they were really great. Nice meets at the airport and smoothed all the logistics. You just show up and enjoy.
This is not a cheap trip — plan on $10,000 for a couple for a ten day trip — combined with a visit to the Tierra in the Atacama Desert, all transfers, hotel nights in Santiago and Punta Arenas, just about everything is included in that amount except airfare. Which sounds like a lot, but when you work it out and compare to a routine trip to Hawaii or DisneyWorld, where they nickel and dime you left and right, with inflated price, twelve dollar drinks and breakfast is $25 — this place is the best dollar-for-bang trip you’ll ever take. And it happens to be at the end of the world, with things you’ve never seen and an experience that you’ll talk about for a lifetime.
Plan on ten days, here’s how it works out: Land in Santiago and overnight in a cool hotel, fly to Atacama, three nights, fly all day down to Punta Arenas (optional overnight) then a four hour drive north (taken care of by Tierra) and four nights in Patagonia, then back to Santiago for an overnight. I paid for it all upfront, ate and drank life a fish/bear and toured all I wanted and never spent an extra dollar. The only thing you add are extra tips, but really tips are included.
Here’s a great article in Forbes, and Conde Nast Traveler, and Travel & Leisure. Here’s the TripAdvisor review. Here are two awesome articles from Departures magazine. A Patagonia Guide. and another on ranking the different hotels.
Okay, I’ll shut up now…. just go there and write back….
Last visited November 2013
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