Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chilean Patagonia's Latest Lodge

In a post just a couple months ago, I noted that Chile’s Parque Pumalín (pictured above) - closed since the eruption of Volcán Chaitén in 2008 - will reopen in December for the 2009-10 season. I have since heard from Carolina Morgado, who works for Doug Tompkins and Kris McDivitt, the environmental philanthropists responsible for the creation of Pumalín, that the facilities at Caleta Gonzalo - including the visitor center, café (pictured below) and cabañas - will reopen on December 15th.

In the course of updating the current edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia, I expect to revisit the area later this year but, in the meantime, I’ve received further information on the pending Parque Nacional Patagonia (which, unlike the privately run Pumalín, will be part of Chile’s national park system), a public-private initiative that would unite several protected areas near the town of Cochrane. The biggest development for this season is the opening of the new lodge at Valle Chacabuco (pictured below in winter, reservas@vallechacabuco.cl), about half an hour northeast of town, which immediately becomes the area’s elite accommodations. Like Tompkins’ and McDivitt’s other properties, it suggests impeccable taste.

The lodge at Valle Chacabuco has half a dozen rooms, with a maximum occupancy of 17; the rooms vary from two single beds to double to four bunks. The rates, currently under review, range from US$250 to US$300 pp with full board, including a buffet breakfast, picnic lunch (for excursions), and prix fixe dinner; alcoholic beverages are additional. Two-hour horseback excursions (about US$40) are available on site but, otherwise, it’s up to visitors to arrange them through local and regional operators such as Andes Patagónicos and Al Sur Expediciones.

What's good about Chacabuco - its isolation in nature - is also what's bad about it. Transportation is the greatest concern in this thinly populated area, where settlements are few and far apart. Bus service is infrequent, and rental cars are available only in the provincial capital of Coyhaique (and its airport at Balmaceda), some six or seven hours north. Valle Chacabuco is 11 km from the highway junction, though it’s possible to hire a private car in Cochrane to take you to the lodge.

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