We have recently returned from our joint 50th birthday trip to South America; a month-long adventure through four countries, in a continent we had never visited before. Whilst we encountered many iconic places along our journey, from Christ the Redeemer in Brazil to Machu Picchu in Peru, it was the Patagonian wilderness that has left the most lasting impression on us both.
Covering a staggering 777,000 sq km (300,000 sq miles), Patagonia accounts for one third of the total landmass of Argentina and half of neighbouring Chile (a simple Google search established the landmass is 65,000 sq km larger than France!).
Our adventure to the far south of the continent commenced in El Calafate (Argentina). The moment you leave the small regional airport you are in the pristine environment of Patagonia; azure blue glacial lakes, mountains, endless plains and the cleanest air we had ever breathed.
The highlight of staying in El Calafate was a visit to the awe inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier. Measuring 30 km long and 5km wide (and 270m deep) the self-sustaining glacier terminates at the edge of Argeninto Lake. At its face, on average 75m high, the sheer wall of ice was glistening like a huge majestic ice sculpture in the February sunshine – an amazing contrast against the milky blue lake waters and the crystal clear blue skies above.
A walkway built along the lake shores, about 1km from the glacier’s face, allows you to gain various vantage points; every turn giving a new vista and perspective of the natural wonder. At the nearest viewing point, you can actually hear the creaking & cracking from within the ice as it inches forward. The occasional sound, like a gunshot, announcing small ice-falls plummeting into the lake below.
After a 6km walk, we then boarded a boat to take us within 300m of the ice face; gaining the most spectacular perspective of all. The sheer magnitude & beauty was breathtaking. As the boat made its final turn to return to the dock, we witnessed a huge 40m ice-stack collapse and, by pure luck, managed to catch it on video.
From El Calafate, our journey took us by a small bus for nearly 5 hours, further south, over the Chilean border to the Torres del Paines National Park. Along the journey, the vastness of the wilderness becomes evermore apparent. The majestic Andean condors, guanaco and the ostrich-like rhea often the only signs of life along the way.
After the final hour, along an unpaved road, we arrived at the architecturally stunning Tierra Patagonia Hotel. Constructed from locally sourced beech, the hotel is almost hidden from view as you approach. Its contours following the hillside carved by the winds that blow across the Sarmiento Lake.
We were warmly greeted by the hotel’s General Manger, Nicholas Russ. A consummate hospitality professional, Nick introduced us to various team members who, we would learn, would make our stay the most memorable of our month-long trip.
From every bedroom & public space, the views across the lake towards the various peaks of the National Park were mesmerising; changing every minute of the day. We could have sat there for hours with a glass of Chilean wine, gazing out and the wildness beyond. However, as much as a we could have sunk into a cozy chair and enjoyed the full bottle, we were here to get out & explore!
Adjacent to the bar & restaurant, the nerve centre of outdoor activities is situated. Basillo & Kineret guided us through what would be on offer during the next three days. Giving us a taster of Patagonia and to bring the hotel’s mantra of “At the end of the world, adventure begins” to life. A choice of half or full-day activities are offered, each tailored to different abilities from challenging mountain trekking to mountain bike rides and many others in between.
The activities take place in small groups, never more than 8 people, and are lead by friendly, engaging & truly knowledgeable guides. We undertook three different treks that encompassed very different elements of the diverse landscape within just 30 mins of the hotel.
The wildlife, flora & fauna differed every few kilometres along our routes, the guides on hand to explain what we were witnessing – passionate about the environment and protecting the pristine nature of Patagonia for all who would follow in our footsteps.
On our last day, we took a late afternoon horse ride. The gauchos leading us through totally different landscapes than witnessed so far in Patagonia and highlighted, once again, the huge diversity of the region.
Included in the cost per night at Tierra Patagonia are all of the activities, the wonderful spa with infinity pool and; all of your meals (breakfast, lunch & dinner) plus drinks (other than premium wines & spirits). The meals at the hotel were excellent. The breakfast buffet was sumptuous with an a la carte menu too for your favourite eggs; lunch & dinner were three-course affairs with three or four options for each course (and if you were out for a full day’s activity, packed lunches were also provided)…. and the Chilean ‘Lapostolle’ wines served were fantastic, we are definitely Carménère converts!
A post dinner digestive, capturing the final glimpses of daylight across the lake, were just the perfect end to each day, recalling tales from the captivating scenery we had witnessed..
Tierra Patagonia is only one of three properties under the Tierra portfolio. The hotel, its location and its people, provide a very special place to stay and if you are planning to visit this most magical of lands, we would highly recommend the all encompassing (luxury) experience that the property offers. You can reach the hotel either via Argentina’s El Calafate airport or via the Chilean capital, Santiago, and then onto the regional airport of Punta Arenas airport – Tierra Patagonia will organise transfers from either airport directly to the hotel.
Patagonia is a truly amazing place and we feel very privileged to have been able to make the journey to one of the most remote places on the planet. We will for ever cherish the memories created during this special trip.