But, there was more to this trip. Our expedition to Antarctica was originally scheduled to depart from Ushuaia, but the state of the world rendered that port of embarkation impractical, prompting Silversea to switch to Porto Natales, Chile. I’m tempted to say “when life offers your lemons, make lemonade,” but the truth was that this offered us an incredible opportunity to follow our trip to one of the more amazing places on Earth with a visit to another of the more amazing places on Earth, Patagonia. And, thus, a plan was hatched.
Upon disembarking from the beautiful Silver Cloud in Punta Arenas, we (and two members of our “travel family”) were met by a van that took us on our three-hour drive to The Singular Patagonia, perhaps the most unique hotel we’ve ever visited (photos below). Situated just outside the fishing village of Porto Natales, the Singular is a clever reinvention of an abandoned cold storage facility. The history is fascinating…and on full display, with substantial part of the original facility still intact, serving as a museum of the industry and the machinery of a bygone era. Ensconced within the old factory is a luxurious hotel that offers exceptional comfort and outstanding dining.
The hotel is situated very close to the world famous Torres del Paine National Park (https://parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en/home/). While our travel partners opted for a couple of days of strenuous hiking, including a puma trek, we settled into a more relaxed, though active, pace. With only three nights at the uber-cool Singular Santiago, one day was spent on an all-day driving tour, with a driver and guide…very knowledgable and professional. The sights were magnificent, and the day was punctuated by a gourmet picnic lunch, replete with Chilean wines, served in the Park.
While Torres del Paine is accessible by road vehicles, vast expanses are equally as wild as Antarctica. Glacier-fed lakes sit at the base of impossibly steep mountains, with glacial waters cascading over immense waterfalls. Condors abound, as do guanacos, members of the camelid family resembling llamas.
The park encompasses approximately 550,000 acres (225,000 hectares) of pristine, untamed natural beauty, and hikers, bicyclists, and adventure motorcyclists have been known to spend weeks exploring this incredible land, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve known as the Eighth Natural Wonder of the World. Our day tour was sensational, but we will be back…you could lose yourself for days or weeks in this amazing Park…and beyond, in greater Patagonia.
Our second full day was fairly tame, encompassing a visit to the quaint, somewhat hardscrabble town of Porto Natales. Life here, near the bottom of South America, is not so far from the Antarctic Circle. These days fishing remains the core of the economy, along with tourism. It’s reflected in the local abundance of incredible seafood such as sea bass and king crab, which are a large part of the local culinary offerings, along with lamb and other wood-fired dishes.
We could have—should have—stayed much longer, but home was beckoning, so after our third night we hopped a flight to Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Our awaiting driver took us immediately to the Singular Santiago, another hotel that ranks high on the “Fantastico!” scale. Rooms are comfortable and the staff was beyond helpful. Our first stop after settling into our rooms was the rooftop bar and restaurant. As we had experienced in Patagonia, the food at the Singular Santiago was exceptional.
The next two days were spent touring. Both days we were in the hands of Ynez, a woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of Santiago and Chilean history. Truth be told, Santiago offers some beautiful sights—gorgeous parks and historic buildings—along with the somewhat jarring reminders of the civil unrest of 2019, significant expanses of graffiti.
Night life in the area around the Singular is animated, to say the least. Mere steps from the hotel…actually, just around the corner…each night brought a vibrant scene of outdoor dining, open air vendors of every variety, and street performances ranging from dance to singing. It’s more than entertaining; in every direction there’s something to see, hear or taste. And, it’s also safe…though pickpockets are something to be aware of, families with young children are a significant part of the crowd. Mind your wallet, but enjoy the panorama of humanity on the street.
Our second full day in Santiago saw us meeting up with Ynez again, then heading out of the city to tour the Santa Rita Winery. We’re not quite sure what magical spell Ynez cast over the staff at the ticket counter, but what was supposed to be a brief tour of the winemaking facility turned into a half day of touring the entire estate—vineyards, gardens, hotel, chapel, and, finally, a wine tasting experience in the historic tasting room of the Mansion.
This was truly a treat…and touring with expert guides such as Ynez is always something we recommend to our clients. An outstanding private guide not only brings context and understanding to the sights you’re experiencing, but he or she can sometimes open doors that are closed to most visitors.
The wines of Santa Rita are really outstanding, as were all of the Chilean wines we sampled during our visit. Winemaking is a large part of the country’s economy, and overall their outstanding vintages are a real bargain compared to most others.
Our time in Santiago was truly filled to the brim…art, architecture, history, and wine…but we were ready to head home the next evening (flights from Santiago back to the States generally leave in the late evening). For once…the first time in memory…Mike actually slept on the overnight flight back to Houston.
Our visit to Chile capped one of the most diverse and spectacular trips of our lives, ranging from the urban experience of sophisticated, but sometimes raw, Santiago, to the untamed beauty of Antarctica (teaming with life), to the spectacular scenery of Patagonia and Torres del Paine (wild beyond words). And, true to the Elán credo to “Travel beyond,” we combined all of this with the expert guidance of Silversea’s incredible expedition staff and stays at two astoundingly unique Singular hotels.
As we write this, we are packing our bags for Portugal, where we will visit, evaluate, and report back on one of the world’s hottest destinations. Later this spring we’ll be heading back to South America, visiting Peru and experiencing the Belmond touch as we make our way to Machu Picchu.
There’s more on the agenda…Victoria has a board meeting in Iceland and Mike is kicking the tires for our BMW motorcycle tour of the American West. If we’re able to incorporate some partner properties into our itinerary as we make our way to the Grand Canyon we’ll share the rundown here.
We feel fortunate to be able to share these experiences, and we urge those who have been hesitating to live their travel dreams to stop waiting. Partners such as those we worked with to make our most recent travel dreams come to life—Silversea, Singular Hotels, and Abercrombie & Kent—are key to crafting unforgettable travel experiences for our clients throughout the world, and we are exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to work with the world’s top travel suppliers, both for our personal travel and that of our clients.
The world has reopened. It’s time to travel beyond!