Sometimes you have to go very far to get far away from it all. This unbelievable adventure is just about as far as you can get from the northern hemisphere, tucked away in one of the most remote parts of South America. The nearest commercial airport is a 45-minute private flight away or a six-hour drive on a bumpy gravel road, the Carretera Austral highway. Along the way, you’ll pass gorgeous landscapes that alternate between clear blue rivers, glacier lakes, and the snowcapped Andes mountains. And once you arrive, your first thought will be just how much it is beyond worth the journey to get there. You have arrived at an adventure that you will most likely cherish for the rest of your life at the Explora Patagonia National Park.
Chile is one of the most stunning places in the world. The nature and unspoiled landscapes boggle the mind as well as the wildlife from condors with a seven-foot wing span allowing them to ride the winds for hours, to the stealth-like puma the fiercest apex predator of the region. Thankfully national parks have been established in Chile to protect these treasures of nature. One of the most out-of-the-way national parks is the Patagonia National Park. At approximately 700,000 acres, it is the size of Yosemite National Park with the prodigious Andes Mountains flanking the Patagonian steppe, or valley with grasslands as well as wetlands, gushing rivers, and glacial lakes that stretch from Chile and into Argentina.
The diversity of the landscapes makes it irresistible from dry open plains to cool forests with deciduous lenga trees where you may spot the endangered huemul, South Andean deer. This part of the world provides a habitat for vast amounts of wildlife including some rare and endangered animals. Other wildlife that you’ll see in abundance are the guanacos which are similar to llama or apaca and are part of the camel classification. This region is a paradise for the twitcher as well with 100 different species of birds including Darwin’s Rheas, ñandú or the South American ostrich, flamingoes, and pygmy owls.
The most incredible thing about the national park is the vastness which brings along an unexpected attribute, solitude. Being so far away from a major airport makes it a challenge to reach resulting in an area untrampled by mass tourism. One can go on a hike for hours and never see another soul. You’ll be the only human for miles and miles; just yourself surrounded by this immense and gorgeous unspoiled nature.
The experience of seeing this incredible wildlife is made attainable with the world-class infrastructure of the park. This includes a 155-mile-long network of well-laid-out and marked trails that always seem to end in something spectacular to see such as a view of a lagoon from a mountaintop, or a vast lake fronting a snow-capped Southern Andes Mountain range. The park also includes a visitors’ center, restaurant, the lodge as well as the Patagonia Park Museum.
The Patagonia National Park has an interesting story with American roots. Douglas Tompkins was the founder of clothing companies Esprit and The North Face. Along with his wife, the former CEO of Patagonia Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, they began purchasing large swaths of ranch land in Argentina and Chile for the purpose of “rewilding” or converting the land back to its wild and natural state. The goal was for conservation but also for preserving or recreating habitat for indigenous and often endangered species such as the huemul deer, Andean condors, guanacos, and pumas.
The national park was one of their seven projects which purchased one of the Chile’s largest ranches as well as neighboring properties totaling 206,983 acres. Once purchased, they set out to remove the 25,000 head of livestock, and 370 miles of fencing, removed invasive flora, and reseeded the grasslands with native grasses. In 2017, these lands were donated to the Chilean Government and then combined with the existing Jeinimeni and Tamango National Reserves to create the Patagonia National Park.
The Patagonia National Park is Chile’s most important rewilding and eco-restoration efforts. Everything about the park, lodge, and experiences offered focus on preservation, sustainability, and conservation. It is the legacy of the Tomkins and at the foundation of all that goes on there.
The Patagonia Adventure with Explora
The wilderness retreat is run in cooperation with the national park service and Explora which is an upmarket adventure tourism company that handles the hospitality aspect of the partnership and was granted a 30-year concession. Explora is a Chilean company and the ideal company for the active traveler who is in search of adventure in nature but not necessarily roughing it at the end of the day. Think of your best outdoor adventures without camping in a leaky tent in a sleeping bag after a meal of hot dogs and beans. This is the polar opposite of that with all the creature comforts to ensure guests are comfortable as well as a range of unforgettable experiences in the incredible nature that surrounds them.
The Explora formula is to provide unforgettable experiences in South America’s natural reserves and then provide their discerning guests top-notch accommodations and delicious meals. The final piece to the puzzle are bespoke experiences with switched-on expert guides that allow guests indulge in the in the amazing nature of the destination. Explora has outposts throughout South America in Machu Picchu, Easter Island, the Atacama Desert, and two other locations in Patagonia.
The activities are always in small groups and often with just your party with the guide. The guides are naturalists and are not only experts on the tour but also on the flora and fauna of the area.
Explora, as the name indicates, is about going deeper to get close to the incredible nature that surrounds their lodges. You can’t get any closer to the Patagonia National Park than this as you are actually in the middle of it all. From the location in the valley, countless experiences focus on the exploration, knowledge, and conservation of the park.
The process begins with a presentation about what Explora is all about followed by a consultation with the guides to discuss what the guests’ goals are for their adventure. 30 activity options range from expert-level mountain climbing to easy-paced overland experiences which are tours by van to take in the incredible sights of the area. Options include short to full-day adventures from bike rides one their state-of-the-art pedal assist electric that bikes up hills, along lakes, or on back trails to an unforgettable destination such as a lagoon in the middle of a lenga tree forest or the suspension bride 300 feet above a raging river and rocky gorge.
One experience not to miss includes kayaking and hiking. Guests suit up and then drift float along the Cochrane River where the glacial water is some of the clearest in the world where you can see clear to the bottom twenty feet below. Floating along the river with the stunning scenery is spectacular and something you’ll never forget. After the soul enriching kayaking, guest break for a packed lunch and time to sunbathe or dip in the chilly refreshing waters before heading out for a challenging hike to several spectacular lookouts over the Cochrane Lake basin. Deep in one’s thoughts while overlooking this scenery, one cannot help to think that this just may be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
The Explora Luxury Lodge
The Lodge is not what most would expect. There are several Victorian-styled buildings with slate facades that look more like a residential neighborhood than a luxury lodge. The design takes its inspiration from English landowners who settled here in the 1880s and have been constructed from sustainable materials including local stone, recycled timber, and copper. This is a shared-use facility where some of the buildings are residences for park rangers, others are administration buildings, and another is a nature museum.
The ambiance at the lodge is private and exclusive. In the evenings, after the small amount of day visitors to the park center leave, what remains is a few other lodge guests and you’ll feel as if you are practically alone in the wilderness. Indoors in the main building, the aesthetic is that of a luxury safari lodge, light and airy with a 20-foot ceiling with exposed natural wood rafters as well as harlequin floors, plush leather sofas, and large fireplaces. The lounge space has plenty of area to spread out to chat with other guests or to leaf through tombs of coffee table books, mostly on the wildlife found in Patagonia. The other side of the facility is where you’ll have meals.
This is a small property with only 13 rooms which adds to the air of intimacy and exclusivity. Accommodations are spacious and stylishly decorated. Interiors include recycled oak and laurel rafters, rich woodblock floors, built-in natural wood closets, and chest of drawers, and an uber-comfortable bed. Bathrooms are well appointed with locally sourced bathroom products and a walk-in shower. Don’t expect the unnecessary television with 500 channels; there’s no place for that here as you’ll most likely be drifting off to sleep pleasantly exhausted from the day’s activities if not watching the sunset over the mountain ranges nearby.
After a long day on the trails and in the wild, guests gather in the lounge for conversation and cocktails before dinner. Many will opt for specialty drinks of the day while others will opt for their extensive offering of excellent Chilean wines. As the sun begins to set, guests chat with each other, regaling stories of the adventures of the day in the convivial gathering place.
With all of that active travel, sustenance and good nutrition are important to keep you going. Explora Patagonia National Park provides that and so much more with meals that are delicious, unfussy, and an authentic serving of South American comfort food. As guests dine, just before them as the backdrop is the surrounding nature through a wall of two-story windows. Conversations are broken with sightings of a herd of shaggy-wooled guanacos grazing on the lawn 25 feet away. On other days you’ll see a hawk perched on a nearby lawn chair or perhaps even a puma stalking its next meal, just as the guests are as well.
The dining experience is ideal for the adventure holiday and is included in the rate along with beverages. Ingredients are fresh, organic, and locally sourced from small artisan providers. The farm-to-table cooking is based on the traditional techniques of the gaucho culture on a parrilla which is a massive indoor grill that you’ll see versions of throughout South America. Wood charcoal embers are spread under a grate where meats and vegetables are seared and grilled giving them an exquisite smoky seasoning. One would not automatically think of grilled lettuce but once you’ve had it, you’ll never think of lettuce the same, grilled with charred veggies, then drizzled with olive oil and other seasoning complete the serving. Haute cooking techniques, plating, and finishes are added to create pleasure on the plate throughout the meal with dishes including lamb, fish, and of course, succulent steaks.
If you love nature and the great outdoors, it doesn’t get much better than Patagonia. The sheer size of it is larger than in many countries. Once you get past that, the beauty of it is beyond compare from prodigious mountains to its glacier lakes and a diversity of landscapes that boggles the mind. Add to all of that the wildlife with pumas, condors, guanacos, and an uber-rich biodiversity. What makes Explora Patagonia National Park even more special is that it is so far and remote so that only a special type of traveler goes there. One who is looking to go deep into nature, far away from mass tourism to explore one of the most incredible places on Earth.