In a feat greater than scaling Mount Fitz Roy (Argentine Patagonia’s soaring poster boy), cosseting wilderness lodge Explora El Chaltén succeeds in making you feel at home in territory where humans are something of an afterthought. After all, exploring Patagonia can feel like you’re snooping on another world. It’s a land claimed by rare huemuls, Disney-princess-eyed guanacos, murder-mittened big cats, birds of soaring proportions and other creatures, who navigate the jagged torres, vertiginous miradors, furry pampas fields and encroaching ice sheets deftly. But while stays here brim with adventure (most included), the lodge feels like a welcoming refuge, gathering the returning bold and brave round fire-cooked meals and plum Malbecs, and letting you hear the call of the wild in comfort.
Rates include all meals, soft drinks and some wines, entrance fees to national parks, guided explorations, and transfers in private planes and comfortable vans. A minimum three-night stay is required.
The hotel has a small shop onsite, where you can purchase extra gear if needed, plus a range of local handicrafts and books about the region.
The season runs from 1 October to 30 April
At the hotel
Spa with saunas and Jacuzzis, lounge, free WiFi, laundry service (charged). In rooms: Bathrobes and slippers, heating and air-conditioning.
Our favourite rooms
Rooms have a simple Scandi feel to them, lined in blonde wood, with modern furnishings and a few homey touches: rugs, throws, robes and slippers. If you think that sounds a touch sparse, don’t worry, embellishment comes courtesy of the views; through large picture windows a panorama of riotous colour and jaw-slackening set dressing will capture and hold your attention. There are no dud aspects here, but the views are slightly better on the upper level.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to come to this wildly remote part of the world and disconnect further still. The hotel’s spa, set amid the ñirre forest, is a place of quiet contemplation, with its lounging space facing the Eléctrico River, two massage rooms, five alfresco Jacuzzis, and two saunas.
In a place where you could experience four seasons in the space of a day, you’ll need a wardrobe that you can shed and bulk up as you go. Pack various layers and waterproofs, fleeces, long socks (to avoid nips), gloves and gaiters, hats, sunglasses and a small backpack.
Be patient with the WiFi – the hotel has it, but it can be a bit sluggish.
Provided your children are bigger than a bird of prey can carry, they’re welcome here, and an extra bed can be added to each room. The easier hikes and day trips by van will be the least taxing for little ones.
Explora El Chaltén lives in the Los Huemules Conservation Reserve and the group is, in fact, a significant stakeholder in the wild expanse, so – when it comes to eco-friendliness – it keeps its house in order (so to speak). The lodge itself was constructed offsite, using natural materials, before being rebuilt in modular units on stilts amid the forests, ensuring a light touch on the landscape, with any disturbed trees replanted elsewhere. And, it's entirely carbon neutral, with green bonds in place to keep it that way (the B Corp company is even retroactively wiping clean its carbon footprint too), water is treated in a plant onsite to cut down on usage, Earth-kind products are used throughout (including the deliciously scented herbal bath products), guides are schooled in protecting the local flora and fauna, and the kitchen works exclusively with small local suppliers when they can’t harvest what they need nearby. Plus, they’ve joined the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action and Tourism in its efforts, and partnered with the Association of Friends of the Los Glaciares National Park.
The reserve looks good from all angles here, so any table will do as long as nothing’s blocking your view.
Casual as can be – you could hike right in from the trail and take a seat.
Dinner might be as surprising as one of your hikes here – conceived by Argentine chef Pablo Jesús Rivero (whose Buenos Aires restaurant Don Julio has ridden high in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), he’s taken inspiration from the surroundings and traditional Andean techniques (i.e. fire, and lots of it), plus seasonal raw ingredients only purchased from local farmers or harvested onsite, to create a concept of mud-oven-baked and barbecued plates that arrive in no orderly fashion. Expect smoky meats and vegetables, palate-cleansing salads, hearty stews and warming empanadas, and specialties as changeable as the climate here.
Yes, you’re deep in the rough-and-tumble remoteness of Patagonia – but, you’re no animal – a decent glass of day-toasting Malbec is easily come by here, and Argentinian and Chilean wine regions are well represented in the lodge’s cellar. Plus, the Explorer’s Bar has a range of local spirits.
Ruta Provincial No. 41 km 17
Estancia Los Huemules
Explora El Chaltén is in the private Los Huemules Conservation Reserve, on the north bank of the Eléctrico River. So expect pristine lenga and ñirre forests, sparkling lagunas, megafauna glaciers and stern spikes of torres all around.
El Calafate airport is the closest, around a three- to four-hour drive away; you can hop on the hotel’s free shared shuttle that arrives at 12 noon (this also stops off at some hotels in El Calafate at 11am). International arrivals can land at Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires and board a three-hour connecting flight. Alternatively, arrive on the Chilean side, flying into Arturo Merino Benítez International, then jump on a flight to Punta Natales (a three-hour flight) and drive an hour to the Don Guillermo border crossing; or land at Punta Arenas (around a six-hour flight), which is a three-hour drive from the border station. The price you pay for remote spectacles may be a roundabout and drawn-out route, but an unforgettable one nonetheless, across the Patagonian steppe with a stop at La Leona (a hideout for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid and other banditos, and rest stop for famed climbers), before rock god Mount Fitz Roy (and his foothill soldiers) rears magnificently into view.
If you’re combining your stay with Explora Torres del Paine, the eight- to nine-hour one-way trip between lodges is free on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays (US$350 a person, for a minimum of two travelers on other days). And the Explora Connects programs, where you hop from lodge to lodge, include air and ground transfers.
Worth getting out of bed for
If someone strapped an ECG to you as you get a first glimpse of Los Huemules reserve and the staggering hoard of natural wonders that await within, the monitor line might match the wild zig-zag jags of the massifs that dwarf the lodge in every direction as your excitement builds. Patagonia brings the drama when it comes to landscaping, and the sanctified expanse hosting the lodge shoulders much of its loveliness. Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy (such a star, its outline is the Patagonia clothing logo) loom like villainous fortresses, lakes and lagoons pooling in barren valleys shine like TV screens in the dark, lenga and ñirre forests greenly upholster rollicking rock formations, and snow paint-splatters the scene. El Chaltén is known as the trekking capital of Argentina, and while you’re here, this wonderworld is all yours to explore, so strap on some sturdy boots and get out there. In the reserve itself, trail the rare huemul deer, pumas and foxes along the banks of the Eléctrico and Diablo Rivers and through lush valleys, stalk along ridges to take in primordial views, watch for condors, woodpeckers, owls and more beside lagunas Cónodor, Azul and del Diablo, and tackle the pocked rock faces of the torres (for both beginners and old hands). And, when you’ve caught your breath, there’s Los Glaciares National Park next door, where glittering ice fields, frosted cirques and eerily whistling beasts of hulking glaciers add mystical iridescence to an already magical landscape of forest, shrubland and ancient peaks. Here you’ll seek out the Los Tres Lagoon, marvel at the hefts of the Perito Moreno and Piedras Blancas glaciers, visit the estancia of Andreas Madsen a Danish pioneer who helped to settle El Chaltén, ascend the Paso del Cuadrado and Cerro Madsen mountains, and clamber up to miradors overlooking Mount Fitz Roy, the Marconi Glacier, and the Los Andes range. Lago del Desierto also offers opportunities for spotting the local wildlife and showing off yet more ‘seriously, Patagonia?’ scenery. Whether autumnally aflame, spring green or opalesque with ice, the lake’s dense forest, waterfalls and trekking routes to the Vespignani Glacier make it a crucible for adventure. And for those looking at the vertiginous climbs and gasping treks and thinking ‘pah, piece of cake’, then muster up all your adrenaline for trekking out to and over the South Patagonia ice field (Campo de Hielo Sur), a full-throttle escapade with hiking, climbing and zip-lining for up to six days (stopping in the Cagliero refuge).
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this creature-comforts lodge amid Pachamama’s most monumental work and unpacked their gaiters and GoPros, a full account of their forays with torres will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Explora El Chaltén in Argentinian Patagonia…
Patagonia is what you get if Bob Ross had a breakdown and swapped his ‘happy little trees’ for torres with anger issues, haughty glaciers, and rivers and valleys with narcissistic tendencies. Here, nature, in its allowable self-aggrandisement, doesn’t concern itself with human trifles – why should you when fanged cats, birds with turboprop wingspans, skittish armadillos, endangered huemuls and doe-eyed guanacos are your diverse collection of kin – and it violently takes spectacular turns through the seasons (sometimes all four in one day). However, set in the private and left-to-its-own-devices Los Huemules reserve, Explora El Chaltén is a cosy eco-conscious refuge of human proportions where you can watch the colours turn through spicy autumnals, to fresh verdure to sombre dark stone and the opalesque sparkle of the glaciers; and gaze out to the looming figure of Mount Fitz Roy, the leafy amphitheatre of the Eléctrico Valley, and snaggletooth peaks of the Marconi Glacier. From here you can brave craggy rock faces, scale mountains, trek along ridges to see-for-miles-around miradors; or find an otherworldly peace beside luminous lakes and in deep lenga forest. Every day there’s a new scene to fall madly in love with, and a new adventure to embark on, all fodder for sharing around flame-cooked meals and South American wines when you head back for shelter. This part of Argentinian Patagonia may not always be hospitable, but you’ll feel very welcome here nonetheless.