Chile Travel Guide
Those shopping for hotels in the Atacama Desert and the town of San Pedro will find that selecting a property has just as much to do with its outdoor offering as it does its comfort level. Most mid-range and upscale hotels in the area assist its guests in exploring the outdoor environment of the Atacama, typically including half and full day excursions into the rate. It makes sense to do it this way, because anyone who comes to the area plans to play outside. If you don't, you're in the wrong neck of the woods.
It's fitting, then, that the most luxurious hotel in San Pedro, Tierra Atacama, would take advantage of the area's best attributes in constructing its own. When you have a backdrop as beautiful as the Atacama Desert and the Andes Mountains, you might as well let it do the talking. And as you'll see in the photos, they didn't shut up the entire length of our stay. During the day, it's the mountains. At night, it's the stars. But we'll get to that later.
Upon arriving at the hotel, the first thing we noticed was how simple it was. The buildings are low and close to the ground, and much of the exterior is the same color as the surrounding terrain. When you enter the lobby, which is also the living room, dining room, and bar area of the hotel, the huge glass windows hit you right in the face. That's the point, though - a sustainable approach that doesn't get in the way.
If you're headed to South America and decide on Chile for a ski trip during the North American summer, you have a number of options when it comes to the mountain you choose, including Portillo, La Parva, El Colorado, Valle Nevado, and Termas de Chillán. All are within a few hours’ drive of Santiago, and all offer some of the best skiing in South America. But when you start to consider lodging, one destination in particular, Portillo, stands out for its alternative experience.
Part of the reason we liked it so much was because it is not for everyone. Destinations and hotels that try to accommodate everyone typically create a homogeneous personality, like a fifteen year old trying to fit in during high school. There’s something about a place that sticks to its guns, that lets its true colors shine through knowing full well that it won’t please all.
This captures Portillo perfectly, and the reason that a ski trip there is an "alternative experience" is two-fold. The first part is that, unlike 99.9% of ski destinations on the planet, there is only one lodging choice at Portillo: Ski Portillo. The second aspect is how it is run: Like a cruise ship. We know. That scares some of you. But it's exactly what makes a stay so interesting.
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Patagonia, at the southern tip of South America, is undeniably one of the most beautiful parts of the world, with scenery that could actually make us forget to check our email. But not all of us want to experience the best that Mother Earth has to offer from the inside of a tent. And now, pampered adventure travelers won't have to with the debut of Tierra Chiloé, due to open on September 1.
Tierra Chiloé, formerly the Refugia hotel, is located the banks of the Rilan Peninsula in South Chilean Patagonia. With just 12 rooms, the hotel sits unobtrusively low on a hilltop while taking full advantage of the views to the Andes Mountains and the (dormant) Corcovado volcanoes in the distance.
But all you hair-drying, TV watching, bath-soaking guests take note--the hotel was designed to operate almost entirely off the grid, not that there were many other options given the location.
When we chatted about the opening Renaissance Santiago in Chile this past April, we were excited by the hotel's "sleek and luxe look" and by the design influence of Santiago-based MC Studio, whose principals Raimundo Morales and Atilio Cosmelli worked on the fashionable W Santiago while working at Tony Chi.
The other week, we checked out the Renaissance in person and while the reality didn't include everything we saw in the renderings, the hotel lived up to its promise of bringing meaningful design into both the guest rooms and the social spaces.
If this is the new direction for the Renaissance brand, and from what we've heard from those in the know, it is, then we might just be staying at Renaissance more often.
Below are a few snapshots from around the hotel and inside the guest rooms. Keep reading for our quick list of what we liked and didn't like!
No, it's not a party. It's the hotel employees striking against the InterContinental Santiago for low wages.
The protest is pretty massive with a giant white banner stretched across the street corner, asking the InterContinental for a significant increase in employee wages. Smaller white signs listing the faults of the hotel also line the entire building while in front of the entrance, protesters have gathered to chant and sing songs. The walkway is littered with pieces of paper and it looks as if the doors are closed.
ILoveChile.com covered the protest when it began ten days ago. Yet despite the ferocity and length of the protest, the hotel is still accepting reservations. Tomorrow night, you can stay in a room for only $219 a night. That seems cheap but not worth the drama.
UPDATE: The morning after, all the signs and banners were removed, the sidewalk was cleaned up and bellmen were bustling outside the entrance. Perhaps strike is over? Or maybe just taking a break for the Chile v. Brazil World Cup game.
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Renaissance Hotels, Marriott's "luxury lifestyle" brand, is getting on the expansion bandwagon by expanding into Latin America. The Renaissance Hotel Santiago becomes their third hotel in South America and their first in Chile’s capital.
The hotel’s design team is New York based dashdesign and Santiago based MC Studio, who also designed W Santiago (while working at Tony Chi). A classic modern approach was taken to the hotel’s design, featuring large open spaces with simple but sculptural furnishings, finished in warm earth tones and shades of grey.
What really makes the interiors come alive is the use of Latin-inspired accent colors and bold artwork, which gives the hotel its local flavor. Speaking of flavor, there is one fine dining restaurant and several options for casual fare including poolside, and in the bar or lounges. For a liquid only excursion, the hotel offers regional wine and beer, as well as 29 varieties of coffee. This is after all, South America.
While North America prepares for Memorial Day (the official yet unofficial kickoff of summer), South America is all but finished with its pool season. But that doesn't mean we can't look south for some inspiration. After all, Chile boasts the world's largest pool -- so big, you can sail on it.
At 3/5 of a mile long, The Crystal Lagoon at San Alfonso del Mar Resort in Chile is the length of 20 Olympic-size pools and holds 66 million gallons of seawater over an area of about 20 acres. Not impressed? How about the fact that the pool reaches depths of 115 feet! That's like, incredible, right? Hang on to your sunglasses.
The mega-pool is estimated to have cost about $1 billion to build. A filtration system draws water directly from the sea -- there just ain't a hose big enough to fill this sucker with fresh water. Because of its sheer size, the cost of upkeep is about $2 million a year according to the Daily Mail.
Living in a big city, we’re used to so much light pollution that sometimes, we yearn for some proper darkness and a star-filled sky overhead. One place that appears to fit the bill perfectly, although unfortunately not exactly around the corner, is the Elqui Domos Hotel in Chile.
Built specifically by its owners to experience the night skies of the Elqui Valley, some 600 km (373 miles) northwest of Santiago, the hotel has two types of accommodation: domes and observatories. While each is different, both are designed with an eye towards the sky, with as little as possible to distract you from the twinkling lights above.
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Now that we've already shown you inside one of the Loft Rooms at The Aubrey, it's time to venture back downstairs to the guest lounges and out onto the patio for the restaurant, bar and pool. For having only 15 guest rooms, the amount of amenities may be surprising, but then the English-Australian owner has managed to make The Aubrey feel more like an expansive private home than a hotel with requisite extras.
For example, the complimentary afternoon tea time is not formal; table service is eliminated in favor of imparting the feeling that you're just grabbing a cup and some sweets from your own pantry and heading out to sun on the pool terrace. It's a quiet place, almost like a retreat, save for the fact that stepping outside and into the Barrio Bellavista ratchets your pulse back up to party level (in a good way).
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Santiago, Chile is just awesome. We would like to say it's the "up and coming" South American capital to hit, though to say that would be to have Santiaguinos argue that they've up and been there; it's just the US is late to figuring this out. And they'd be right, with one exception: the hotel scene. The vast majority of hotels in Santiago are bland 2-star tourist class or large-and-in-charge chain hotels in the least zesty neighborhoods. There's one major exception: The Aubrey.
Claiming the title of "Santiago's first boutique hotel," The Aubrey sits pretty with the double appeal of having an excellent location in the lively quarter of Barrio Bellavista and occupying a stunning piece of the city's architectural history. Even better: there's only 15 rooms, they begin at $240 per night, WiFi is fast and free, the breakfast spread is included as is afternoon tea, and the hotel boasts a pool, alfresco terrace, restaurant and evening bar/lounge.
September 1. For most people, it'll be just another Saturday. For Chile's Chiloé Archipelago however, it's the day their newest (and most luxe) hotel debuts: the Refugia Lodge.
At only 12 rooms with all-inclusive rates starting at $530 per night, per person, Refugia will be for the traveler who knows exactly what they're looking for, namely a remote location steeped in cultural heritage with the combination of as much spa-ing, dining and wining as you'd care to do when not out one of the excursions (also complimentary).
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Confession time. Yes, we stayed at a Marriott in a city with many nice, independent hotels and historical B&Bs, but, as always when a major chain hotel is involved, there are extenuating circumstances. In our case in Santiago, Chile, we were down to the end of our trip budget, exhausted from an ordeal in Argentina and in need of a single night somewhere to crash before our long-haul flight straight back up to NYC.
Thus, we hit Priceline. Putting in a bid for $100, nothing hit. Priceline asked us to raise our limit to $120 and there'd definitely be a result, so we did. That result was the Marriott Santiago.