Anchored to the shores of mountain-mirroring Lake Pehoé, luxury hotel Explora Patagonia hunkers down into the craggy landscape of the Torres del Paine National Park. It’s surrounded by a dramatic granite amphitheatre of jagged mountains. Stays here are an indoor-outdoor affair, on foot, horseback or in comfort of the hotel’s open-air Jacuzzis. You also have a front-row seat for views of Cordillera Paine and its hardy animal population: a brace of black-breasted eagles, or a lonely guanaco. Back indoors, roaring fires and Scandi-lite interiors ensure Explora’s brand of humble luxury softens the edges of this remote and rugged region.
3pm, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 12 noon.
Double rooms from £1012.23 ($1,270).
Rates include all meals, drinks, transfers, guided excursions and spa access.
Don’t hold back on getting a thorough drenching in Patagonia’s famous four-seasons-in-one-day weather: the hotel has warming racks for drying gear so your waterproofs will be toasty the following day.
At the hotel
Spa, boutique, working ranch, guides and free WiFi. In rooms: a seriously impressive view, hydromassage bath tub.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the rooms is a study in rugged luxury, with clean modern lines, Mapuche-style patterned textiles, softly curving blonde-beech walls and slate-tiled bathrooms. Interior design elements are somewhat secondary when the view is this good; there’s a band of windows wrapping around the full front of the building, bestowing each room with glorious panorama. Don’t be shy and keep your curtains open on the first night of your stay, so you’ll wake up to the view. Exploradores Suites are especially blessed, overlooking Macizo del Paine; the Salto Chico Rooms have calming waterfall views. There are no TVs or air-conditioning, but hydromassage bath tubs in each room provide enough entertainment and relieve post-hike muscle soreness, and heating ensures you won’t get – ahem – chilly in Chile.
The wood-clad, indoor heated pool feels like an alpine hideaway – it’s more of a lap pool than a spot for posing. There’s a mini fridge so you can enjoy champagne in the hot tubs, too.
An outside dash is required to reach the Ona spa, located 100 metres from the main building connected by a sloped wooden path. After a strenuous hike, there’s nothing more soothing than slipping into the waters of the heated, covered pool or warming tired limbs in the sauna. The four open-air Jacuzzis have views of the Paine River and massages with essential oils can be tailored to relax or energise.
Look to rugged outdoorsy brands for gear that looks good and protects you from the elements.
Wheelchair access is limited due to the terrain.
All ages are welcome, though there are no facilities or menus for kids. Rather, bring older, outdoorsy kids for ‘guess-what-I-did-on-holiday’ bragging rights. One extra bed (for ages 12 and under) can be added to all rooms, on request.
Where possible, the hotel uses indigenous materials and local produce. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) body has recognised the hotel’s many efforts to promote sustainability, including its award-winning architecture that negates the need for air-conditioning.
A ribbon of windows around the front of the hotel ensures all tables have a distracting view of the lake below.
Nobody’s judging what you’re wearing: chinos and a shirt for him and her will fit in just fine.
Despite being five hours from the nearest conurbation, the hotel’s fresh sustenance belies its isolated setting. Much of the food is locally sourced and dependent on the season, though lamb is a stand-out dish year-round. The ever-changing menu is packed with Chilean classics and all meals are accompanied by robust and full-bodied wines. If the weather permits, make sure you get your name down for the spit-roasted lamb, served alfresco at the quincho (an outdoor kitchen and barbecue). Share a mate with the huasos and listen to their stories before tucking in.
The Explorer’s Bar is the place to congregate in the evening to discuss plans for the following day with guides and guests alike. Local liqueurs, Chilean wines and cocktails – an especially piquant Pisco sour – make up the menu, with nibble-y bar snacks on offer. And as you’re in Chile, you can be certain that the vino is muy, muy bueno.
Dine in the restaurant from 7am to 10pm. Drinks are poured in the bar from 7am to 11pm.
To disconnect from civilisation you’ve got to travel far away – five hours from Chilean city Punta Arenas, in fact. Explora Patagonia has the distinction of being one of the only hotels at the heart of Torres del Paine National Park.
Fly direct to Santiago, then catch a flight to Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, the closest airports to Explora Patagonia. Our Smith24 team of travel experts are on hand round the clock to find the best flight for you and book your tickets.
Between November and March, the hotel offers free transfers from Punta Arenas (a five-hour drive) and Puerto Natales (a two-hour drive) at set times. Distances in this part of the world are vast, but if you’re determined to drive you’ll need a four-wheel drive and brace yourself for bumpy terrain. You can break up the journey by stopping at the Milodón Cave (where you can learn about Patagonia’s prehistoric residents), about three hours from Punta Arenas and 30 minutes from Puerto Natales. Once you eventually arrive, on-site parking is free.
Worth getting out of bed for
When staying here, you’re five hours from the nearest town at the bottom of South America, but there’s plenty to do once you get there. Explora Patagonia offers more than 40 different activities to keep you occupied from dawn to dusk – there are no restaurants and cafés to distract here, just the great outdoors to get explore on foot, horseback or by car. The hotel’s guides are bilingual and thought to be the best in the Torres del Paine, leading groups of no more than eight on gentle walks, horseback treks or hikes. Every evening they’ll discuss the following day’s plans with guests over dinner.. Trek to the Grey Glacier; gallop through lenga trees and across the pampas with the huasos (Chilean cowboys); explore the lake on board the hotel’s catamaran; or spot wildlife like guanacos, condors and pumas on a scenic stroll. There are excursions for all fitness levels, from soft treks to hardcore hikes, so you won’t find yourself too out of puff. At the hotel’s Estancia, 2 de Enero, located 53 kilometres from the lodge, you can learn as well as explore. Sheep shearing, driving livestock and breaking-in horses might not be skills you’ll find much use for at home, but when else are you going to get the chance to ‘rope a steer’ on a 6,000-hectare ranch? Horse-lovers can enjoy the company of Explora’s 26 Patagonian steeds, each one raised on the Ibáñez family estate in central Chile and selected for their ability to traverse the terrain.
‘Mr Explora must have some seriously good contacts,’ Mr Smith said to me, eyebrows raised.
Mr Smith might be my rather more cynical other half, but he wasn’t wrong. With a direct view of one of South America’s most iconic and most photographed images – the cuernos of Torres del Paine – you couldn’t ask for a better location for a hotel in the national park. Sit that hotel on top of a bright blue glacier lake straddling a waterfall, and you’ve just made it one of the most spectacular locations for a hotel on the planet. Just looking out of your bedroom window is the experience of a lifetime. But the Explora experience started much earlier than that. Over 350km away on a bumpy gravel road, to be precise.
Journeying into the park is all part of the adventure and gives you a true appreciation for the isolation of this place. Setting off from Punta Arenas by the penguin-lined coast, we passed fertile, flat green pastures with baby lambs chasing their mothers in meadows filled with yellow flowers. It is late spring time in Patagonia, but a silver snake of snow on the horizon and blue storm clouds up ahead reminds you that even in the throes of spring, the weather is unpredictable at best.
Our jaws dropped at the check-in desk, and remained so as the manager ushered us into the restaurant for some lunch. ‘Where would you like to sit? Overlooking the waterfall, overlooking the lake, or overlooking the Paine?’ Mr Smith and I couldn’t even muster a reply from our state of flabberghastery. ‘Take the corner table – you can see all the viewpoints from there,’ smiled the manager, kindly making the right decision for us.
It’s no secret that Explora has sensational views – you can see them all on the website before you arrive – but even the impossibly beautiful photos don’t do it justice. Each sunrise, each sunset and every moment of rain and shine in between casts a different light over the massif, highlighting the cool mineral tones in the 140-million-year-old stone sculpture which sits in stark contrast to the pristine blue waters and carpet of green and silver forest below. I could have happily just sat in an armchair looking at the view for three days, but that would have defeated the point of being here.
Explora isn’t really a hotel in a traditional sense, and so nor was this a traditional hotel review. Architecturally-speaking the hotel looks like a glacier from cyberspace with disjointed layers of white panelling and shimmering oblong windows, which on the inside translates into panoramic views shared over four floors, each giving you a different perspective of the surrounding landscape.
There’s a stripped-down luxury that respects modern comforts but encourages you towards escapism: you’ll find no WiFi or television in the rooms but the bathroom does have a Jacuzzi tub with a window perfectly in line to let your mind surf the landscape instead. The focus isn’t necessarily on seven-star service inside, but rather a seven-star experience of Torres del Paine outside.
Following lunch, Mr Smith and I enrolled on a two hour hike. We ducked under blossoming trees, spotted wild orchids and trampled over puddles from the rain that morning. When we reached the lookout point we all sat dumbfounded staring at the views. Our guide served us warm coffee with a healthy dash of Baileys which he had magically conjured from his backpack. This was just a taste of the three days ahead.
Explora’s focus is on the expeditions, each one about enjoying the wilderness and unspoilt beauty of Patagonia. Whether you are doing the classic W circuit of the mountains in bite-sized chunks, galavanting on horses in their remote Patagonian estancia, or going on a nature safari to look out for pumas, there’s no lack of amazing things to do and see here. The only question is what Mother Nature will allow you to do – every evening our guides would draw up new plans for expeditions according to the ever-changing weather forecast.
Mr Smith and I chose to fill our days with hiking, horse riding and glacier-chasing. Every expedition would give us a new experience of the park and a new physical challenge. We watched guanacos leaping in front of us, traced the handprints of ancient cave paintings and stood staring face to face with the 30 metre high wall of ice at the tongue of Glacier Grey. Everyday Mr Smith and I came back red-cheeked and smiling like school children.
On our return each evening we would race to the spa before dinner time to enjoy a hot, outdoor jacuzzi and glass of bubbly while intermittently cooling off with a quick dip in the milky blue, and ice-cold, lake below. Over dinner we would catch up with the other guests on their day exploring the park, sharing tips and photos and comparing hiking blisters as badges of honour. Occasionally the conversation would stray into politics and economics, until a magnificent condor would sweep past the window sucking us all back into the mesmerising landscape.
There were several moments which reminded you that Explora is all about location, location, location. On my last night, as I walked back from the outdoor spa in my bathrobe – having indulged a little longer than Mr Smith in our nightly jacuzzi – an Andean deer sat right by the pathway grooming himself in the magical dusk-light. I slowed down, and sat quietly next to him for a few moments. We eyed each other up, both of us caught off-guard during our evening bathing ritual.
In this peaceful moment sat with one of the native residents, I felt enormously privileged that we too were able to call this our home for a few days. Perhaps thanks to Mr Explora’s contact book, we were given a most intimate close-up with one of the world’s most truly outstanding locations.