When you travel more than twenty-four hours to get somewhere, it had better be worth the trip. To reach the Explora resort in remote Patagonia, I had to take a twelve-hour flight from New York to Santiago, Chile, another four-hour flight to Punta Arenas, at the country’s southern tip, and finally (and this was the roughest part) an almost six-hour van ride, half of which was on icy dirt roads. When we finally arrived at our destination, it was nightfall, and I could just about manage to drink a few perfect pisco sours and then fall into a deep sleep. In the morning however, I awoke refreshed and amazed to find myself in a profoundly beautiful world of snow and ice. The striking white resort, the Hotel Salto Chico, floated like an iceberg near the crystal-clear Lake Pehoé and the dramatic and jagged-edged Torres del Paine mountains, a view I could see even from the bathroom sink—where my face would normally be reflected in the mirror was a window facing the lake.
From that first morning to my last afternoon there, I continued to be dazzled by my surroundings, both the immediate comfort and unique design of this stunning resort and the stark, end-of-the-world landscapes of Patagonia. (Yes, icebergs and glaciers truly are varying shades of bright blue as vibrant as if dyed with artificial food coloring.) Every morning, after a hearty breakfast, my friend and I were met by one or two guides—all young, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable—who would ask our desires and judge our mood and then organize the appropriate adventure. One day we went on a hike along a lake; another we galloped among a pack of wild horses over an endless expanse of frozen grass that shone like a field of crystals. At night, we would dine on excellent three-course meals accompanied by wonderful Chilean wines then recap our day over pisco sours by the fire. Finally, we would drift gratefully off into deep sleep on soft-as-a-cloud mattresses—but not before silently thanking Pedro Ibañez, the wealthy Chilean businessman and gentlemen explorer who created the Explora concept: luxurious accommodation and top-notch guides in Chile’s most remote, otherworldly destinations.
After my fantastic stay at Explora Patagonia —to this day the trip I daydream about most—I wanted more, even if it meant additional bumpy van rides. Fortunately, my next stop was Explora Atacama, an equally stunning architectural landmark, Hotel de Larache, located within an oasis in the middle of the Atacama Desert, just outside the quirky and picturesque town of San Pedro de Atacama. The weather during my visit was, as it is most of the year, sunny and warm by day and cool by night. Again, my stay alternated between adventure and downtime. When not gazing at hundreds of flamingos feeding on the moonscape of the nearby salt flats, trekking through a maze of red canyons or hiking along a bubbling stream to the property’s outdoor spa, located at natural hot springs, we lay by the hotel’s dramatic four pools.
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