DISPATCHES FROM EXOTIC LANDS
As the old adage goes, ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’, and in that spirit, our Travel Designer Shelly Vernon has just spend almost a month sussing out luxury travel South America, checking out all the latest openings and discovering what’s hot to trot!
She’s now back in Sydney, bursting with the most up to date knowledge and first hand intel, so if you were ever thinking of heading to South America, now is the time to pick her brains.
Her trip report was lengthy so we’ll spare you the drier details (sorry Shelly!) but here are the highlights…
FIRST STOP, THE AMAZON RAINFOREST
Aqua Expeditions (North Amazon)
You fly from Lima to Iquitos (1.5hrs) to meet Aqua Expeditions, arriving at the departure point at dusk for your boat transfer across the river to (in our case) Aria Amazon. The boat is luxurious with 16 suites and floor-to-ceiling windows with a full view of the Amazon. There were only 8 guests on board for our departure so the guiding was incredibly rich. Both the wet and dry seasons have their benefits. With the dry season it wasn’t possible to access some of the channels and lakes but the piranha fishing is better and there aren’t many mozzies. In the wet season the water level is a good 20-30 feet higher so it’s easier to navigate the channels and lakes etc. See When is the best time to visit the Amazon? We absolutely loved Aria Amazon. There were plenty of activities to keep us all busy and it was very professionally run. There is also the more luxurious boat Aqua Nera for those who prefer a very high-end option.
Tambopata Research Centre (South Amazon)
Tambopata is a great experience and famous for the biggest population of macaws – 7 out of the 11 species in the world live here and the sightings at the clay licks are unreal. The lodge is made out of wood in the middle of the jungle with all the rooms totally open sided. The food was simple and lots of it, the guiding was excellent, and the service was good. Each evening one of the researchers gives a talk on the projects going on at the centre, the two main projects being saving the Macaws and discovering new moth species. If guests are interested, they can collect moths which are then sent off to the Natural History Museum in Lima and should you find a new species, you will be notified and allowed the honour of naming it.
Read More: Tambopata Research Centre – Amazon
THEN ON TO PERU & THE SACRED VALLEY
This is where you head for ancient ruins and high altitude hiking. It’s important to note that you can only train or hike to Machu Picchu. The train is closed in the rainy season from December to April, so the only access is by foot at that time.
My top picks for accommodation would be:
- Sol Y Luna – Sacred Valley: Sol y Luna is a pretty Relais & Chateaux property with lovely gardens and great dining – we had a delicious lunch there. The rooms are very nice and it has a beautiful pool area which other comparable hotels do not.
- Hacienda Urubamba – Sacred Valley: The lodge is in an elevated position overlooking the valley with separate little cottages staggered up the hill. The interiors are stylish and earthy with oversized windows and big glass doors. The service is excellent
- Machu Picchu Pueblo – Aguas Calientes: This feels like a little Andean village with terraces, streams, stone paths and a collection of adobe houses in the middle of the cloud forest. Loads of birds! Also, just a 10min walk to the train station
When it comes to mountain trekking the Salkantay Trek is for experienced trekkers and they don’t normally cater for kids. The longer 5 – 7 day hikes take you to Machu Picchu. The trek is very much about being in the mountains whereas the Lares Trek is more about culture and nature. The Lares and Machu Picchu treks also have high passes, but the Salkantay trek is the hardest.
It’s a good idea to acclimatise for at least 3 or preferably 4 days in the Sacred Valley & Cusco before doing any of the trekking.
CITY STOP OVERS
Whatever your itinerary, it’s likely you’ll need to spend a night or two in one of Peru’s city hubs. Here are my favourite boutique and luxury city hotels:
Hotel B – Lima, Peru: Hotel B is a boutique art hotel situated in Barranco – the cultural, bohemian and artistic neighbourhood of Lima. It’s not cheap, but it’s stunning and stands out as the best option in Lima.
Belmond Monasterio – Cusco, Peru: Belmond Monasterio is an old, renovated monastery in a lovely garden setting well located to the main square in Cusco. It’s a stunning hotel and definitely my preferred option in Cusco.
NEXT STOP, CHILE!
The Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is heaven on Earth for adventurous types who also enjoy bespoke travel and/or a touch of luxury. To get to the Atacama you need to fly from Santiago to Calama (2 hour flight) to meet your road transfer to San Pedro (approx. 1.5 hours) where all the hotels are based.
My favourite luxury lodges in the Atacama are:
Tierra Atacama – San Pedro de Atacama: a beautiful property with stylish nature-inspired interiors overlooking the desert and volcano. The food was amazing – the best on my trip!
Awasi Atacama – San Pedro de Atacama: This is in the town of San Pedro. It has only 12 small cottages, each with their own car and driver, so it is well suited to those who want a more private experience.
Explora Atacama – San Pedro de Atacama: a much bigger Scandi-style property where the focus is more on experiences and activities rather than being a quiet, luxury hotel. A good one for families.
The Pucón Region, Northern Patagonia
Nestled on the shores of the mighty Lake Villarrica surrounded by lush greenery and steaming natural hot springs, the Pucón region is a total contrast to the Atacama. Situated on 22 hectares of very pretty private estate land, Vira Vira is a destination in its own right and is stunning. It’s one of my favourite properties in South America. Activities include walking into the three surrounding National Parks, boating, biking and horse riding. I’m not an angler but the fly fishing in a particular was a great experience floating down the river casting and spinning. The scenery was just so beautiful. Explore Hotel Vira Vira – Pucon, Northern Patagonia
…AND DOWN INTO THE DEPTHS OF PATAGONIA
Patagonia sits at the southernmost tip of the South American continent, spanning both Chile and Argentina as though the border didn’t exist.
In Chilean Patagonia the granite pillars of Torres del Paine soar over the Steppe in a scene that is no less breathtaking for its fame. Is tricky to choose just one Patagonia luxury lodge, so here are my top three:
- The Singular Patagonia – Puerto Natales: Housed within the former Puerto Bories Cold Storage Plant, industrial relics makes it unique and interesting. The rooms and spa are lovely and big with floor to ceiling windows and views of the Patagonian fjords.
- Explora Patagonia – Torres del Paine: Smaller and more intimate, built in wood with white furnishings and a cozy feel. You want to make sure you get the Cordillera Paine rooms at the front of the hotel with fantastic views over the lake and mountains.
- Tierra Patagonia – Torres del Paine: Well-designed to blend into the landscape with an atmospheric fire in the middle of the dining room and warm cedar wood interiors. Slightly further from the park gate but still my first choice of property in Torres del Paine.
In Argentinean Patagonia El Calafate and neighbouring El Chaltén sit right on the edge of the Southern Ice Field, home to the immense Perito Moreno Glacier. Eolo Lodge is a Relais & Chateaux property well located halfway between El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park. It is set on a hill overlooking the valley with cows and horses in the fields below and is small and exclusive with only 17 rooms. Meanwhile Estancia Cristina is the most remote property you can stay at and has it’s own large two level catamaran for transporting guests to the estancia. The estancia itself is simple but stylish with wooden interiors and sheepskin cushions on the chairs.
TO SET SAIL FOR ANTARCTICA AND THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
Patagonia is also the leaping off point for voyages into Antarctica. If you’re contemplating a journey to the Great White Continent in 2024/25 you’ll need to start planning sooner rather than later to secure space within the short season. Browse our collection of Luxury Expedition Cruises or contact us for ideas and help in planning your Antarctic adventure.