When the mode of transport is a Mitsubishi pick-up truck, essential travel gear involves a puncture repair kit, and the road you’re driving along for hundreds of miles, Chile’s Carretera Austral, is little more than a dirt track for long sections, the expectation of the sort of places available to rest the head might not be particularly high.
We expected rough ‘n’ ready accommodation along the main ‘highway’ through Chile. What we found was something quite different.
Nomades Boutique Hotel, Coyhaique
Nomades set the scene for accommodation in Chile. It’s a pleasing blend of traditional, modern and yet also rustic – exactly our kind of mix. The exterior is individualistic and contemporary but step inside and the feel is cosy lodge, all chunky wooden furniture and coarse rugs. Street-side is on the outskirts of a big Chilean town (big is relative). However, the view from the room’s picture window was of virgin countryside. A table (chunky obviously) by the window was the perfect spot to sit sipping a couple of Austral craft beers, hypnotised by the scenery.
Closest food: There are plenty of restaurants in the town, some within falling distance, others like the quirky Casino de Bomberos (set in a fire station) are a bit of a trek away.
Comfort level: Marshmallow beds with an ethnic blanket to compliment a fluffy duvet meant deliciously uninterrupted sleep.
Best for: Getting up at dawn to go Condor spotting, which is why the above is particularly important.
Minus points: Breakfast was disappointing, not helped by a quartet of German visitors who didn’t help break any stereotype moulds. They arrogantly ‘nicked’ cups and cutlery from other tables, leaving them short of essentials (the waitress wasn’t sharp enough to replace things quickly) and emptied the meagre supply of coffee before it was ready… having refills before other guests had their first. We had to physically block the coffee machine in order to put an end to their selfishness. It wouldn’t have been an issue if the waitress had been more efficient.
Posada Quelat, Quelat
One word is all that’s needed to describe Posada Quelat, paradise. Wooden cabins in a lush tropical setting beside a lake with owners who are simply delightful. Staying there was more like staying with friends than in rural accommodation. Although being located only a couple of hundred yards from the Carretera Austral it felt like we were in a remote Garden of Eden miles from any civilisation which, despite the proximity of the road, I guess it is.
Closest food: Communal meals are taken in the main lodge; breakfasts consisting of freshly made scrambled eggs, home-made jams and bread whilst dinners involved local dishes and lashings of Chilean wine.
Comfort level: Cabins are cosy, beds are big and comfy and the sounds of the forest serenaded us to sleep.
Best for: Walking to glaciers. Both the Bosque Encantado and Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier) are quite nearby.
Minus points: At some point you have to leave.
El Engano, Chile Chico
The oddest of the bunch in many ways, El Engano in Chile Chico is made up of a few block villas on the banks of the General Carrera Lake. There’s almost something army camp about the layout. Inside the design is ultra contemporary with all mod-coms. Interiors are attractive and functional, but the whole set up is a tad soulless.
Closest food: There are a few restaurants in the centre of Chile Chico, a 20 min walk away along a coastal dirt track.
Comfort level: No complaints about comfort levels, although nothing stands out as being memorable.
Best for: Exploring the surreal countryside around the Valle Lunar.
Minus points: Lacking in character.
Bordebaker Lodge, Puerto Bertrand
A mix up with overbooking meant we ended up at the Bordebaker Lodge and not Cochrane, which would have been more convenient but nowhere near as spectacular. The design of Bordebaker Lodge is based on the town of Tortel, wooden walkways lead from the main lodge to cabins perched above the iridescent blue waters of the Baker River. The main lodge is rustic served with style and includes a sunken firepit, mezzanine lounge and a dining room overlooking the lake. Basically, we lucked in big time.
Closest food: Guests are gastro-hostages at Bordebaker Lodge. However, the food, traditional dishes created with flair, is excellent. It was some of the best we had in Chile. And service from manager Max was absolutely impeccable and over and above the call of duty, getting up early to prepare breakfast outside of breakfast hours.
Comfort level: Another marshmallow bed in a compact cabin with floor to ceiling windows allowing views of the forest canopy. Serious Zzzz ingredients.
Best for: Good position for exploring Parque Patagonia as well as the magical Baker river.
Minus points: Treats itself a bit like a show home. There was an ‘attempted’ ridiculous no drinks in the cabin rule. Max was excellent, but the owners need to take a chill pill.
Entre Hielos, Tortel
Having to walk a kilometre or so along a wooden walkway to reach Entre Hielos added to its alluring oddness. Tortel, teetering above the water at the mouth of the Baker River, is one of the strangest places we’ve ever stayed. There are no roads, only wooden walkways with Tsunami warning signs at regular points. It’s a place for adventurers. Entre Hielos is another cosy wooden lodge affair, smaller than other places we stayed, with a communal lounge and dining room where everyone eats around a large table.
Closest food: There are a couple of restaurants in the town but we ate at the lodge as the food was so good. It was also interesting/informative to share table space with guests from Argentina and Morocco. The food was a modern take on traditional recipes, including a local speciality, locos (a type of abalone).
Comfort level: Although attractively decked out, rooms were quite boxy – more a base than somewhere you’d spend a lot of time.
Best for: One of the highlights of our Chile trip was Tortel itself. Add to that a boat trip through an ice field to a glacier and you’ve got something quite exceptional.
Minus points: Walls are paper thin, you can hear everything that goes on in the rooms on either side, including our neighbours making love.
El Mirador de Guadal, Puerto Guadal
What’s that old saying? Save the best for last. Whilst it’s unfair to pit places in wildly contrasting locations and with very different personalities against each other, there’s no denying we were cock a hoop about ending our Carretera Austral road trip at El Mirador de Guadal. Many of the ingredients were the same as other lodges, e.g. individual wooden cabins on the edge of a body of water, but the cabins were bigger, there was more space between each, and the views from their wide porches of snowy mountains beyond General Carrera Lake were of the variety that superglues you to your rattan chair. The main lodge building, where pisco sour aperitifs, breakfast, dinner, post-walk drinkies and any sort of socialising took place, was a most amenable space for spending time. Stefan and Carolina were the most excellent hosts and, like Posada Quelat, there was a big family and friends vibe to the place.
Closest food: There are a couple of restaurants in nearby Puerto Guadal but the chef at El Mirador is one of the creative varieties and Stefan lets him experiment… within reason. The food has traditional roots but comes with a few surprises which made dinners interesting and a treat for foodies.
Comfort level: I could have lived in that cabin.
Best for: Relaxing at the end of a trip which involved tackling the challenges of Chile’s Carretera Austral. The walking is good, the horse riding fun, and the views are exceptional.
Minus points: The same as Posada Quelat, at some point you have to check out.
The Carretara Austral itself might have involved a drive on the wild side but the accommodation was a sophisticated and relaxing antidote to adventure-filled days.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+