Open spaces. Isolated wilderness. Beautiful vistas of snow-capped mountains, lush lakes and rolling forests. Patagonia has an almost mythical appeal. From independent adventurers to luxury travellers, the region has long provided a real sense of getaway.
But before Awasi Patagonia, it was difficult to experience both independent adventure and luxury.
Unlike other hotels in the region – even other five-star properties – Awasi Patagonia gives everybody their own 4WD and guide. So instead of a fixed activity schedule with other guests, there’s full opportunity to be the adventurer and explore pristine Patagonia.
Guests move into their own outpost – complete with hot tub – deep in the wilderness. And importantly, they can explore when and where they want.
The 14 private outposts – villas, really – also come with a wood burning stove and endless views into Torres del Paine National Park. A natural architectural style helps to blend with the surroundings and luxury is really in the details here, not only the actual accommodation but Awasi Patagonia’s pioneering role in pushing forward sustainability throughout the region.
Unorthodox Travel spoke to guide Francisco Girado about Awasi Patagonia. Francisco is featured here, tracking pumas near Awasi Patagonia.
Tell us more about your Patagonia conversation project and has it is impacting wildlife numbers.
In the last 100 years or so, large areas of Patagonia have been used to raise cattle and sheep. This has greatly affected the population and presence of native species such as the puma. While some pumas have been hunted or scared away because of fear that they will eat the sheep, the main problem is that the puma’s natural prey -the guanaco- is displaced by the presence of the thousands of sheep, and therefore the puma has more trouble finding food, reproducing, surviving…
The conservation project has had a great long-term impact, by protecting the area and taking away the cattle we “gave the land back to wildlife”. Awasi’s property lays very close to the Torres del Paines National Park, where the animals are protected, but outside of the park there is a mixture of private reserves and Estancias (cattle farms) so, by increasing the protected terrain, we are contributing to a buffer zone, or extension of the National Park. The pumas roam freely throughout the terrain and each individual needs a great deal of land to hunt, so every bit counts. These actions also influence other ranchers, who see the puma as an opportunity more than a threat. We want to be an example for both the local communities and other hotels.
What impact does this have on the safari experience?
It’s important for us to differentiate the possibility of spotting pumas in the wild from a “safari experience”. As they are not enclosed in a limited area, to call it a safari could be misleading. Our lodge lies in their territory, not the other way around, so we are very fortunate to be able to spot them in the surrounding areas and sometimes even at the lodge itself. This is because their natural trails (or tracks) come through our reserve. They feel safe there. By not chasing them and giving them their space they started feeling more comfortable with being seen, so we prefer to think about it as “wildlife observation” more than a safari.
Awasi is proudly carbon neutral. Can you tell is more about how and when this has been implemented?
At Awasi we believe luxury is ultimately about time and space. So, when we began developing our philosophy in 2007 we knew that, to guarantee that space we would first have to guarantee the natural quality of the places that we are located in. When you are in naturally privileged locations such as Atacama, Patagonia and Iguazu, the location of the lodge is important but the surroundings are just as or even more important. We wanted to secure a biodiverse, healthy surrounding, and were able to acquire lands that were of great value in terms of ecology and biodiversity. In Patagonia we decided to acquire a great reserve that has beautiful views but also native lenga forests.
We could have probably built more rooms or a bigger lodge, but it was important for us that these terrains would remain as undisturbed and “empty” as possible, to allow nature to simply be and regenerate. Carbon neutrality was not really a big concept in South America until quite recently, but we decided to undergo a private audit to determine if we were Carbon Neutral and optimise our operation accordingly. We were extremely pleased to find out that our lands not only compensate our direct emissions, but also those created by our guests’ international flights.
How have you adapted since the start of the pandemic and what opportunities do you see in the coming months or years?
In terms of safety protocols and general operation, we adapted easily. One could say that we were a step ahead in many ways: stand-alone villas and rooms, where there are virtually no closed corridors, elevators or lobbies, most common areas are open or allow easy natural ventilation. Private guides that remain the same for each guest – each one with their own private 4WD. Furthermore, there are only up to 14 rooms in the lodgge and our restaurants are exclusive for our guests.
However, both Chile and Argentina closed their borders for tourism in March 2020, and so we were left with almost no guests. Ironically, apart from the economical adjustments we had to make, in some ways it was the best thing that could have happened to us as a team. We were always so busy we never had the time to tackle some of our more ambitious projects. The extra time and being able to connect allowed us to get to know each other as a team, learn more about each other, learn new languages and skills and even teach.
It has all been an amazing way to keep motivated, keep growing and feeling readier than ever to welcome back our guests when the time comes.Francisco Girado
Francisco Girado was speaking to Stephen Bailey. Unorthodox Travel wishes to thank Gabriel Laing at South America Rep for her support and guidance towards this article.