Hidden away in the mountains, halfway between the little town of Chalten and the Lago del Desierto, is the new Explora El Chalten. Matias, our General Manager, recently had the opportunity to visit this new gem. This is his first-hand report.
After traversing the picturesque, paved road from Calafate to Chalten, during which I could not tire of admiring the mountains and the silhouette of the imposing Fitz Roy, I came to a short gravel road which led to the lodge. El Chalten is camouflaged amongst the trees at the foot of the mountain, it blends into its surroundings, almost as though it’s crouching in the forest.
Its industrial design evokes elements of Patagonian estancias with a modern twist: all in black using tin and glass. Once indoors, the light wood cladding creates a special cosiness reminiscent of mountain refuges, and the picture windows are works of art, framing the views of the Rio Eléctrico Valley and the imposing Marconi glacier in the distance. The view made me immediately want to get out and explore!
Explora’s luxury lodging experience is based on three pillars: excellent gastronomy, a huge, comfortable bed, and a wonderful shower. These three things are all one really needs upon returning from exploring these unique corners of Argentine Patagonia.
The food is particularly memorable: all homemade, starting with the day with a filling and energy-rich breakfast for preparation for the outdoor activities. Lunches that are served in the restaurant are on the healthy side, with a buffet of simple but delicious dishes including both salads and hot meals to give guests energy for the afternoon activities. A few metres away from the lodge is the small fire room or quincho, where at sundown guests congregate around an open fire to enjoy a glass of wine and something from the barbecue, such as grilled vegetables or cheese, chorizos, or typical adobe oven empanadas. Dinner is served in the restaurant and consists of a 3-step menu with different options, which always include grilled beef, lamb, or seafood. Practically all the produce served at the hotel is from Patagonia, including the wine list. The kitchen is in the able hands of Pablo Rivero and Guido Tassi (of Buenos Aires’ Don Julio grill and El Preferido fame).
Despite the wonderful lodging service, what really makes this place special are the activities. There are options for everyone to choose from, depending on personal preference and how fit and active each guest feels.
On the one hand, there are the more classical activities within the National Park, such as half and full-day treks to see the Fitz Roy or Torre mountains. These include a transfer to the start of the trail and are always accompanied by an explorer guide throughout the expedition.
There are also activities which depart on foot directly from the hotel, along less explored trails, which offer the opportunity of observing the majestic peaks from different angles. The hotel is located within a natural reserve, therefore this is also a conservation area, allowing visitors to enjoy an unspoiled natural environment, where nature sets the pace, and the surrounding beauty never ceases to amaze.
For the full-day activity, I was surprised to have the opportunity to take the Valle Eléctrico excursion, which consists of around 20 kms (round trip) of trekking, which was a personal challenge. However, the payback for my efforts was being able to admire closely the imposing Marconi glacier, which had captivated me from the moment I saw it through the hotel window upon arrival.
The trek, following the course of the river through native forests, watched over by the Fitzroy, the gurgle of water running over rocks, with bird song in the air and condors soaring overhead was so wonderful that the effort of the hike was completely worth it.
During one of our rest stops we enjoyed a delicious lunch box which included hot soup, a well-stocked sandwich and dessert, enough to stoke our energy for the rest of the trek.
Upon returning to the hotel, I could not refuse to visit the spa and take advantage of one of the open-air jacuzzies, observing the birds and the mountains as I relaxed in the warm water.
Every evening at the bar, one can enjoy a cocktail or a hot drink before meeting up with the guides to plan the next day’s explorations. There are always options available to make the most of the wonderful nature Patagonia offers.
At Explora Chalten, all the benefits are found in the small details. We each received our own reusable water bottle and a waterproof bag to use during the activities. Before departing on any explorations, it is worthwhile visiting the refuelling corner to stock up on chocolates, fruit, or nuts to snack on during the trek. There are also walking sticks available for those who need them. All this perfection is achieved due to the guest/employee ratio: there are 65 employees for a maximum of 40 guests, and all staff are very helpful and service-oriented.
Sustainability is also meaningful to Explora. Its location in the Huemules Reserve makes conservation of its natural surroundings a guiding principle and their water and waste treatments are very stringent, and they use local products with the objective of reducing their environmental impact.
It was a fantastic experience for me. Previously I had the opportunity to enjoy some of the classic trekking, but with Explora, I was amazed by the multiple hiking options available. Most of the walks are for Explora guests only (though some trails are shared with the public). All the activities involve walking. They do not have bikes or kayaks. I would not suggest doing other activities than those offered by them. Their explorations and transfers are shared but can be requested as private for an extra cost. They use new Mercedes Benz Sprinter vehicles (very comfortable) for the transfer from Calafate airport (just over 3 hours). I was impressed and loved all the hiking opportunities I had in just two days.
My personal favourite half-day excursion was the trek to Laguna Azul, a deep blue lake where the reflection of the Fitz Roy and other mountains on its glassy surface creates breath-taking scenery.
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