From Backcountry Refugios to Hosteria Bliss
Tusker Trail ventures to South America for a Patagonia Trek in March, offering a diversity of accommodation and unique lodgings to match the region’s startling biodiversity. The all-inclusive trip includes backcountry treks in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park and Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park with accommodations connected by road as well as water.
By deviating from the competition’s standard trek routes and group accommodations, Tusker has created an unparalleled experience in Patagonia. There are three boat trips on the journey, including a cutter up Ultima Esperanza and a zodiac on the Serrano River that drops the group at Pampa Lodge on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park. “By taking the zodiac we thought it would be a fun way to give our clients their first view of the towers (glaciated peaks). It also enables us to give added value by doing the “W” circuit in the park opposite of everyone else,” said Andrew Springsteel, Tusker’s South American trip leader who designed the itinerary.
Throughout the itinerary, trip members stay in unique accommodations to match Patagonia’s superb setting. In Torres del Paine, trekkers spend four nights in comfortable but basic refugios, bookended by stays in sophisticated boutique hotels on the park’s edge as well as in Chile’s Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. The Argentina extension features a stay at the historic Hosteria El Pilar located at the foot of the Laguna de Los Tres trailhead leading to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. All of the lodgings offer world class views and the superb fresh fish and meat that Patagonia is known for.
The nine day Chile itinerary with optional five day extension in Argentina’s national parks is offered in March and November. There is no camping on the trip and all meals are in restaurants and the refugios.
Room with a View
The trip starts with a night in Punta Arenas’ La Yegua Loca Hotel. Built in 1929 and run by third generation Croatian pioneers, it sits on a hill with a panoramic view of the Magellan Straits. The eight antique filled rooms are themed around estancia trades – carpenter, dairyman, orchardist and coachman.
The next night in Puerto Natales, the group stays at Noi Indigo, a creative adaptive reuse of a factory designed by noted architect, Sebastian Irarrazaual. The rooftop pools and sauna blend well with the watery wonderland views of Ultima Esperanza.
“The hotel’s restaurant was created from the harbor master’s home and the hotel has an early 1900’s warehouse feel with exposed I-beams and covered sliding panels,” Andrew said. The rooms have no TVs but instead views of the Last Hope fjord where the Tusker group will be navigating the following day in a large cutter. A wide selection of seafood (king crab, ceviche, conger eel, crab soup, lobster) highlights the food in both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
Pampa Lodge on the border of Torres del Paine resembles an upscale Scandinavian ski lodge with its stylish wood interiors accentuated by the changing light pouring in from the large windows. Wooden planks outside the small lodge allow short hikes over the wetlands along the Rio Serrano. Quinchos, the hotel’s restaurant, is surprisingly sophisticated given this remote locale serving a blend of local meats, salmon, soups and crab fondue.
The following four nights are in three backcountry refugios. All are different, but all have shared bathrooms, cafeteria-style eating areas and a lounge where you meet fellow trekkers from around the globe.
On to Argentina
Hosteria El Pilar provides a rare opportunity to have all of your creature comforts while being inside a national park. Expect a solid steak dinner reflecting Argentina’s penchant for beef combined with a robust red wine. The hotel was originally a pioneer homestead from the turn of the century and is a place where trekkers gravitate, fifteen minutes outside El Chaltén.
The base for exploring Glaciares National Park’s main glaciers is in another small town, El Calafate. Hosteria Los Hielos offers a quiet and quality option for a two night stay. Elevated on the outskirts of town, the updated rooms have close up views of the waves sweeping across Lago Argentino. The hotel is the most modern of the group with a good restaurant providing a comfortable night before the return trip home.
The Sophisticated Rugged Tribe
Tusker travelers have been to many of the world’s best backcountry destinations. Patagonia provides that rare combination of a world-class outdoor experience with all the indoor comforts that Tusker’s sophisticated rugged tribe could need.