Punta Arenas, a two-hour flight south of Santiago followed by a two-hour flight south of Puerto Montt, is the closest airport to Torres del Paine, Chile’s most famous national park. The park is a five-hour drive from the airport through barren, shrubby grasslands dotted with trees that, having been brutalized by the wind, grow slightly sideways and reminded me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. About four hours into the drive, out of nowhere, the park’s massif suddenly rises 9,462 feet from the steppe in violent, vertical beauty.
New lodging options have set a new standard for Patagonian luxury. The Singular Patagonia (rooms from $360; Puerto Bories; 56-61/272-2030; thesingular.com) is two and a half hours north of the airport on the Last Hope Sound in Puerto Bories, which is ten minutes from Puerto Natales, a town of 18,500. The reason to stay here one night is to take in the Singular’s one-of-a-kind design. From 1915 to 1974, the complex housed the Frigorífico Bories cold-storage plant. It was the heart of the Magallanes region’s sheep industry, and in its heyday it employed 400 people and processed 3,000 sheep daily. Over ten years, the hotel’s Chilean owners, descendants of the area’s pioneers, transformed the run-down brick plant into a hotel that opened in 2011. Imagine the Titanic’s engine room with a hotel built around it. A glass-walled walkway paralleling the plant’s Victorian-era engine leads to the guest room wing, which has 57 rooms with Edwardian furniture and picture windows that overlook the water and far-off mountains. Make special arrangements to have an intimate lamb-roast dinner in the old blacksmith’s shop, which has been turned into a private dining room.
At times the hotel feels like a modern cruise ship. There are more than 20 group activities included with a stay—say, driving to Torres del Paine (two hours away), horseback riding around Laguna Sofia, or kayaking the fjords. Of the five activities available the day I was there, boating was canceled because of wind. I resigned myself to doing an afternoon trek around Laguna Sofia. Much to my pleasant surprise, it was one of the best things I did in Patagonia. My guide Mika, a Frenchman who has lived in the region for 20 years, took me off the beaten path to a bluff 20 minutes from the hotel, where we made an adrenaline-pumping ascent of 1,600 feet.
The Awasi Patagonia (rooms from $2,980; Estancia Tercera Barranca; 56-2/2233-9641; awasipatagonia.com) could be considered the anti-Singular. A two-hour drive north of Puerto Natales, it’s an intimate, 12-villa lodge nestled among beech trees on a private reserve. It has views of Torres del Paine and Sarmiento Lake. The lodge opened in November 2013 as the sister property to the Awasi Atacama in northern Chile. (Awasi will open a lodge near Argentina’s northern Iguazu Falls in 2017.) The lodge individualizes everything. Each villa gets its own guide and 4x4 driver, unique in Patagonia. (Though this can be a drawback: If you don’t like your guide, it can be awkward to change.) And chef Federico Ziegler works to meet all dietary preferences, which is challenging given the lodge’s remoteness.
Designed by Chilean architect Felipe Assadi, Awasi’s villas and main lodge are built with local lenga wood from top to bottom and are intended to blend in with the surroundings. They are so well camouflaged that it’s not unusual to encounter guanacos, foxes, and rabbits at the front door of your villa. The interiors are Andean chic, with sheepskin rugs and wool throws. Each villa has a bedroom, living room with a wood-burning fireplace, and an outdoor hot tub, while the one Master Villa has a second bedroom and a covered terrace, and its living room and master bedroom perfectly frame the massif ’s three craggy torres (towers).
Awasi’s included excursions are divided into five areas: three parts of Torres del Paine, the reserve around the lodge, and the nearby Baguales park and river. Each area has up to eight options. (I was overwhelmed by the choices and wished I had asked for the excursion guide in advance.) A popular Torres del Paine circuit is the “W” trek. Three groups did it while I was there, and it took them between 7 and 12 hours. I opted for an easy Laguna Verde hike, a well-worth-it rocky navigation (boat ride) through Grey Lake’s giant electric-blue icebergs to Grey Glacier, and a windy four-and-a-half-hour hike through coigue, lenga, and nirre forests culminating in a breathtaking view of Lake Toro and the Serrano River.
It’s worth noting that the area’s 49-room Explora Patagonia (rooms from $2,640; Sector Salto Chico S/N, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine; 56-2/2395-2580; explora.com) and 45-room Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa (rooms from $2,250; Ruta 9 intersection Ruta Y156, Torres del Paine; 56-2/2370-5301; tierrahotels.com) are good alternatives to Awasi, but both are closer to the Singular’s size and offer group excursions. Explora has an enviable location inside the park, which is a selling point, as from Awasi it can take up to two and a half hours to get to parts of Torres del Paine—although, because Awasi has thought of everything, the lodge’s 4x4s are amphibious and can cross a river to cut time from the drive if the water isn’t too high.
Image Credit: Singular Hotel