By: Victoria

Patagonia, Chile. Taken from a plane.

Patagonia, Chile

 

 

Escape to Explora

The wilds of Patagonia have beckoned ever since I moved to Central America three years ago. As there was a chance of leaving the Americas earlier this year, panic set in at the thought of never getting this close to the world’s southernmost tip again.

Around the same time I found myself struggling with some personal issues and the call of the wild seemed stronger than ever. I wanted to indulge in daylong hikes and gallop over grasslands with gauchos. I wanted to get away from the screen and social media, and lose myself in the Great Outdoors. I also wanted a break from family life. Is that a terrible thing to say? I expect it is, but after 10 years of fretting over little people (and big people!) I was beginning to forget who I was; that is besides being a mother and ‘trailing UN spouse’. I wanted to go on holiday with Victoria Westmacott and be reminded of all the things that she loves and is passionate about.

 

The southern tip of south america

We aim to open the remote and vast territories
of the Southern tip of South America.
The experience is about allowing life to lead us,
for just a moment, whether alone or in good company,
away from our calculated urban lives,
and into the fullness
of space and time.

Explora: Art of Travel

 

Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Chile

Explora Patagonia is located in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Explora Patagonia is located in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park

 

It was my husband who first introduced me to Explora Patagonia and who encouraged me to make an enquiry. For a long time I dithered, not feeling comfortable about spending so much money on myself. With hindsight, however, I would say that it was the best decision I have made in years. I was lucky enough to spend five nights here.

 

Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine, Chile

Explora Patagonia

 

 

Into The Wild

Explora Patagonia: The Paine Massif at sunrise. Torres del Paine

The Paine Massif at sunrise

 

A universal passion

There is a universal passion for remote places.
They remind us of everything yet to be discovered, both in this world
As well as in ourselves.
They exist in the imagination and dreams of many.
Not just in those of great explorers such as Shackleton, Scott, Stanley, Amundsen and so many others.

They say that when Sir Edmund Hillary was asked why he climbed Mount Everest, he answered: “Because it’s there”.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

Based in the heart of Patagonia in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, this award-winning hotel was created to satiate that innate drive in so many of us to discover remote corners of our world. Overlooking Lake Pehoé and the jagged-tooth Paine Massif beyond – the centrepiece of Patagonia – Explora is so much more than a luxury hotel set against a spectacular backdrop. It is an experience that will leave you with a fervent appetite for adventure and life.

It’s this concept of discovering both remote places as well as ourselves that is one of the three main pillars supporting Explora’s travel philosophy, The Art of Travel’.

The other two pillars are In-Depth Exploration and the Luxury of the Essential (see below)

 

 

In-Depth Exploration

Explora Patagonia: Glacier Grey, Torres del Paine

Glacier Grey, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

 

To look and to see

To be able to make a discovery,
it is necessary to have certain knowledge.
For someone who cannot tell the difference between a lenga tree and a coihue, the Magellanic forest
is just a mass of green.
The same happens with birds and mountains
if they cannot be named.
Exploration is a simultaneously inward
and outward journey.
It responds to a profound and joyful
desire of leisure.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

The Paine massif that Explora overlooks includes a number of distinctive geological features including Los Cuernos (the rocky horns), Glacier Grey (the most easily accessible glacier in the park), the three granite Torres (the towers which the park is named after) and a handful of milky blue lakes.

One of the best ways of experiencing these legendry landmarks is by hiking the ‘W-Circuit’, a 100km trail that takes the form of a ‘W’ and around five days to walk. Although there are a couple of hostels serving as pit-stops along this route, the only way to complete the trail is by carrying your week’s essentials (including camping kit) with you. Unless that is, you base yourself in a place like Explora.

 

Explora Patagonia: Clouds cover the tips of the three torres - the towers that the national park is named after

Clouds cover the tips of the three torres – the towers that the national park is named after.

 

The beauty of Explora is that its privileged position allows guests to explore the W circuit, as well as other areas of the park, as either half or full-day ‘explorations’, using the hotel as a base to return to for lunch or after a full day’s trekking or horse riding. This is not to say that it can or should be used as an observatory platform for the idle! Guests are encouraged to push themselves physically and are reminded that they will get more out of their stay if they take part in the explorations on a daily basis.

Moreover, the explorations (around 40 of them) are what make Explora such a special place. Guests can choose between trekking and horse riding and each exploration is rated as Easy, Moderate, Advanced and Expert. There is an exploration to suit everyone – from school age kids through to grandparents, and from out-of-shape city folk to the Bear Grylls and Navy Seals of this world.

 

Explora Patagonia offers both trekking and horse riding

Explora offers both trekking and horse riding

 

During my five days (two half days and four full days) I did two full day explorations – the Glacier Grey trek and the Donoso horse ride – and six half-day explorations (four treks and two rides). Each and every day was extraordinary and as such, warrants a separate post! See Part 2: Explora’s Explorations: The Highlights

 

 

The Luxury of the Essential

Explora's Luxury of the Essential

The Luxury of the Essential

 

Luxury of the essential

In remote territories,
we choose refinement
over luxury

We choose to provide travellers
with what they need in order to be comfortable,
avoiding the superfluous and unnecessary.
Allowing the essential
to shine.

We aim for our travellers to connect with the essense of nature
of noble materials.
Of people.
Of history.
And of themselves.

“To renounce everything, except the essential, so the essential can speak.” F.Stark.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

I love this extract. It says so much about Explora and why I admire their philosophy so much. Although the hotel is undeniably luxurious (certainly for me!), as you would expect with its hefty price tag, it doesn’t go over the top. The food is excellent, yet not Michelin star excellent, the service is personal and superb, yet not personal-butler superb and most importantly, the explorations are authentic. You are not dropped from a helicopter onto a glacier where a three-course, sit-down lunch awaits you before being airlifted back to your suite. You are expected to walk like everyone else who visits the park! If you are on a full day’s trek you are expected to carry a (small) lunch tin and water, as well your personal belongings. The guide does, however, carry the surplus items such as soup, coffee, pastries and a plate of smoked salmon – the luxury of the essential!

In short, Explora provides guests with enough luxury to feel (more than) comfortable but without any unnecessary glitz and opulence that would otherwise take away from Explora’s true appeal: the raw beauty of its surroundings. It’s a delicate balance and yet one they pull off effortlessly.

 

 

The Hotel

Explora Patagonia: The entrance hall, with panoramic views of the massif

The entrance hall, with panoramic views of the massif

 

Architecture

Explora’s architecture cannot be fully captured in one glimpse.
We prefer things that can be discovered
in a gradual way.
We don’t want to, nor can we, take it all in at once.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

Designed by the award-winning architect José Cruz Ovalle, the hotel is an extension of the landscape and much like the Paine massif is worth exploring from all sides, angles and distances. Inside, the hotel is flooded with light and the communal rooms are orientated towards the massif.

 

Explora Patagonia: The reception area, with fireplace.

The reception area, with fireplace.

 

The Rooms

The 49 bedrooms overlook either the Massif or the Salto Chico waterfall and, like the rest of the hotel, have been designed so that you appreciate the surroundings. There are intentionally no TVs or wifi in the rooms (wifi can be accessed in the communal areas). Mobile phone service is unavailable at Explora, although a landline is provided in each room. If this poses a problem, you probably shouldn’t even be considering Patagonia for a ‘break’!

Tip: Don’t pull the blinds down at night, the stars are incredible.

 

Explora Patagonia: The bedrooms overlook either the Massif or the Salto Chico waterfall

The bedrooms overlook either the Massif or the Salto Chico waterfall

 

Explora for Kids

Explora Patagonia for kids and families

Explora is also a wonderful place for kids

 

Imagination

Our explorations appeal
to the imagination stimulated by the real world,
not by fantasy.
We believe that a child’s imagination is stimulated more
by the Milodon Cave or flying in a Twin Otter over the Magellan Strait,
than by a trip to Disneyland.
We search to broaden understanding
rather than to overburden the mind with information.

– Explora: Art of Travel 

 

One of the reasons Katja and I created globetotting was to demonstrate that there is more to family travel than Disneyland. So when I came across this passage in the Art of Travel I wanted to high-five Explora!

During my stay I met a very friendly American family (a mum, her 12-year old son and his grandparents) who kindly shared their experience with me. The mother told me the staff had been amazing with her son. The guides kept him engaged on the walks by pointing out things like edible berries (and eating them!). Best of all, they showed him what you could find out about an animal from examining its dung. As his mum told me, ‘What boy doesn’t find poop both fascinating and hilarious?’ As a mother to an 8-year boy I could absolutely relate to that.

One day at lunch, her son came up to me to show me his guide book on birds and mammals of Patagonia. He had been circling all the species he had seen so far – condors, caracaras, rheas, guanacos, armadillos (apparently there is one under the spa) and many more. I loved and admired his enthusiasm! As much as I was cherishing my ‘me-time’ I also yearned to share these experiences with my family as well. Certainly a good reason to return.

There was also a family staying with a three-year old. Naturally they were not tackling any of the full-day explorations but were able to complete a number of the half-day treks, even if it meant carrying him for stretches at a time. They also told me they enjoyed the horse-rides, which Explora tailored to their needs.

 

Explorations for Kids

Explora Patagonia for kids: One of the 'easy' rated half-day walks to Lake Nordenskjöld

One of the ‘easy’ rated half-day walks to Lake Nordenskjöld

 

There are a number of ‘Easy’ rated half-day treks that most school-age children would have no problem doing, especially those who are used to trekking. There is also a half-day ‘Easy’ version of the Glacier Grey trek that allows kids to get up close to the steely blue ice-wall (see post: Explorations).

 

Explora for families: Kids can get up close to Glacier Grey

Kids can get up close to Glacier Grey

 

Although the full-day hikes might be too much for a lot of kids, my 12-year friend loved the five-hour Glacier Grey trek and I read on explora’s site that a 9-year old made it all the way to the base of the towers – the most challenging of all the explorations! Horse-riding is also available for children. The horses are gentle and the rides can be tailored according to level and experience. (see Explorations for more details)

 

Explora for kids: One of the 'easy' rated rides for beginners. Also suitable for kids.

One of the ‘easy’ rated rides for beginners.

 

 

The Guides

Explora Patagonia: The guides at Explora are some of the best in the travel industry!

The guides at Explora are some of the best in the travel industry!

 

As in life itself, to enjoy every moment, we do not precipitate the end.
We travel not only to arrive, but for the simple pleasure of the journey itself.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

Explora’s guides are recruited from all over the world and between them, speak several languages. They are Wilderness First Response (WFR) certified and have a reputation in the industry for being some of the best in the world. All six guides I had (there are some 20 in total) were warm, friendly, interesting, knowledgeable and above all, were all full of life! They are that friend (we all have at least one) who lives every day as if it’s their last. In short, they embody Explora’s philosophy.

Thank you Sang, Denis, Alex, Erica, Eva, Negra (and gaucho, Sandro) for making my stay so much fun!

 

 

The Crowd

Explora attracts a wide range of travellers, all of whom are passionate about nature.

Explora attracts a wide range of travellers, all of whom are passionate about nature.

 

Our travellers

The attitude of our travellers
is what makes the explora style
unique.
We seek to attract
those who appreciate
rare beauty.

They know how difficult it is to find something in its true authentic form.
They do not pursue imitations.
In each exploration,
they strive to understand something
about this remote world
and themselves.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

As a solo traveller I particularly appreciated the balance of having some time on my own (such as at meal times and in the spa) as well as the opportunity to mingle. In addition to joining other guests on explorations (groups are kept to a maximum of 8 people), we would also congregate in the bar area or around the open fire for a post-dinner drink every night. This was also the moment when the guides would advise guests on which explorations to sign up to the following day.

 

In the evenings, guests gather in the bar area for drinks and to discuss their exploration plans with the guides for the following day.

 

What I liked most of all was the wide diversity of guests: multigenerational families, retired couples, gay couples, a group of ladies (one of whom, I discovered, owned the company that makes my kids all-time favourite sausages!), young honeymooners and couples who, like me, were also on a kid-free break. One thing we all had in common and bonded over was a love of nature. I also have Jonathan and David to thank for introducing me to the Calafate Sour – the best cocktail ever!

 

 

Final Thoughts

Explora Patagonia: cantering along the shores of a lake

I had forgotten how deliriously happy I feel when I’m in the saddle

 

We believe remote areas aren’t just far away. They are a chance to withdraw and detach from everyday life, observing our existence from afar. The distance seems to reorganize the different aspects of our life, putting them into perspective, widening our horizons and filling us with fresh, new ideas.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

So did I find myself again?! As cliched as it sounds, my time at Explora definitely helped remind me of who I am (besides a mum and a wife) and what I love to do. It’s so easy to get caught up in school runs and social media and supermarket lists and a seemingly never-ending stream of work that you forget sometimes what matters. What I found during this time out was that stepping back from everyday life (and I don’t just mean on your yoga mat, but waaaay back) really does help put things into perspective.

I had forgotten, for example, how deliriously happy I feel when I’m in the saddle and when out on long walks. I also realised how relatively unimportant many of the things on my ‘to-do list’ were. Moreover, I’m always going to have a long list of things I want and need to do so I should probably just accept that. And instead of focusing on getting stuff done, perhaps it’s time to focus more on the actual doing.

I feel enormously privileged to have had this time to myself and I am now trying to include a little bit of Explora’s philosophy to my everyday life.

 

There is no end

Perhaps after a journey
to these remote lands,
visitors will feel that they live in a world
far more beautiful than they had imagined.

That certain hidden areas of the planet
and the soul
have shown themselves: open
and full of life,
and that, as much as ever, there is still so much left to do.

And they will then discover,
as Amundsen did,
that in the end, what is truly important
is to be alive.

– Explora: Art of Travel

 

 


Additional Information

Getting there

Explora is located on the shores of Lake Pehoé in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. The nearest airports are Punta Arenas (+ approx 4.5 hours drive to Explora) and  Puerto Natales (+ approx 1.5 hours drive to Explora. The airport at Puerto Natales is only open during high season. Explora can pick up guests from the above airports or hotels in Punta Arenas / Puerto Natales. Transfers are included in their rates.

 

When to visit

Peak season (summer) runs from November through March. However December and January are associated with strong winds. The average wind speed is around 15-20km/hr but it can reach a biting 120km/hr during these months, making it feel up to 6°C / 30°F cooler than what it really is. If you google ‘Patagonia weather’ you’ll find it’s often described as ‘four seasons in one day’ making it hard to specify ‘the best time to visit’. Temperatures range from 0-22°C / 32-72°F, rain is expected at any time of the year, giving way to snow during the winter months. It’s best if you are prepared for all weather (see What to Pack for Patagonia).

I visited Explora at the beginning of April, at the end of the high season, and was extremely lucky with the weather.

 

Rates

Minimum stay: 3 nights in winter season and 4 nights in summer season.
Rates start from: $2065 pp on a double room basis, for 3 nights.
Rates include: explorations, accommodation, meals and bar, transportation, access to the spa and entrance fees to National Parks.
*As rates are subject to change every year please check Explora’s website for their latest rates.

Family rates:
13-18 years in additional room: from $765 for 3 nights.
4-12 years in additional bed: $510 for 3 nights.
Only one additional bed per room is allowed for children between 4 and 12 years old sharing the room with their parents.
Children younger than 3 years may share the room with their parents without additional cost.

Check current rates on the hotel website: Explora Patagonia

Check current rates and reviews on TripAdvisor


 

 

You May Also Enjoy The Following Posts:

Part 2: Explora’s Exploration Highlights

What to pack for Patagonia

Family coats for the Great Outdoors

Leave the Kids! Romantic Breaks for Parents

 

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Disclaimer: I was offered a media rate for my stay. However as always, all opinions remain my own. 

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