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Explora Patagonia: Wild & Free in Chile
August 31, 2017
It’s a four and a half hour drive from Chile’s southernmost airport, Punta Arenas, to the celebrated wilderness retreat explora Patagonia. But when you’re exploring the second longest country in the world (Brazil is first, in case you’re interested), you wouldn’t expect any less. Chilean Patagonia is cast off from the mainland, a series of broken pieces of shoreline surrounded by brisk Pacific inlets.
It’s pushing autumn and La Ruta del Fin del Mundo (“the road to the end of the world”) is bathed in golden light and vivid blue shadows. A row of sharp granite peaks topped with snow draws ever closer as we approach Torres del Paine, a national park known for its geological wonders and natural beauty. And it’s this extraordinary view that explora Patagonia lays claim to – perhaps its greatest advantage – though we’re to learn there is more to this lodge than meets the eye.
explora Patagonia’s exterior is almost industrial in appearance, a low level white-boarded facade built on the banks of the Pehoe Lake. Pared back interiors are a palette of whites, blues and warm varnished timber, like a cavernous lakeside cabin with a twist. We hole up in a Cordillera Paine room, with sweeping views over the towers mirrored in the lake. A wander across the aged lenga wood walkways takes us to explora’s sophisticated spa, where an indoor lap pool, sauna and steam room vie for attention with four alfresco hot tubs set on the lake.
But truthfully, no one stays at explora Patagonia to relax. There are plenty of escapades with expert guides to tempt you from the lodge. We sign up for a trip to the French Valley, a spectacular hike that takes us across the lake in explora’s catamaran at sunrise. The towers draw ever closer, illuminated neon pink as the sun chases the clouds. We step onto dry land and wander through a silent forest that fell victim to a fire in 2011, and has stood still and sculptural ever since, framed by the distant blankets of foliage at the base of the mountains. Onwards, past more lakes steaming in the morning sunshine, we press into thick woodland where native lenga and coiba trees shield us from a combination of harsh sun and wind.
The damp, sweet smell of the forest invades our senses and the sound of a river draws us through the trees. A tumbling glacial river comes into sight and we cross over a rickety bridge to the other side, where bedraggled campers are embarking on Torres del Paine’s famed W circuit. And we continue up a steep incline, the tips of the towers appear over the tree line, and then a hanging glacier up ahead, dropping great ice avalanches that we hear cracking moments before we see.
Summiting brings the greatest reward yet; 360-degree views over an amphitheatre of surrounding peaks and a forest tinted red by the cool mountain air. We set up a picnic – flasks of hot mushroom soup and ciabatta with cold cuts, washed down with tea spiked with Baileys – all beside a crystalline stream coursing over mossy boulders. It’s a long way back down, but as with all of explora Patagonia’s adventures, we’re rewarded with a shelter from the elements, excellent food and a comfortable bed with a spectacular view.
explora Patagonia costs from £1,600 per person for a 3-night full board programme based on two guests sharing a room.