HOTEL REVIEW: Ecocamp, Patagonia
When it comes to traveling, sometimes like the saying goes, any place worth seeing is hard to get to. Patagonia in southern Chile and Argentina is one of those places. If it’s solitude you seek, and only the wind you want to hear, Torres del Paine National Park is your place, and one of the most epic natural attractions in Chile.
The wilderness of Patagonia is so unspoiled in fact, you might think the only places to stay in the Park while you explore would be campgrounds or the backpacker refugios favored by hikers and climbers doing the popular “W” trail. Not at all. Turns out, even outdoorsy, day-packers like a little luxury now and then.
There are enough accommodations in or near Torres del Paine to satisfy most travelers. Although when I travel, I like my hotel to match my trip. If it’s an “active” trip and I’m hiking all day, or even lightly exploring the park in and out of a dusty car, I wouldn’t feel comfortable in an over-the-top luxury hotel, nor have the time to enjoy it. But how about sustainable, stylish digs in domes designed for nature-lovers? Now you’re talking.
That’s EcoCamp. Glamorous camping – or glamping – in roomy, well-appointed and eco-friendly geodesic domes located in the choicest spot you can imagine – at the foothills of Las Torres with a clear view of the granite towers that give the Park its name. The fact they are the greenest hotel in Patagonia is icing on the cake. We stayed here recently in early March – it was easy to see why autumn here is one of the busiest times of the year – and had the opportunity to review EcoCamp Patagonia.
Most visitors to Torres del Paine seek tourism appropriate for the environment here, and EcoCamp delivers on the same promise. All of their energy comes from solar panels and a micro-hydro turbine, making it Patagonia’s most eco-friendly hotel and the first ISO14001 certified hotel. Its green dome design is energy-efficient to maximize passive heat and light energy, and dome interiors are designed with renewable materials. Bathroom facilities all have composting toilets and outside, raised walkways connect the domes to minimize terrain and fauna disruption. Even their bold Wi-Fi policy – they have none for guests – reduces noise pollution and the constant threat of connectus interruptus, leaving guests to relax, maybe read a book, and engage in actual conversation.
Green Dome Glamping
There are three different dome types at EcoCamp; Standard with shared bathrooms; heated Superior with private bathrooms; or heated Suite domes or Suite lofts with private bathrooms and terraces. We stayed in a Suite dome, which was secluded and quite spacious. The wood stove would have come in handy if we got too cold, but the heavy down blanket was all we ever needed. A large acrylic-panel window gave the dome a wide-open view toward the mountains. The private bath was modern, with an easy-to-use composting toilet, and large bottles filled with biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. There was plenty of storage for luggage, and shelves for backpacks, camera bags and other bulky items, as well as a room safe and coffeemaker.
EcoCamp’s community domes sit well away from the guest quarters and are the hub of activity here. They house the kitchen, dining room, and bar in the middle, with several large common areas and a spacious outdoor deck with killer views. The large common area near the bar is cozy and relaxing, complete with spectacular views, comfy furniture, and funky floor cushions – a chill gathering place at the end of the day.
The Yoga dome sits away from the Community domes and offers classes throughout the day for all levels of participation.
Guests at EcoCamp enjoy three meals a day as part of the package. Menus are based on locally-sourced ingredients, fusing Chilean, altiplanic, Patagonian and international cuisines. Our meals were delicious. I love it when skillful preparation and presentation of fresh ingredients takes center stage. A nice surprise in the Chilean wilderness!
Dining is communal with tables for small parties or large, and an EcoCamp staffer usually joins each table for dinner, making for a relaxed evening and good conversation. I was also impressed with the unique ‘Box Lunch’ table. After breakfast each morning, guests could assemble a healthy lunch box-to-go for the day or snack to their hearts content out on the trail.
EcoCamp offer a wide variety of activities, tours, hikes, and other excursions included in your package. Every guest seemed to be doing something, even if it was curling up in their dome with a good book. You won’t be shamed for not being constantly active, even if most people come here to be outdoors. You can choose your tours ahead of time or alter them after you arrive. Before dinner, over a Pisco Sour – nice touch – a team of guides review the next day’s tours and guests make their selection. We signed up for the hike to the base of Las Torres and found our guides to be knowledgable and highly experienced, but also engaging and a lot of fun. I wouldn’t hesitate to go with them again.
A Sense of Community
One of the things that struck me most about EcoCamp was the strong sense of community. The staff was engaged with the guests – not at all intrusive – and everyone seemed relaxed. People connected over shared experiences and achievements. I was told that puma sightings had groups celebrating for days.
If you consider No Wi-Fi for Guests to be a negative, then you may want to reconsider since there are no internet cafes down the street. It’s Patagonia. But that’s exactly the point here. Disconnect for a while and enjoy the stillness. Welcome the excuse and make your apologies when you get home.
Clearly, EcoCamp is doing eco-tourism right. The overall guest experience is supremely comfortable and catered to the individual, with a wide array of choices on activities, outdoor excursions, and meals. Yet for all the personal touches, they manage to infuse your stay with a sense of community and the sharing of those experiences among guests. No doubt you’ll leave having met a lifelong friend or two.
EcoCamp proves hands down that eco can not only be comfy but also a transformative, even luxurious experience.
If You Go:
Semi-private transportation from the airport in Punta Arenas is included in the EcoCamp package you buy. The trip from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine is approximately a 6-hour trip.
EcoCamp packages include meals and guided tours. For specific info about the activities included in the programs, check out EcoCamp Patagonia.