A couple weeks ago, I received a note from an editor at National Geographic Traveler, for whom I have written both magazine articles and guidebooks, that the April 2011 edition of the magazine will, for the first time, feature hotels in South America for its annual Stay List. Until now, Traveler’s roster of accommodations recommended for their authenticity included only those in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
In that note, the editor asked me to nominate hotels in my area of geographical expertise - the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay - to comply with their goal of “seeking properties that wholeheartedly reflect
the spirit of their locations both in practice and aesthetic.” In this regard, the magazine’s standards are the following: 1) "Does the architecture reflect its location?; 2) Does the property engage in eco-sustainable practices?
Serve local food?; and 3) Are guests treated to good service and a memorably unique-to-location experience?”
In response to the query, I came up with a list of five accommodations, two in Argentina and three in Chile, that in my opinion meet Traveler’s standards. Whether they’ll make the final cut, I don’t know, but they’re all worth consideration - which is not to say there aren’t others equally deserving that I don't know as well as these (only two of which I have stayed at, and one of which I have not yet even visited (though I know the property, the lodge itself only opened recently). Since I’m not the person who decides whether or not it makes the list, I felt comfortable in nominating it for its obvious potential. In any event, here are my nominees, arranged in north-to south-order, with a brief explanation of the reasons for my choices:
Estancia Rincón del Socorro, Corrientes Province, Argentina
I recently dedicated an entire blog post to Rincón del Socorro, so I won’t go into much more detail here except to add that the Esteros del Iberá, the endangered wetlands that are the Argentine Everglades, probably get less than one percent of the visitors that the famous Iguazú Falls do. That’s not to denigrate Iguazú, but anyone who visits Argentine Mesopotamia without also seeing Iberá is missing the chance of a lifetime.
Cavas Wine Lodge, Mendoza, Argentina
About 20 minutes south of downtown Mendoza, Cavas Wine Lodge was one of the province’s first vineyard hotels and its free-standing rooms - well-separated for privacy - are set literally among the vines. Modern works by local artists decorate the reception area and the restaurant (open to non-guests by reservation). It also hires local musicians to play in a semi-subterranean amphitheater adjoining the wine cellar.
Chacabuco Lodge, Aisén, Chile
Like Rincón del Socorro, Chacabuco Lodge belongs to environmental philanthropist Doug Tompkins and, while I haven’t yet seen the newly constructed lodge in person, I have visited the site - within the proposed Parque Nacional Patagonia - several times. That’s why I wrote a separate blog entry about Chacabuco last month, and am looking forward to seeing it with my own eyes some time before Christmas.
Ecocamp Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Magallanes, Chile
Strictly speaking, the Ecocamp Patagonia is not a hotel, nor does it lie within the iconic Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, but close counts here as much or even more than it does in horseshoes. Perhaps the ultimate in luxury camping, its geodesic dome accommodations lie just outside the park boundaries, and its “dome suites” (pictured at top and immediately below) are superior to many four-star urban accommodations; the regular domes are comfortable enough, but have shared baths. It recycles virtually everything, including wastewater, and hauls any unavoidable refuse back to the town of Puerto Natales. It gets its electricity from an inconspicuous, eco-friendly run-of-stream turbine (I myself have cleaned the leaves clogging the intake).
Hotel Indigo Patagonia, Puerto Natales, Magallanes, Chile
Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine and, while Indigo Patagonia’s striking minimalist design has made it a landmark on the city’s waterfront, the energy-efficient interior is a creative industrial-style maze of criss-crossing ramps that lead gently to compact and simple but handsome rooms. Most of those rooms enjoy extraordinary views of Seno Última Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) and, in the distance on a clear day, the Torres del Paine themselves. The view is even better from the rooftop spa, and the adjacent bar/restaurant seamlessly incorporates a previously existing building into the new construction.
A Reminder: Moon Argentina Tours California
Next week is a busy one, as I will deliver four digital slide lectures on Argentina. The first will take place Monday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Distant Lands in Pasadena, then back to Northern California on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. at REI Fremont.